The Wind Rises.

Miyazaki says goodbye: The Wind Rises.

For the media, the Toronto Film Festival ends today (there are two more days of screenings for the general public). The event says goodbye to the press on a high note: Hayao Miyazaki’s swan song, The Wind Rises.

At 72, the founder of Ghibli Studios has decided to retire, leaving behind a filmography full of classics (Princess Mononoke, Ponyo, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro). His heir apparent is his son Goyo (From Up in Poppy Hill), although it seems the entire company has adopted his trademark sensibility by now.

The story he has chosen to say goodbye is an adult one. A biography, no less, set in the first half of the Twentieth Century.  As depicted by The Wind Rises, Jiro Horikoshi was a great guy: Stood up to bullies, assisted those in need and had a social conscience. He was hoping to become a pilot for the Japanese army, but he was too shortsighted to fly a plane. Instead, he decided to follow the steps of his idol, Gianni Caproni, and become an aeronautical engineer.

Horikoshi would eventually join Mitsubishi and become the man responsible for the A6M Zero, Japan signature fighter plane during World War II (slightly controversial topic? You bet.) Workaholic as he is, Jiro has his heart set on Naoko, a fragile and beautiful girl for whom Horikoshi would leave it all, nevermind he is the cornerstone of the Japanese armed forces.

While still whimsical, The Wind Rises is Miyazaki’s most grounded film. The Japanese animator goes out of his way to establish that Horikoshi’s real interest were passenger ships and that he was a true pacifist at heart. There is no historical proof of any of this, but the Miyazaki’s efforts to revindicate his hero are commendable. The structure of The Wind Rises is quite odd for Ghibli standards. It’s episodic and by-the-numbers plot-wise, until Jiro begins courting Naoko. Then the film becomes this engrossing romantic journey with heart-tending scenes and a Kleenex-worthy finale.

Miyazaki’s decision to retire is a bit sadder after appreciating his talent as an animator. A recreation of the 1923 earthquake in Tokyo is more palpable and tension-filled than a 3-D Pixar action sequence. Here is hoping the master will reconsider. Four hand-drawn prairie dogs.

It has been a blast. Next stop: The Vancouver International Film Festival, an under-appreciated, two-week long event that scored Alexander Payne’s Nebraska for opening night.  See you in the dark.