“Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.” – Beethoven
The word art, in the sense I’ll be talking about it today, is defined by Webster’s in the following way:
“The quality, production, expression or realm, according to aesthetic principles of, of what is beautiful, appealing or of more than ordinary significance.”
The main phrase of that definition is “more than ordinary significance.” This post is to recognize two artists – one ending his career and one nearing the end of his career – who have over the period of their illustrious careers sparked our imaginations, showed us beauty in ways we never expected and reminded us of the power of our dreams. They are the pinnacle of their respective arts, and have over the years wowed us with their expertise and mastery of their crafts.
A Farewell Thank You to (and from) Hayao Miyazaki
For those of you who have never seen a Hayao Miyazaki film, I’m half tempted to tell you to stop reading this right now and go watch one. Rarely before – if ever – has there been a creator that has understood the power and beauty that can exist in the realm of animation. His works are proof that an animated film can have as much heart, humanity, love and emotion of any live action work. With credit to the amazing animators at Studio Ghibli who bring his dreams to life, Miyazaki has long captured our imaginations with boldly intelligent and beautifully artistic creations. His latest film – his last film, though some rumors suggest otherwise – “The Wind Rises” is the perfect conclusion to such a remarkable career. Equal parts bittersweet, fascinating, heart-wrenching and inspiring, it is the humble and very gracious finale of this master filmmaker. “The Wind Rises” blends the childlike imagination that Miyazaki is known for with the maturity of his years in a way that only Miyazaki can.
The film follows the life of Jiro Horikoshi, a young boy who dreams of flying and spends his life pursuing his dream of designing beautiful aircrafts. Miyazaki handles Jiro’s dreams realistically and enviably. Jiro is a man who doesn’t care what his planes are used for. He’s an artist. Jiro creates his design just because he loves the beauty of flying and he dreams of creating the most beautiful machine of flight imaginable. From the opening dream sequence (which Miyazaki uses often in the film, interweaving it seamlessly into the happenings of Jiro’s life), Miyazaki captures us with beautiful animation to make the viewer really understand the beauty Jiro sees in flight. From the first moment, the viewer understands Jiro’s fascination and spends the rest of the movie appreciating that art.
Meanwhile, amidst his fascination with flight, Miyazaki crafts Jiro’s life so flawlessly as he ages, befriends colleagues and finds the love of his life. The romance Miyazaki builds between Jiro and his love Nahoko is one of the most pure, genuine and heartfelt love stories I’ve ever seen on film. Nahoko is a woman who appreciates Jiro’s dreams and not only encourages him to pursue him, but also loves him for his ambitions. Meanwhile, Jiro’s love for Nahoko is what inspires him and is the only thing that he loves as much (if not more) than flight. One particularl scene, in which Nahoko demands that Jiro hold her hand while he works, is so simplistically romantic that you can’t help but be moved. It’s the romance we all long for, and Miyazaki portrays it with a delicacy and grace that is exemplary of his filmmaking capabilities.
I imagine this was a personal project for Miyazaki. When Jiro speaks his last words of the film (simply “Thank you” choked out through tears of humility), the audience feels that this isn’t just Jiro thanking a character for appreciating his airplane designs. Jiro is speaking for Miyazaki who is thanking us, the viewer, for sharing in his vision. Airplanes in the movie represent Miyazaki’s career as an animator and that “thank you” is his way of thanking us for accompanying him over the years of his work, embracing it with such gratitude and awe. It’s a bittersweet moment as the “thank you” holds in it a finality that – while we beg for yet another beautiful creation from this artist (either Jiro or Miyazaki) – is equally beautiful and saddening. Just as the character talks about taking advantage of his ten years in the light, this is Miyazaki’s humble admittance that he took advantage of his time in the light. He felt the wind rise, and he seized the breeze and took flight.
