Isn't it just like humans to invent a thing of gravity-defying beauty and then use it to slaughter each other? Hayao Miyazaki's tribute to Zero fighter-plane designer Jiro Horikoshi has sparked controversy not just for having fictional elements, but for being a nostalgic fantasy, prone to lyricism — the title borrows from a poem by Paul Valéry — and temperamentally averse to treating Horikoshi's legacy with any tone other than bittersweetness. It should be said that this reportedly final film from the animation maestro and Studio Ghibli co-founder extends very naturally from Miyazaki's rightly beloved earlier works, which collectively reveal his own refreshingly incorruptible fascination with flying contraptions. Also, it's not wholly a flight of fancy to imagine his chosen protagonist as having once been just a young aspiring aeronautical engineer who happened also to be a citizen of Japan between the two World Wars. With consistently and characteristically exquisite visual design, Miyazaki's stance is elegantly established by the movie's overture: a boyhood dream of flight whose soaring liberty is heinously colonized by winged battle machines. He definitely does protect his notion of Horikoshi the dreamer, as if addressing the violence made possible by his work would only dignify or enable its destructiveness. It's a touching idea, but pacifism does lose force if it feels like denial.
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