Animation master Hayao Miyazaki has said “The Wind Rises,” opening Friday, May 16, at the Capitol Theater, will be his last film.
Some critics are calling it his best.
“Hayao Miyazaki is the greatest animator the cinema has ever known, and he leaves us with perhaps the greatest animated film the cinema has ever seen,” David Ehrlich wrote on Film.com.
It’s also his most personal, said Leslie Shore of Olympia, who wrote her dissertation on the Academy Award-winning filmmaker.
Shore, who said she is “addicted to his films,” will answer questions after Saturday night’s screening at the Capitol Theater.
The film is a historical fantasy based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, who dreams of designing aircraft and is best known as the designer of the famed Japanese World War II fighter plane, the Mitsubishi Zero.
The film has been controversial, with some in Japan seeing it as critical of the country and others seeing it as glorifying war because it tells a fictionalized version of Horikoshi’s story.
But Horikoshi opposed Japan’s involvement in the war, and in the film, the character is clear that he wants to design planes that carry people, not bombs.
“Miyazaki said this is a story of someone trying to realize his dream that was then hijacked by militarism,” Shore said.
“Miyazaki has always spoken out against militarism,” she added. “He did not come to accept the Oscar for ‘Spirited Away’ (which won Best Animated Feature in 2001), because he said he would not come to a country that was bombing Iraq.”
The filmmaker’s father ran Miyazaki Airplanes, which made rudders for aircraft and was forced to make parts for fighter planes as part of the war effort during World War II.
The story has other parallels to the Miyazakis’ lives. The fictionalized Horikoshi falls in love with a woman who has tuberculosis, and Miyazaki’s mother spent much of his childhood either hospitalized or bedridden with the disease.
But perhaps the greatest parallel is in Horikoshi’s dream – his vision of creating something beautiful. He sees in his mind the plane he will create, much as Miyazaki sees the characters in his films, seeing them over and over before he ever draws them.
“I have their outline in my head,” Miyazaki said in a 2002 interview with the non-profit Japanese cinema website midnighteye.com. “I become the character, and as the character, I visit the locations of the story many, many times.”
The filmmaker begins with storyboards, not a script, Shore said.
“That is extremely rare,” she said. “I don’t know of another animator who does that. That’s a sign of someone who is working from his unconscious more than from marketing or commercialism.”
He communicates with metaphor and symbol, often found in the backgrounds of scenes.
“Everybody can make a film with logic,” Miyazaki said in the midnighteye.com interview. “But my way is not to use logic. I try to dig deep into the well of my subconscious.”
The connection to the subconscious is a big reason for the power and impact of Miyazaki’s films, Shore said.
Certainly, they’ve had a huge impact on her: She made the decision to attend Pacifica Graduate Institute, earning a Ph.D. in mythological studies and psychology, specifically so she could study Miyazaki.
“His stories are so extraordinary,” she said. “They speak to my soul and the souls of so many. I was drawn to the human origin of stories and why human beings create them and why we need them.”
Shore sees movies as the myths of today, the stories that shape our beliefs and define our values and ethics.
“We are going back in many ways to the pre-literacy age, when the ancient cave paintings and petroglyphs told the stories,” she said. “It was before the words. Now we are going back to this image-heavy society.
“Miyazaki’s films are metaphors helping us envision a better world.”