Touchstone Pictures via Everett Collection
For a career that was spent constructing mystical worlds like the ones seen Princess Mononoke, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Spirited Away, it might seem a little odd that Hayao Miyazaki's swan song is centered on the real-life story of about the famed aeronautical engineer Jiro Hirokishi. But even though there aren't any magical creatures flying around the skies of a very true-to-life 20th century Tokyo, that doesn't mean that The Wind Rises is lacking in wonder. In fact, Miyazaki's last film may be his most inspiring yet, and is doubtlessly his most personal. After all, it's hard not to see the parallels between the subject of The Wind Rises and its creator himself.
The film follows the famed aeronautical engineer who dreamed of flight, but is kept out of the cockpit thanks to his nearsightedness. Instead, Jiro decides to focus his attention on designing and creating planes. He’s the kind of person that can see inspiration in the slope of a fish bone; every little slice of life can serve as source of inspiration.
Eventually, Jiro becomes Japan's premiere aeronautical engineer — and how could he not when he has the voice of Stanley Tucci in his ear, spurring him on? Tucci plays a dreamed-up version of Giovanni Caproni, a real life Italian aircraft engineer who inspires Jiro to keep working towards his goals. The dream sequences where Caproni visits Jiro are some of the film's finest moments, and Tucci puts as much Italian-accented verve and hope into his performance that almost inspires you to get out of your theater chair and start tinkering with whatever pursuit lifts your own wings. It is in these dream sequences where The Wind Rises really soars, as we watch the two inventors construct odd, curious, and wondrous flying contraptions that can take to the skies, even when the real world physics won't allow them to. Rises might lacks the fantastical worlds and creatures that populate Miyazaki's other works, but it's no less magical. But beyond the wonder of building airplanes, there are hard truths to be learned, and as Jiro realized soon enough, his creations will be dropping the bombs that will serve as Japan's introduction to much of the western world.
Touchstone Pictures via Everett Collection
But for all the fantastic dreamscapes and characters that populate Jiro's world, from Tucci's lively Caproni, to Jiro's excitable sister who has dreams of her own, to even his love interest Naoko, the one flaw in the film seems to be Jiro himself. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who voices Jiro in the English translation of the film, sounds utterly lifeless, and even in the film's emotional peaks and valleys, it sounds like he's reading a telephone book. And while the rest of the English voice cast mostly soars to the occasion, including Martin Short who voices Jiro's hot-tempered boss, and Werner Herzog who helps give the enigmatic Castorp an air of mystery, Jiro is a black hole of personality, and Levitt doesn't manage to give much of anything to Jiro.
The Wind Rises is also a crash course in early 20th century Japan, as we see a country yearning to show the world it's mettle, and we get a peak at the countries' growing pains. We see various events play out on screen including a beautifully animated depiction of the 1923 earthquake that levels Tokyo, and rips through japan like a cresting tidal wave (Studio Ghibli is in top form in the animation department as usual). We also see glimpses of the tuberculosis crisis, the depression, and the early foundations of Japan's relationship with Nazi Germany. These events don't take away from what is firmly Jiro's story, but serve as context to his journey
The Wind Rises is an ode to the dreamers. It's for the creatives who craft their goals in their heads, and unleash their creations for the world to see. It's a uniquely inspiring film that stands with the best of Miyazaki's filmography, and provides a graceful end note to a marvelous career.
When Hollywood.com visited the set of Skyfall in May of 2012, director Sam Mendes described his vision with excitement and trepidation. With a filmography comprised of mostly smaller, character-driven films, it was the first time the American Beauty director would step up to do a full-blown action movie. And in a franchise he loved: Mendes gushed over Bond like any die hard fan would. As we learned when the movie arrived in theaters later last year, he was exactly what the franchise needed. Skyfall amounted to one of the best 007 missions in the character's history.
After Skyfall's mega-success — the movie took over $1.1 billion worldwide and is now the seventh highest grossing film of all time — many believed producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson would woo Mendes back for a second round. With screenwriter John Logan reportedly returning to pen the next entry, a second go for the Skyfall director became more and more of a possibility. But in a bittersweet move, it now appears that Mendes will put Bond aside to pursue other projects.
