'The Wind Rises' is an animated biopic of the Japanese man who would one day build the infamous Zero Fighter aircraft that would be used to attack Pearl Harbor. As such there'd been some controversy surrounding the film's creation and Miyazaki is reported to have almost dropped the idea of making the film until he heard that one day, Jiro Horikoshi, the aircraft designer, and the film's protagonist, had uttered, "I just wanted to create something beautiful." This inspired Miyazaki to continue on despite the concern and negativity.
The film's character Jiro also combines the life story of the Japanese author Tatsuo Hori with the historic Jiro to tell a sweetly compelling story of romance and loss. Hori translated French poetry in his time, and the film takes it title from one of these poems, "The wind is rising, so let us try to live" from Paul Valery's Charmes. Le Cimetière Marin.
The story follows a young Jiro as he grows into adulthood with his head constantly in the clouds being inspired by foreign aviation pioneers to build something incredible; not merely of his own ambition, but also for the pride of Japan which is seen as poor and backward compared to Western nations. Along the way he encounters tragedy, friendship, rivalry, love and irony. But Jiro is a dreamer, so despite the conflicts in his way he is determined to rise above it all. It is here that Miyazaki uses the medium of animation to merge reality with Jiro's dream sequences. These blend in and out of each other throughout the film evoking themes and lessons through what has become the enduring Miyazaki standard of using sequences of flight and freefall.
Studio Ghibli is also in top form here with regards to the details; from the spluttering and chugging of engines and machinery; their trademark vfx style of the depiction of liquids and gases; beautiful scenery and detailed interior backgrounds. Of interest is that Miyazaki insisted that the sound be recorded in Mono instead of Surround or even 2 channel. He'd also insisted that some sound effects that would otherwise be traditionally done with foley work and recordings be instead voiced by a vocal performer imitating the sound, sort of like a child does when he plays with his soldiers and airplanes in his own make-belief way.
Throughout the film, one can't help but draw parallels to Miyazaki himself, which is why he likely chose this project to be his finale. Jiro is a man obsessed with his craft and spends countless time drawing and designing. He does so despite the times and lives out his dream despite being fully aware of the consequences that his ambitions will inevitably bring about; in Jiro's case, that his aircraft will be used for warfare. That his creations intended to be so free and beautiful could also be so deadly. Miyazaki, however, doesn't make these negativities the focal point of the story, but they are not ignored. Neither are the background politics of pre-WWII Japan nor the other dark things over the horizon such as the European wars and the coming of the Third Reich.
The lesson here is that in the face of these things, all those wonderful dreams and ambitions and moments of life, so temporal and fragile, are enough sunlight to cast away the shadows of doubt. Those tumultous winds, ever rising, changing direction, bring with it both the storms and the nourishing rain. The same winds that bring great devastation, can also bring lovers together. The times are always growing turbulent and such things are out of our control. We invest so much to build things so grand that may one day all come to a crashing end due to the breakdown of the simplest part in a chain reaction. So it is with airplanes, and so it is with nations and people. But despite it all we ourselves must strive to live on.
It is a fine moment for Miyazaki to leave us on after a life dedicated to his work. Perhaps there are many things he'd have liked to have done. Certainly many of us were hoping to see him make more fantastic films in the vein of Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke. But some things may never be. The winds have shifted. In the end, did he use those years to the fullest? Did he fly as high as he could given the tools of his time? If the outcome of 'The Wind Rises' is any indication, then I'm certain he did!