This film was animated by Japan’s famous Studio Ghibli and was the final film directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away) before he retired. It follows a young engineer in his quest to build the perfect aircraft and as he falls in love with a young woman.
*note: this review contains a few, partial spoilers
1, This movie is loosely based on the real life of Jiro Horikoshi who actually did design the Zero fighter, saw a great deal more of war and suffering than our hero, was frequently in a fragile state of health and whose wife didn’t suffer from tuberculosis.
2. Miyazaki does an excellent job of conveying a dreamer’s flight of imagination and the subsequent fall back to earth, reality and duty.
3. The film skirts the messy historical details of war. At one point a more prosaic character than our hero sums it up nicely by saying that everyone wants to go to war with Japan. And later that ‘we’re not building a war machine, we’re just trying to build a superior aircraft’ (that aircraft was to become the infamous Zero fighter).
4. Miyazaki makes engineering look fun by revealing some of the imaginative effort that goes into it. I can’t recall another film that has managed to do so.
5. A nefarious German spy makes an appearance midway through the film and his arrival darkens the film considerably.
6. One of the odd things about Jiro is that he is in many ways oblivious to the world around him. He seems to glide along despite the pressures of his job, a natural disaster, and the war precisely thanks to his dreamy nature and Platonist-like obsession with the perfect aircraft. All of which is both disconcerting (as it highlights his character’s artifice and he can come off as callous) and comforting (I would also like to be as stoical, as steadfast as this kid).
7. While watching this I couldn’t help but be reminded of another Platonist, a diligent worker and passionate dreamer with the same name – Jiro of ‘Jiro dreams of sushi’. (Which if you haven’t already seen – you should):
8. Jiro receives guidance in his dreams from Giovanni Battista Caproni an Italian aircraft designer (also a historical figure). It is Caproni who convinces him to give up his dream of becoming a pilot and to design planes instead. These are some of the most lighthearted moments as they defy gravity on planes with impossible designs.
9. Wind brings the two lovers together in various ways. (No I’m not gonna tell you how, I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you).
10. Call me a sappy romantic but I found the love story touching. (Did I cry?.….I ain’t sayin’).
11. When I watched this film I didn’t realize that it was based on a real figure. Afterward the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia led me first to the real Jiro’s page and them to the horrors of the B29 firebombing campaign of Tokyo, and onward to the nightmare that was Curtis LeMay.
12. From Wikipedia: The Operation Meetinghouse firebombing of Tokyo on the night of 9 March 1945 was the single deadliest air raid of World War II, greater than Dresden, Hiroshima, or Nagasaki as single events.
12.5 Fuck Curtis LeMay.
Judson Hamilton lives in Wrocław, Poland. Twitter: @judson_hamilton