If there is a genre that I never, ever, saw an anime film covering, it’s historical fiction. This was so far beyond anything I could have expected. It’s fitting that this was, after one of the greatest careers in animation, Hayao Miyazaki’s last film. Now that Studio Ghibli has closed their doors (the saddest thing ever), I have finally gotten to see this movie. And, let me tell you, it is a testament to Miyazaki that he made a film telling a story that might be controversial to American audiences, and he did it with so much passion and respect that it shined off the screen and found a place in my heart. Nothing about this film was poor. Absolutely nothing. But I suppose I should talk about it first.
The plot centers around a man named Juro Horikoshi. He was a young man who wanted to be a fighter pilot, but his vision problems kept him from it. The story follows his life, as he goes from a boy who realizes that he wants to be an aeronautic engineers, to the man who designed the World War II Japanese fighter jet – the Zero. Without taking any stances on anything, this film tells the story of his life. For better and for worse, he was a man who just wanted to make beautiful aircraft.
I cannot believe how well the elements of this film worked. For real, this is totally nuts! Historical drama, done with anime. I wouldn’t have believed that it could be done, had I not seen this. I heard some rather conflicting things about this movie. But you all can take it from me how well this works.
The first thing to talk about, naturally, is the animation. It’s amazing! It doesn’t blow up in your face like the flawless animation of Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke, but it is still amazing. When this animation wants to shine, it does. But since this is a personal story, they know where to put the right emphasis. Overall, that works very well. Miyazaki clearly wanted his final film to be one that he would be remembered for, so they went all-out. The thing that caught my eye was motion. Since this was a film about planes, they had a lot of flying scenes. Some real and some in dreams. All of them had this great grasp of motion that made you feel like you were in that moment, seeing it. Since a lot of the flying scenes were framed like Horikoshi seeing the planes from the outside, that worked out pretty well.
A thing worth mentioning is that, in the dream sequences, the sound effects can get a little odd. It sounds like what something would sound like if a person was doing the sound effect. Turns out, that’s not an accident. For the dream sequences, they did get someone to actually make the sound effects with noises they made. A lot of people may find that off-putting, but I kind of found it soothing. It made this nice way to tell the real world from dreams or moments where you are in Horikoshi’s head. That’s smart.
Next up, there’s the voice acting. Man did this movie have some all-stars that you wouldn’t have noticed! Given how laid back the feel of this movie was, it was hard to notice some of the people in it. You had Joseph Gordon-Levitt doing the role of Horikoshi. Emily Blunt played the part of his love interest and eventual wife, Nahoko Satomi. Get this – they got Werner Herzog in this movie! This guy is a big deal! He played the role of a German man who was against the Nazi party in Germany, and trying to get Horikoshi to help him. Martin Short voiced Horikoshi’s boss, which was fun to listen to. Then there was this character from Horikoshi’s dream, a representation of an aeronautic engineer, Count Battista Caproni, who was voiced by Stanley Tucci. That is a LOT of big names! Since this was a film that was done outside of Disney’s name (it covered the guy who made WWII Japanese planes. Disney didn’t want to have too much exposure. I get that) by Touchstone, so they got the right talent in there. This is a very down-played but excellent cast of actors doing their roles some real justice. As always, Gordon-Levitt is just awesome. He can play quiet so well. I am so glad that this guy is coming into his own in a big way. Emily Blunt also plays her role really well. Their relationship is both beautiful and tragic.
And that leads me into the next thing to talk about – the tone of this movie. This film is so quiet and reserved that you can lose yourself in it. It just tells the story of a man’s life, and it has beautiful and really sad moments. When you see just how the story between Horikoshi and his wife turns out, it is kind of heart-wrenching. And Horikoshi is such a likeable character. He’s just the nicest guy! I wanted to hug this guy sometimes. It was so sweet how he would do things just to be nice, not caring for reward or anything. Bio-pic films are hard to sell without either seeming preachy or sappy. This film had neither quality. It was just…nice.
I have no idea why Miyazaki wanted this to be his last film. But whatever it was that got him here, bravo, good sir! This movie went from something that I was a little confounded by, to being one of my favorite Studio Ghibli films. For real, it took the third spot, by my reckoning (take that, Howl’s Moving Castle!). If you are able to open up your mind and set aside any misgivings, I think that you’ll find a movie that is so beautiful, with a kind of style that only anime could capture. For real, I don’t think that any other medium could have told this story in this way. As Timms put it – there are no other words.
9 out of 10