“All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful.”
Of all Miyazaki’s work, this may be the least suited to the American market: a sad, romantic story about a nerdy but pure-hearted engineer. It is very loosely based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane.
As a young boy in a relatively poor and backward country Jiro (voiced as a child by Zach Callison and as an adult by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is fascinated by airplanes but frustrated by the knowledge that his poor eyesight will keep him from ever becoming a pilot.
In a vivid lucid dream he meets Giovanni Caproni (Stanley Tucci) the famous aircraft designer. Caproni, who claims that he is also dreaming, shows Jiro his plans for a gigantic trans-Atlantic passenger aircraft. Inspired, Jiro vows to become an aeronautical engineer.
As I would expect from Miyazaki, this movie has great visual images, ranging from meticulous historical scenes to startling images of aircraft disasters and aerial combat. Perhaps the most disturbing sequence shows the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, during which Jiro meets the love of his life, Naoko Satomi (Emily Blunt).
For me the most notable thing about the movie is how it depicts the inner life of an engineer: the poetry of technology, the drive to create something that is not merely new but also beautiful. Miyazaki, whose pacifist views are well known, is fully aware of the moral difficulties that arise when the engineer’s desire to create beautiful things is turned toward the creation of engines of destruction.
Though this is probably not to the taste of the average American moviegoer, it is an artistic triumph and well worth seeing if you are open to this sort of thing.
The movie is rated PG-13, mostly for smoking. However this is not something that you should drag your small children to. Most of it will be over their heads and some scenes will be disturbing.
Unfortunately the teenagers who might appreciate it most will not be caught dead going to the theater to see an animated movie. They will have to wait for the DVD.