‘What I really want to do is direct.’ That’s what film actors always say, right? But what about film directors? What do they ‘really want to do?’ HINT: it ain’t acting. Nope, what they really want to do is direct . . . direct a David Lean film. But who’da thunk Japan’s master animator Hayao Miyazaki had the David Lean bug? Yet, here he is, on his swansong pic, making what is in every aspect (except for its elaborate dream fantasies) the closest thing to a David Lean pic since . . . David Lean. (A PASSAGE TO INDIA/’84 was Lean’s last.) In telling the personal & professional story of Jirô Horikoshi, lead designer of Japan’s WWII ‘Zero’ war plane, Miyazaki’s gets it all right: the magisterial pacing & visual sweep; the march of history & strong narrative grip; huge, meticulously laid out set pieces to (literally) shake up destiny; love & labor lost; one stirring composition after another to contrast small detail against limitless vistas; delicate windswept parasols dueling landscape-filling trains that smoke their way across horizons. All in hand-drawn animation. Even familiar Lean faults are echoed as major characters turn disposable and political blinders shield us from uncomfortable/unanswerable moral questions. As an audience, we might be Alec Guinness in BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI/’57, unable (or is it unwilling?) to see the consequences of our actions. Horikoshi’s personal story may be largely invented for the film, but with this level of craftsmanship, emotion & beauty, it’s hard not to get caught in Miyazaki’s spell one last time. (NOTE: Family-Friendly, but no kiddie pic.)
DOUBLE-BILL: Miyazaki’s other aviation-themed pic, PORCO ROSSO/’92; still wildly underappreciated.