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“It has been a very difficult decision not to accept Michael and Barbara’s very generous offer to direct the next Bond movie," Mendes explains to Empire Magazine."Directing Skyfall was one of the best experiences of my professional life, but I have theatre and other commitments, including productions of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and King Lear, that need my complete focus over the next year and beyond."
Like many previous Bond directors, Mendes made sure to keep the door open for his possible return to the series ("[I] very much hope I have a chance to work with them again sometime in the future"), but Empire confirmed with Broccoli and Wilson that the search for a replacement is now very much on. Who will take the reins after Skyfall's critical and financial success? While many look straight to the blockbuster filmmakers who define the modern era — your Spielbergs, your Nolans, your Whedons — here are six of our suggestions of directors could hit the high bar set by Mendes, but in diverse new ways. Skyfall was brilliant, but the prospect of a fresh entry is unequivocally exciting.
The Zero Dark Thirty director is at the top of her game after seeing two politically-driven films nominated for a wealth of Oscars, and more importantly, the raves of audiences across the globe. She's one of the most ferocious action directors working today and, while her recent work rips its ideas from the headlines, she has experience working with pulpier material (we can't be the only ones still watching Point Break on a monthly basis). Bigelow would effectively continue the realistic edge established by Skyfall, which used cyber-terror and the morality of spy work as a catalyst for its adventure.
Nicolas Winding Refn
When Daniel Craig stepped into the shoes of 007 for Casino Royale, director Martin Campbell took the stunts to even bigger heights. Mendes took the opposite approach: Skyfall has plenty of action, but it is intimate to claustrophobic levels. Drive director Refn has been eyeing up Hollywood blockbusters — he recently bowed out of a remake of Logan's Run starring regular collaborator Ryan Gosling — and he shares Mendes' sensibility for the small-scale. Drive isn't an action movie, it just feels like one. It doesn't shy away from the shocking, the twisted, or the grisly. We don't need an R-rated James Bond movie, but a director unafraid to challenge convention and character tropes is exactly what the series needs to do to keep itself on its toes.
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Alfredson's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was a slow burn spy movie — maybe a bit too slow for its own good. But what it gets right is the terrifying prospect of being too deep, lost in a sea of facts, and the mind games that come with solving an internal mystery. As Bond continues to develop as a character (a new approach in the Craig-era), Alfredson could leverage Skyfall's momentum into a full-fledged "thinking man's" Bond movie. Imagine the snippy banter scene between Craig and Javier Bardem played out through an entire movie, tension bubbling over in every moment. That's what Alfredson would bring to the table.
If you saw We Need to Talk About Kevin, you know that Ramsey has an eye like few filmmakers working today. Like Mendes, she doesn't have many movies in her oeuvre that scream "Bond director." Yet Ramsey's skill set feels perfectly aligned with what a successful Bond director has to accomplish: take a specific scenario with a specific dramatic angle and let it blossom with a fury of imagery. One thing Broccoli and Wilson understand more than any producers working with major blockbusters today is the need for a vision. Not all major tentpoles need to look the same. Ramsey could prove that a sweeping action movie could also look like an artfully crafted indie.
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Speaking of artfully crafted, Park Chan-wook has made a career out bloody revenge films that speak to the darkest aspects of human nature. The Korean director has a modern classic under his belt, with the 2003 manga adaptation Oldboy, and his English debut Stoker (currently in theaters) is an exercise in mood and is incomparable to any American director's output. Having taken a uniquely British approach with Skyfall, a follow-up film has the opportunity to jump to the other end of the spectrum by capturing the essence of another part of world. Make Bond a fish out of water and use Park Chan-wook's sensibilities to do it. And a purely surface level reason: have you seen the hammer fight in Oldboy? Enough said.
After knocking a Bond short film produced for the 2012 Olympics out of the park, we already know Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later) is capable of energizing 007 with his signature kineticism. He has said in the past that he wouldn't want to direct a feature-length Bond movie, preferring low-budget movies that allow him to stretch his muscles than Hollywood blockbusters that are helmed by committee. But maybe Skyfallwill sway him. Bond is a franchise that demands a director's stamp. Boyle would press down hard and leave quite a colorful one.
Who would you pick as a director for the next Bond movie? Let your imagination run wild in the comments.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Sony Pictures]
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