"Airplanes are beautiful dreams," says a character in Hayao Miyazaki's anime, a loose biography of Japanese airplane-designer Jiro Horikoshi. It's probably no coincidence that in this paean to aeronautics, everybody constantly travels by all means of earthbound transportation. Lives, after all, are spent on foot and in streetcars, and not soaring magically through the air. But without dreams, there is no future, and this beautifully realized film is about transforming dreams into reality.
The film, adapted from Miyazaki's manga, takes us from Jiro's rural childhood and college education through his work as an aeronautical engineer and his bittersweet romance. He also lives through a devastating earthquake, economic hard times and rising geo-political tensions in the late 1930s. The future of light aircraft is in war, and the sensitive Jiro must reconcile his desire to design a perfect plane with the knowledge of its eventual use.
Unlike other of Miyazaki's films, this isn't a children's film, but a slower-paced, historical work with adult themes. (It's certainly suitable for younger viewers, but they might miss much of its meaning.)
Miyazaki has said this might be his last film, and it is a fine capper to an ouevre that includes Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. As much as Wind is about Jiro and airplanes, so too is it about creating a legacy. One suspects Miyazaki shares Jiro's passion to make his mark, as well as the life-defining drive to capture the impossible: For Jiro, it is to conquer the sky; for Miyazaki, to capture the ethereal beauty of a three-dimensional world in a two-dimensional but still transformative format. Both men owe their success to careful observation of the natural world: Jiro sees a potential plane wing in the curve of a mackerel bone, while Miyazaki's on-screen tableaux transmit such elusive pleasures as a gentle breeze, the gleam of metal in the sun, and even ash fluttering from the sky.