The Wind Rises is supposedly the legendary animator and filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki's final film, and it very well may be his best. A fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi, the chief engineer of many Japanese fighter planes deployed during World War II, it begins in his childhood, which is consumed by fantasies of flight. He yearns only to build the perfect airplane. As an adult, when finally given the chance to realize that dream, it's clear that his talents are to be used to build weapons of war. Yet he remains resolutely focused on his goal, to the exclusion of not merely his family but quite possibly the good in his soul.
History tells us that Horikoshi designed the Mitsubishi A6M Reisen "Zero," which went on to be used as a suicide weapon—the kamikaze—and was instrumental in the attack on Pearl Harbor. But Miyazaki's movie barely touches on this, opting only for Horikoshi's gorgeously hallucinatory premonitions of a conflict he knows is coming but, either out of stubbornness or a sense of duty, chooses to ignore.
Is it acceptable to empathize with this man, who willingly built a machine that cost thousands of lives? The film doesn't say, and its ambivalence transcends the standard biopic story, instead patiently constructing one not merely about separating the art from its creator but the idea that something terrible can also be beautiful. Miyazaki, like any great artist, knows a thing or two about his dreams being released into the world, potentially to be misused or misunderstood. For most of his career, he's been the chronicler of his people's imagination, youthful exuberance, and inexhaustible spirit, and if this indeed is his last work, he ends on an elder's wise note of caution, a warning that those great things are not the only things. A world without beauty may be no world at all, but to dream of the perfect future is to risk it.