This "final" animated cartoon from the revered Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki is by turns visually striking, shocking, humorous and moving, providing an insider's insight into Japanese culture and history in the period leading up to World War Two. It is loosely based on the life of the designer of Zero fighter planes, Jiro Horikoshi, who was determined to match Western technical expertise, but appalled by the devastation of war: he was fascinated by the birdlike speed and beauty of flight, and in the process turned a blind eye to the destructive power of bombs until it was too late. Like other geniuses whose skills have been harnessed for evil ends, it was perhaps too much to expect him not to pursue his research.
In a touch of magic realism, the young Horikoshi meets in his dreams the earlier pioneering Italian aeronautical designer Gianni Caproni, who acts as his mentor and inspiration. There are breathtaking images of a major earthquake with the ensuing fire that destroyed much of Tokyo in the early 1920s, fanciful ideas of planes, developed through painstaking research into real prototypes, and the beauty of the green countryside with sudden bursts of rain and wind.
Although long, this film is completely absorbing, as the director's fertile imagination keeps one feasting on each scene before it vanishes. Above all, it provides a more sympathetic appreciation of the chain of events which dragged Japan into the war which destroyed it for a while, and enables one to perceive the Japanese of that time as people with real emotions and aspirations. As one watches the progress in developing planes, there lurks in the background the knowledge of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki disasters to come. Yet, the film contrives to end on a constructive note: "Le vent se lève et il faut tenter de vivre".