(Author’s Note: There is a song linked toward the bottom of this article. I highly recommend you play it and place it on repeat while you read this article. I feel it mixes very well and will heighten your reading experience. I write all my articles while listening to music and I feel it helps bring out the emotion in the words.)

I have watched many anime films and television series over the years, but after a while they begin to blend together even when they’re so unique in their own ways. Yet not once have I ever felt that way about the films of Hayao Miyazaki, a man who I like to think of as the Japanese Walt Disney. His films have this aura about them. Serious, yet whimsical. It’s like even his most mature films can be just as entertaining for younger children. Miyazaki’s animation empire has lasted for a long time and throughout all of it, not once have his films been anything less than greatness. The Wind Rises, a historical drama about the man who invented the Mitsubishi A5M and its successor the infamous A6M Zero, was his final feature film in 2013 and in my opinion, his greatest film to date.

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I know, that may sound blasphemous to some. Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, and his many other works are all great films. I can understand why it would be hard for anyone to claim that one is better than the others. He puts his heart and soul into everything and it can be felt by everyone. And yet, The Wind Rises stands above them all to me.

While the story of Jiro Horikoshi in this film is highly fictionalized, you can still feel the reality of this man. A young boy who loved airplanes, but was never able to fly one due to his sight, and as a result invented planes instead. Horikoshi opposed the idea of the war, but all he really cared about was building planes, which were ultimately tools of war. He dedicated his life to this dream and in the end he succeeded. And all of this is brought to life without the use of computers. Miyazaki went back to the stone age for this film and it really shows. However, rather than be a negative, this style of art and animation has a charm to it that is lost on more modern methods and it truly breathes life into the film and its characters.

This film spoke to me on a certain level. It’s all about dreams and reaching for the future, never looking back. Stand tall and be proud of your accomplishments and keep moving into the unknown. Everyone at some point has a dream. Something that they want to accomplish before they die or an idyllic life that they wish to live. Many of us will go through countless dreams before we finally accomplish one, some of us may never achieve their dreams, but in spite of it all we must keep moving forward into the future and fighting the curve balls that life throws our way.

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And all of this was brought to life even further by a magical score by Joe Hisaishi. His music has never ceased to invoke feelings of longing in me, and that has not changed.

In the end, Jiro’s children did not follow in his footsteps, but his work has inspired many, and Miyazaki aimed to capture that spirit of innovation in this film. It’s a shame that he received so much criticism from the government over the depiction of Jiro in this film as the kind of man you want to see succeed. It would seem that many in this day and age only remember the death that his inventions caused and the role that he ultimately played in the Japanese war effort of World War II. But I understand Miyazaki’s goal. Every person and every nation has their highs and lows throughout their existence, and Japan is no exception. Once they built machines that they were proud of and showed the world what they could do, but now they sit silently in stagnation and this film was intended to remind them of a time not too long ago.

And now, Miyazaki is retired and he has left behind his legacy as the greatest animated film director in the world with many films for us all to enjoy. There’s a film for everyone in his collection and I don’t think there’s an anime fan alive that doesn’t like even one of Miyazaki’s works. This film is a testament to a man who dedicated his life to animation and telling beautiful stories that inspire us all. In the end, you could say that Miyazaki, like Jiro, followed his dream to the very end, no matter how bumpy the road ahead became. It will be a sad day when he eventually leaves this world behind.