The current word is that Hayao Miyazaki, the greatest and perhaps the last of the movies' hand-drawn-feature animators, is going to retire after his latest releast, The Wind Rises. And while I am always skeptical about show business retirements, I would like to report that the maker of Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, and so many other animated masterworks, was going out in a blaze of glory.
But The Wind Rises isn't nearly up to his top standard.
Miyazaki's movies are remarkable for never resembling one another. But The Wind Rises is remarkable among them for being just plain dull. The story of the man who created the Japanese Zero, one of the dealiest weapons of World War II, is a simple Horatio Alger story about a man whose life lacked the kind of struggle and conflict that makes for drama, if we can judge by this movie.
There were plenty of seeds for drama, including a point where he had to hide out from the secret police, and there were possibilities for comedy in his insistence that airplanes were instruments of peace-- at one point he even suggests that the Zero could be made lighter by leaving out the guns. But none of these are exploited, some barely mentioned.
His wife's tuberculosis is one of those Hollywood illnesses whose only visible symptom is death, but that isn't much exploited, either. The obsession with airplanes that makes him work at his engineering even at his wife's bedside could have led to domestic drama, but it doesn't.
There is occasional beauty but little drama or comedy in the animation, either. Even the faces of the protagonists do not develop or even mature over the years, and are, in fact, almost abstract, with no nonessential lines even when they laugh or cry.
There just isn't much to The Wind Rises.