Miyazaki’s latest is big and messy and disturbing and sad and very beautiful. We took two seven-year-old girls to see it because, well, Miyazaki; a mistake, this is for grown-ups.
It’s biographical and the protagonist is a real person: Jiro Horikoshi, most famous as the designer of the Mitsubishi Zero fighter plane, which dominated the first half of the Pacific-aerial part of WWII.
The movie also has an earthquake, a Great Fire, an Italian count/airplane-designer, a tribute to Thomas Mann, a romance, and a fatal disease. It’s also sl-o-o-ow. (Which is one of the things I’ve always loved about Miyazaki, his willingness to take a scene, even one that’s peripheral to his story, and let it run and run and run. Just about every critic ever has raved about the Ghost Train ride in Spirited Away, in which nothing happens and the story doesn’t progress.)
In fact, the payload is so big and the pace so slow that too many storyline threads are only just barely sketched in: The secret-police investigation, the failure of Caproni’s big plane, Naoko’s three letters, and so on.
I saw the Japanese version with subtitles; I’m wondering if there was something wrong with the media, because some of the animation just wasn’t up to Miyazaki standards; in particular, most of the (many) scenes with planes crossing the sky were stutter-stepping furiously. So maybe I’ll go see it again when the English version comes out, because the dub cast looks impressive.
Another reason to go back would be that the movie’s got many segments of breathtaking beauty.
But yeah, there’s a problem. What we have here is art that’s all about glorifying and romanticizing people who built killing machines that were put to use by a fascist government. And the Zero may have been a great plane but it sure didn’t look like the graceful, angular creations featured in the The Wind Rises.
Miyazaki admits to having a soft spot for the Zero, which I find frankly weird in a guy whose oeuvre oozes humanism. Oh well, lots of masterpieces are messy and flawed. This one hasn’t really dislodged Spirited Away and Totoro from their places next to my heart, but it sure made an impression.