The Wind Rises is the latest (and, until further notice, the last) 2D animated offering from Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki – the Oscar-winning Japanese filmmaker, whose credits include My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. His latest project is a semi-fictionalized memoir about Jiro Horikoshi, the inventor of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero Fighter and other Japanese fighter plane designs that were used in WWII.

Miyazaki’s historical drama will release in the U.S. next year (watch the trailer), shortly before the 86th Annual Academy Awards ceremony takes place. Wind Rises is sure to be a strong contender in the Best Animated Feature Oscar category this year, along with the computer-animated musical Frozen (produced by Disney, which is distributing Miyazaki’s film domestically). No surprise, Wind Rises‘ artistic merits have proven more than enough to secure an impressive voice acting lineup for the english-dubbed version that will screen in the States.

According to USA Today, the Wind Rises U.S. voice cast includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon) as protagonist Jiro, with Emily Blunt (Into the Woods) voicing Jiro’s sickly object of affection, Nahoko, and Blunt’s husband/actor John Krasinski (The Office) lending his vocals to Honjo, Jiro’s college friend and fellow aviation enthusiast.

Other noteworthy voice cast members for Wind Rises include Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), Mandy Patinkin (Homeland), William H. Macy (Shameless),  Mae Whitman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Elijah Wood (Maniac), filmmaker/actor Werner Herzog (Jack Reacher) and 1980s/90s actress icon Jennifer Grey (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Dirty Dancing).

When interviewed, both Levitt and Blunt showered Wind Rises with nothing but praise, with regard to how it blends Miyazakian Impressionism – through dream sequences where Jiro wrestles with his innermost feelings, be they love for Nahoko, passion for his career or guilt over the destruction of life wrought by his inventions – with a more grounded storyline that deals with very recognizable (and accessible) human themes (the effects of war, relationships, aspirations vs. reality, and so forth).

Blunt, in particular, emphasized that if Wind Rises does prove to be Miyazaki’s swan song, then its message is a fitting capstone to his career:

“‘We must live’ is a line audiences will hear in the movie, and it’s through our losses and our accomplishments, as if we’re emboldened by our dreams, that we must live. That’s a really deep message for a lot of people.”

On the less encouraging side of things: Wind Rises has been criticized for presenting certain aspects of Japan’s past as more palatable and/or gliding over select events altogether (a.k.a. white-washing history). Additionally, there’s generally a split between audience preferences for the different versions of Miyazaki’s films, as some moviegoers tend to vastly favor the original cut (with english subtitles) – not the english dub – and that will affect the feature’s box office turnout, even in a limited U.S. release.

Those issues aside – seeing how this may well be Miyazaki’s final bow – there’s still more than reason enough for the filmmaker’s North American fans to turnout and see Wind Rises in theaters.

The Wind Rises opens in U.S. theaters on February 21st, 2014.

Source: USA Today