The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki's latest and possibly last feature (he has announced his retirement, but he's done that before), has the same dreamlike sense of magic that imbues all of the cartoon maestro's work - even though it's a story rooted in fact.

A love song about flight, about childhood obsessions realized, The Wind Rises was inspired by the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the aeronautical engineer responsible for the Mitsubishi Zero - the long-range fighters that attacked Pearl Harbor. But no: The Wind Rises is not a movie about Japanese military might, about the Empire in its bygone glory. The Horikoshi we see in Miyazaki's film (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) just wants to make something beautiful, something that will fly light and fast and long. He is devastated when his designs are turned to weapons.

Nominated for an animated feature Academy Award, The Wind Rises has the sweep and majesty of a Technicolor Hollywood classic. We see Jiro as a young boy, falling asleep with visions of flying machines in his head - and then his dreams merge with those of a mustachioed Italian, Caproni, builder of wondrous biplanes and elaborate airships.

The natural world - forests, mountains, lakes and sky - is rendered with breathtaking artistry. Miyazaki has always captured the percussive poetry of rain in rich, sensory ways, and does so again here: Jiro, as a young man, courting the delicate Nahoko (Emily Blunt), running for cover as a thunderstorm rolls in. The couple first meet in the throes of the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, and the catastrophic event is conveyed with palpable force - the images of a city rolling and breaking, of fire and ash, undulating roads and railways.

The Wind Rises has brushed up against controversy in Japan, from both right and left. But there can be no controversy in the simple declaration that The Wind Rises is genius, ingeniously realized.

The Wind Rises **** (Out of four stars)

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. With the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, Mandy Patinkin, and Werner Herzog. Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.

Running time: 2 hours, 6 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (violence, adult themes)

Playing at: Ritz Five EndText