Bespectacled Jiro looks a little like Waldo of "Where's Waldo?" although he is Japanese-born, favors pale lilac-colored suits, dreams of designing beautiful airplanes and uses that most unusual of tools in an animated movie: a slide rule.
He employs it for mathematical calculations and allows it to double as a splint for a stranger's broken leg.
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt (in dubbed version).
Rating: PG-13 for some disturbing images and smoking.
Jiro is a genius whose nearsightedness prevents him from becoming a pilot but not from dreaming about, engineering and perfecting planes in Hayao Miyazaki's "The Wind Rises."
It's one of five Oscar nominees for best animated feature and is being shown at the SouthSide Works Cinema in its original Japanese with subtitles and in a dubbed English-language version.
"The Wind Rises" spans three decades in the first half of the 20th century, introducing Jiro (voice of Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as a country boy who encounters Italian aeronautical designer Gianni Caproni (Stanley Tucci) in his dreams. The merry mustachioed Italian is sounding board, inspiration and surrogate speaker for the youngster who follows his dreams to a university and then the work force.
Jiro weathers such landmark Japanese events as the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, the Great Depression, tuberculosis epidemic and entry into World War II.
He and his best friend and fellow aviation engineer, Honjo (John Krasinski), find themselves designing planes destined for war, death and destruction. Jiro also falls in love with a young woman, Nahoko (Emily Blunt), who longs to spend time with him, despite some obstacles that cannot be engineered away.
"The Wind Rises" is from the director of the Oscar-winning "Spirited Away" and nominated "Howl's Moving Castle," and it could be Mr. Miyazaki's final feature if he follows through on talk about retiring from film projects.
It is beautifully realized with painterly images of trains traversing above verdant fields, clouds skittering across the horizon or dreamily hanging as white puffs tinged with pink, or houses rendered with such detail that there are pots of flowers outside and realistic decorations on a bedroom mantel.
Mr. Miyazaki brings that same sense of realism to scenes where the earthquake sends the ground heaving and burning, and planes on test runs spiral to the surface in smoking pieces.
The movie, a tribute to Zero fighter plane designer Jiro Horikoshi and writer Tatsuo Hori, obviously will resonate most with Japanese audiences who survived or studied the tragic developments of the past century and must continue to endure or thrive in the face of adversity.
And engineers will marvel more than the average watcher at flush rivets, which make for a smoother skin on a plane.
Like the filmmaker himself, his characters love fighter planes but denounce war, perhaps making this an easier go for Americans, although Pearl Harbor survivors and some others might feel differently.
And Mr. Miyazaki apparently considers cigarettes among his favorite things, and he's not afraid to have some of his characters smoke early and often. Given how youthful those characters look and how little they age, that is distracting, at least.
As for the English-speaking cast, Martin Short as Jiro's boss veers toward caricature and Mae Whitman as Jiro's little sister speaks with a grating voice in the earliest scenes. The rest of the voice talent, also including Mandy Patinkin. Werner Herzog, William H. Macy and Jennifer Grey, seem natural substitutes for the original Japanese.
"The Wind Rises" is different in almost every possible way from likely Oscar winner "Frozen." It's 126 minutes long, deservedly rated PG-13 and aimed at an older, more patient audience who will appreciate its attention to detail, distinctive characters, historical sweep and directorial stamp.
For Mr. Miyazaki, "Let it go" has a whole different meaning.
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