The Oscars are this Sunday, and you have a chance to see two of the nominees beforehand at the Angelika: The Wind Rises (nominated for best animated feature) and Omar (nominated for best foreign language film). Both are worth your time.
The Wind Rises is the latest from Hayao Miyazaki, Japanese anime expert of Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle. To be honest, I’ve always found Miyazaki’s style a bit strained and abstract, not always in good ways. But The Wind Rises may be the culmination of his union of fantasy and realism. Set during the 1930s and ’40s, it tells the true story of Jiro Horikoshi (dubbed in English-language versions by Joseph Gordon-Levitt; it’s also shown with subtitles), an aeronautics engineer who designed Japan’s Zero fighter, the revolutionary long-range aircraft responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor. That’s a fact never mentioned in the film, and probably for good reason: Romanticizing the architect of the nastiest assault on America until 9/11 might not play in the heartland, but like Das Boot (the film that showed a sympathetic side to German U-boat inductees), it paints a human portrait of an artist.
Yes, artist, because in Miyazaki’s world, anyone committed to perfection the way Jiro was deserves respect for putting his soul into his work. Jiro, physically incapable of flying himself, lives in the air vicariously through his planes. It makes for a touching portrait of a man who, like Robert Oppenheimer and the folks with the Manhattan Project, did something with passion without regard for what it would ultimately be used for.
The style of the artwork, in traditional anime, is detailed and mostly hand-drawn — a throwback to the pre-Pixar days. After what we know CGI can do, it takes a few minutes to become accustomed to the rich simplicity of the style, but that’s part of the joy in discovering a movie like this.
Omar (Adam Bakri) is handsome young Palestinian, radicalized by the oppressive occupation by Israelis. When Omar and his friend Tarek plan an attack that kills an Israeli soldier, Omar gets captured and — through the kind of offensive legal trickery that should anger most Westerners (where “I won’t confess” is legally the same as a confession) — he’s conscripted into spying on his friends.
Omar is a political thriller, a cat-and-mouse drama and a love story that balances all of its components masterfully. The scenes of torture are amazingly brutal and even more unjust, the tender moments palpably loving and the twists and turns complex but exciting. Director Hany Abu-Assad, whose 2005 film Paradise Now was also nominated for an Oscar, knows how to stage foot chases like he’s auditioning for a Bourne sequel, but it’s the humanity of the film, and Bakri’s focused, passionate performances, that makes it more than just a genre picture.
Both now playing at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.