There are no wizards, demons, or ghosts in this self-proclaimed final film from the mind and pen of the great Hayao Miyazaki. Except, maybe there are. Either way, it isn’t all realism: The story, built up in layered chronological order (child, neophyte engineer, husband to an ailing beauty) is frequently punctuated by glorious dreams inspiring young Jirô Horikoshi, a boy with owl glasses whose frustrated aspirations to fly quickly turn him into an engineering genius for flying machines. The film begins and ends in Tokyo firestorms — the great Kantō earthquake of 1923, then the end of World War II and the implied dropping of The Bomb. All Jirô wants is to create and perfect human flight, but we know where this story goes. He designs the Japanese Zero for the Mitsubishi company, and violence and regret ultimately follow. But Jirô is first and foremost a sweet geek. “I thought you were going to marry an airplane,” says his boss when he announces he’s taken a fiancée.
Animation is an art form made up of obsessive fans and auteurs, and with Wind we can’t help but feel Miyazaki wants us to understand his regrets in regard to immersing himself in a difficult, painstaking art form that never gets appreciated as real cinema. Perhaps the weapon-of-war metaphor is a bit melodramatic, and some plot aspects aren’t exactly clear (who is the German character voiced by Werner Herzog?), but ending his work with a straight historic tragedy shouts Miyazaki’s hope to be taken seriously. It’s like The Tempest — a farewell to spells and obsessions, as well as a catalogue of its filmmaker’s many styles.
What’s missing is the underworld richly examined in films like Spirited Away. But what Miyazaki does better than any animator alive — even here — is to map enchantment, which has always been his major theme. There are no monsters and ghosts here, but there are Nazis and secret police. Maybe Miyazaki will return to wizard films someday. But even if he doesn’t, he’s left a haunting legacy. The uses of enchantment betray us, this movie says, but the thing itself is sublime.