ROBERT DYLAN FIELDS WRITES – One of the most pressing issues being debated in Japan today is the need to beef up the country’s military presence.

Since the end of World War II, Japan has officially gone without an Army (a pacifist constitution being a condition of peace with the Allied forces). In truth, that hasn’t stopped the country from having a strong military through its well-trained and technologically advanced national guard, known as the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF).

In light of China’s growing might, Japanese politicians have been debating how much stronger, if at all, the JSDF should be. Most, it seem, don’t see a lot of need, tracking with people on the street who’d rather see increased funding of education, health care, and other programs that help citizens live happier lives.

Among those opposing further militarization is outspoken Academy Award winning director Hayao Miyazaki, one of Japan’s most legendary filmmakers. Best known for the animated marvel Spirited Away, Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli have returned to deliver what he says will be his final animated film, The Wind Rises.

Wind Rises Art

Since his directorial debut in 1979 with Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro, Miyazaki’s talent at animation has captured the hearts and minds of men, women, and children. Whether telling heartwarming fairy tales like My Neighbor Totoro, or high-fantasy epics such as Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki’s vivid imagination never disappoints.

But unlike most of his previous works of fiction, The Wind Rises is based on novelist Tatsuo Hori’s semi-biographical account of Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Hideaki Anno, creator of the acclaimed animated series Neon Genesis Evangelion), the aeronautical engineer behind the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane of World War II.

When it debuted in Japan last summer, the film was met with outrage from critics and politicians alike who were shocked that Miyazaki’s final film was based on the life of a man responsible for building killing machines.

Yet Miyazaki realized that there was more to Jiro than meets the eye, after reading and being inspired by a profound apolitical quote from Jiro himself: “All I wanted to do was make something beautiful.”

The film begins during Jiro’s adolescence and highlights his love and fascination with airplanes. While his nearsightedness prevents Jiro from having the chance to become a pilot, he’s inspired by the spirit of Italy’s renowned aeronautical engineer Giovanni Battista Caproni, in order to “make beautiful airplanes” himself.

Jiro embraces Caproni’s philosophy that airplanes are not meant to be tools of destruction or profit, but rather “beautiful dreams” that should be used to make people happy, and thus makes it his life’s purpose to build the most beautiful airplane possible, even as he endures not only turbulent times in his personal life, but in Japan’s history.

He survives the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which left thousands of people dead; he struggles and presses on through the Great Depression, which left Japan “20 years behind” the other developed nations of the West of that era; he endures racial prejudice as he travels to Germany to gain further creative inspiration from the German aircraft manufacturer Junkers.

Jiro’s indomitable will stems from the love and affection he receives from the beautiful Nahoko Satomi, a talented artist who encourages him to press on no matter how hard life gets. But his dream threatens to become a nightmare when the Japanese military seeks to weaponize his inventions to wage war in the Pacific. His turmoil is further exacerbated upon learning that Nahoko is suffering from tuberculosis.

In the drafting for the film’s screenplay, Miyazaki said he “wanted to portray [Jiro as] a devoted individual who pursed his dream head on.… Dreams possess an element of madness, and such poison must not be concealed. Yearning for something too beautiful can ruin you. Swaying toward beauty may come at a price.”

Miyazaki even admitted that this was the first time that he ever cried after watching one of his films.

The title of The Wind Rises itself was inspired by a quote from the French poet Paul Valéry, which roughly translates to “the wind is rising!… we must try to live!” No other quote can perfectly exemplify the theme of this film. Through the eyes of Jiro, we learn that even after suffering the most turbulent times of your life, it’s necessary to keep pressing on for the sake of finding happiness. Even if your dreams become nightmares as soon as they are fulfilled, one must continue to live on and find happiness when the winds of life sharply rise against you.

With marvelously animated flight sequences that rival that of Porco Rosso, a tear-jerking musical score by Joe Hisaishi, and a powerfully written screenplay complete with vivid characters, The Wind Rises is not only the best film of the year, but one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful films ever made. If Miyazaki is truly retiring from filmmaking, then he has succeeded in composing one of the most magnificent swan songs of film history.

The Wind Rises is currently screening for a limited time at the Landmark Theater and has already been submitted for consideration as a nominee for “best animated feature” at the 86th Academy Awards Ceremony of 2014. It will have an expanded international release on February 21, 2014.

For the film’s trailer please click here.