Legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki bows out in typically unorthodox style with this visually stunning story of aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi, a peace-loving designer who nevertheless designed the lethal WWII Zero fighter. His life takes in the Great Kato earthquake of 1923, the Great Depression and, most significantly, the flexing of Japan's military muscles as it joined Germany in preparation for war. Miyazaki's swansong proves to be a genuine flight of fancy.
Unlike Germany, Japan's continual reluctance to fully atone for its vicious role in World War II has always left a taste in the mouth like week-old sushi.
So it's quite a surprise that legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki - a vociferous critic of his country's military amnesia - should dodge the bullet with a movie that fails to come out all guns blazing.
The intriguing story centres on Jiro Horikisho, a bookish adolescent whose myopia prevents him becoming a pilot...so he trains as an aeronautical engineer instead, inspired by vivid dreams of Italian plane-maker Gianni Caproni.
Early in his career he experiences a key encounter when he assists a woman and her daughter during the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, a scene beautifully rendered by Miyazaki who conveys the terrible power of the quake with rippling rooftops and the gentle rattle of railway ballast in its eerily silent aftermath.
The young girl becomes his wife, who is stricken with tuberculosis just as he's making a name for himself as an elite engeineer in the fledgling Tokyo aviation industry. However, his professional aim - to find the beauty in his soaring machines - is compromised by fact-finding trips to a sabre-rattling Germany.
Nevertheless, he presses on with his quest to build the perfect aeroplane, an ambition satisfied by the prototype of a fighter which will become the lethally efficient Mitsubishi A5M and subsequently the dreaded Zero.
Miyazaki argues that Horikisho's yearning for beauty has the power to destroy, hence the ultimate realisation of his skills as a plane designer is the fighter used by the Japanese kamikaze pilots against the advancing Americans.
However, nowhere is the destructive power of the product of Horikisho's vision featured in the film. Instead, it's alluded to in a series of dream sequences, an unsatisfactory acknowledgement of the real purpose of his life's work.
Ultimately, Miyazaki fails to hold the responsibility-shy Horikisho to account...which suggests he has his head hidden in the clouds as much as the young aerial inventor.