With almost no prior knowledge on the movie's premise (save that it's about a designer of fighters in World War II), I would eventually find out that the whole story is an autobiography on Jiro Horikoshi - the designer of the iconic Zero Fighters - although a bit unexpectedly, it is a highly fictionalized one.
Leaving out the question on the potrayal of the atrocities bought by the Japanese during the war, I have a feeling that the character Jiro is somewhat a bit... flat. We are shown his dedication - obsession, almost - to his work, that we get much chance to view his own monologue and introspection, in regards to his work and how it relates to the war.
It is the inclusion of the dream sequence featuring the Italian plane designer, Caproni, and Jiro's wife, Naoko (which was said to be based from the work The Wind Has Risen), which adds life to this story. I think it is perhaps fitting to talk of dreams and ideals in the context of a literal dream, seeing as the movie doesn't offer other opportunity which Jiro could talk of his dream of building a beautiful plane. Naoko's part seems a bit rushed and sometimes too dramatic (there was the one scene which actually invite a handful of chuckle from the audience - though that might say more about the audience than the movie... but well), but on hindsight I realized that the movie only touch the subject of the horror of war as something of a side topic.
While some have come to complain that Miyazaki's is pussyfooting around the atrocities caused by Japan during the war, I am more concerned in us not able to gleam more into Horikoshi's character. After reading a comparison between the movie and the story of the real life Jiro, I found that the real life Horikoshi has indeed feel the guilt of been involved in the creation of the instrument of war. I'm sure this is something that a lot of other inventors went through as well - I recalled the creator of the Kalashnikov himself lamenting the legacy left by the venerable AK47...
The sense of guilt doesn't have as much weight as it is, I feel for the movie. Though there was a scene where one of the character remarked 'We are not arms merchants. We just want to make good planes", the rest of the characters sentiment on the war are reserved on them not being able to catch up with other countries, as well as the poor economic. And those are perhaps the strongest misgivings on war shown - though the one small part on the loss of privacy could be more well developed too.
Someone remarked that The Wind Rises sits in between Porco Rosso and Graveyard Of The Fireflies in term of touching upon the theme of war - and incidentally I haven't watched those two...
With no comparison to make between those two movies, I think it's a good movie - something which is fitting for Miyazaki. Interestingly, having not touching any of his works for a long time (I should do a marathon of his works someday), I had some eyebrow-raising moments looking at the animation quality and character design... and then realizing that seeing how far this man has come, those qualities are something which is a recognizable trademark of his.
What beautiful hand drawn animation
After watching the movie, I'd like think that it is perhaps not of his interest to fully tackle the atrocity of war in the movie. Seems like his way of dealing with the topic of war is by looking at the idealism and naivety of those involved... which on hindsight is perhaps why we don't get shown moments of self doubt and fear (towards the war) by Horikoshi, as well as actual casualties by the war. Granted, the story might benefit from more depth on those elements, but would the scope be fitting with the rest of the elements in the movies - especially the whole talk of dream (tackled rather literally)?
War casualties are rather absent from this movie... except maybe scenes such as this
On a personal note for how I feel a the end of the movie, the last scene made me tear up, I'll admit.
For some reason, as I went back and resumed Kantai Collection, it got me thinking how those involved in the war would view how some have potrayed elements from war in the media. It's not a matter of morality, or patriotic, or how it reminds them of the war - but rather, the feeling of their involvement, and for people like Horikoshi, how they feel about their creation being potrayed.
Nevermind the fighters are not anthromorphised in the game
Miyazaki was reported to be inspired in making the movie upon coming across Horikoshi's quote, which goes 'All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful'. And he certainly managed to do that with this movie. If this is truly his last movie, then it is indeed what others have call upon as a beautiful swan song.
Addendum: Doodle post-movie watching