So, Hayao Miyazaki, assuming this is your final film as you’ve said it is, we would like to thank you for sharing this journey with us. Thank you for trusting us enough to open your imagination with us and deeming us intelligent enough to respect your visions the way they deserve to be respected. Your works are timeless, and will remain the inspiration of animators and artists for years to come.
The (Potentially Brief) Return of the Great Roger Federer
For those of you who aren’t tennis fans, find video of matches that Roger Federer played between the years 2004 and 2008 and then try telling me you aren’t a tennis fan anymore. The man was (there’s a deliberate reason I’m using past tense here) an artist on the courts. He brought a level of grace and intelligence to the game that was previously unrivaled. The way he could construct a point made tennis look less like a racquet sport and more like watching Bobby Fisher on the chess board. The man was the premier example of the blend of artistry and athleticism. He was the type of player who set up his winning shot five shots before. He was the type of player who had opponents out of position before they even realized they were establishing positions. His repertoire of shots was so expansive – and he was so adept at picking and choosing them – that no matter what you had in store, he had something better.
Then, for reasons that people have speculated, he wasn’t the same player anymore. He started framing shots (hitting balls on the frame of the racquet instead of in the sweet spot of the strings), his unforced errors steadily increased and the mental endurance that had defined his career seemed non-existent. As the dominant reign of Federer faded away to the rising stars of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray (and could you possibly now add Stanislas Wawrinka to that list?), the speculation of the end of his career equivocally rose. He dropped from number one in the world to number eight, where he sits currently. Many analysts and experts predicted the end of Federer and the end of his influx of titles. But Federer said he wasn’t done, and this week in Dubai, he proved it.
This past week, Roger Federer claimed the title of the Dubai Duty Free Championship (for the sixth time, I might add). To get there, he knocked off the number two player in the world Novak Djokovic in the semifinal and the number five player in the world Thomas Berdych in the final. Needless to say, no matter who you are, knocking off two top-five seeded players en route to the championship is an admirable feat. But arguably, rarely has it ever been more significant than this week when Roger Federer did it.
Fans of Federer who watched the match were rewarded in a way that we were all waiting for. We saw the strategy and confidence that had been lost reform on the court. Shot after shot he would hit right on the line – especially in the final – pushing Berdych to the edges of the court patiently and relentlessly. He would vary the depth on his shots so masterfully, pushing Berdych back behind the base line then instantly dropping the ball just over the net. He was using his angles and shot selections the way that Federer became known for. And for the first time in a couple years, the lost talks of Federer winning another major have been revived.
Federer already holds the record for most Grand Slam career titles with 17, three ahead of the great Pete Sampras at number two. Federer is third on the list of all-time titles at 78, 16 behind Ivan Lendl and 31 behind the all-time leader, Jimmy Connors. Now, it’s unreasonable to believe that Federer will ever catch Jimmy Connors for that record. I believe it’s even a little bit of a reach to think he’ll ever catch Lendl in the statistic. And Federer himself has already stated that he believes Rafael Nadal – who is now at 13 Grand Slam titles – will pass him as the all-time leader in Grand Slam titles. I’ve always believed that. However, Federer’s win in Dubai was a statement win. That statement was a throw-down of the gauntlets. That was Roger Federer very clearly saying: “You still have me to deal with.”
Unfortunately, if this proves a speck in the pan for Federer and the rest of his year is marked by no more titles or Grand Slam finals appearances, this performance will not be recognized for the greatness that it was. This was arguably one of the best performances of Roger’s career, solely because he – when so many people (as others have said) wrote his tennis obituary – proved that he hasn’t died yet. He’s still capable of being the Roger Federer that we fell in love with and that brought tennis to the next level. He proved to us why he’s considered by many (and rightfully so) to be the greatest tennis player of all time. And even if that’s short-lived, I’m honored to have been able to see it and appreciate it for the masterful performance it was. Thank you, Roger, for reminding me why I love tennis and how beautiful an athletic art it can be.