Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Today, a very special animated feature is sneaking into theaters nationwide, one that is totally worth your time and attention (especially if you've already seen "The Lego Movie" in 3D). It's a movie called "The Wind Rises" and it's based on the life story of Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese designer and engineer who was responsible for the Zero jet plane, an instrumental in the Japanese efforts during World War II (a fact that has made the animated film somewhat controversial, at least in some circles).

A work of transcendent beauty, "The Wind Rises" is a love letter to aviation, to the spirit of adventure, and to the basic truth that inside all of us is the chance to change the world. It is (supposedly) the last feature film to be directed by Hayao Miyazaki, largely regarded as Japan's Walt Disney, a master animator and storyteller whose work contains a singular, haunting quality that lingers long after lights come on in your darkened movie theater.

What's even more exciting is that this version of "The Wind Rises" is slightly different than the one that opened in Japan and made the festival circuit last year (I saw it when it touched down at the New York Film Festival), since it has an all-new English language track supervised by frequent Steven Spielberg collaborator Frank Marshall and featuring an all-star cast that includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as Jiro), Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Stanley Tucci, and Werner Herzog (!) I was lucky enough to chat with Gordon-Levitt about his involvement in the film, his role in the upcoming "Sin City" sequel, and whether or not he'd be interested in making an animated film one day.

Moviefone: What was your initial reaction when you were approached to do a voice for the English dub?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Oh, I was delighted. I jumped at the chance. He's such a special filmmaker. I was just honored and excited.

Had you always been a fan of his movies?

I think the first one I saw was "Princess Mononoke." And I think that was in the late '90s, I'm going to estimate. I loved his movies and yes... The answer is yes.

Did you get to meet him or get to go out to the studio or anything?

No. I haven't met him yet. I hope to one day, maybe the next time I'm traveling in Japan, I would love to get the chance to meet him and get to see the studio.

Was there any additional pressure on your end because it is supposedly his last movie?

I suppose. That really wasn't what I was thinking about. I was so taken with the film itself -- it really is, without exaggeration, one of the most beautiful films that I have ever seen. And I just wanted to honor that and transmit it and see to it that an English-speaking audience could watch it and I could give them a faithful adaptation of what that is.

And you got to work with Frank Marshall on the translation. How was that?

Oh, well, he's one of the greats. Getting asked by him to do this was an honor.

You're going to be in the "Sin City" sequel later this year, which is a similarly exaggerated, cartoon world. Have you seen any footage from that or have any idea what it's going to look like?

I haven't seen any of it yet. Just what we shot while we were shooting. But I'm pretty confident it's going to be bad-ass.

Being a filmmaker yourself, have you thought about directing an animated movie?

Yeah, well I've directed lots of animated shorts with "HitRecord." We made a TV show called "HitRecord" that just started airing on the cable channel Pivot. And there's lots of animated features on there. I love the form of animation. It's a beautiful part of cinema, and live-action movies have always run on a parallel track to animated motion pictures, since the beginning of movies. They've both been a part of what cinema is. I love them.

Could you picture yourself tackling an animated feature, especially given that you know how much crazy hard work and time goes into these things?

Sure, one day.

Have you started to plot out your next feature as a director?

Kind of, yes. I've got a lot of ideas.

Do you have any favorite animated films -- either by Miyazaki or otherwise?

Well, if you haven't seen a lot of Miyazaki movies, the first one I'd recommend is "Spirited Away." And then "Princess Mononoke" after that. There are so many good ones. If you go futher back -- "My Neighbor Totoro." I love the classic Disney animated movies, "Dumbo" is a particular favorite of mine. I also love the stop-motion stuff, like "Nightmare Before Christmas" is one of my favorite movies. Lately, I've been watching this show called "Creature Comforts" that is based on this British animated short.

"The Wind Rises" is playing in select theaters across the country.
The Wind Rises Movie Poster
The Wind Rises
In Theaters on February 14, 2014

A lifelong love of flight inspires Japanese aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi, whose storied career includes... Read More

categories Interviews