Legendary Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki announced that The Wind Rises would be his final film prior to a timely retirement from filmmaking. Miyazaki adapted The Wind Rises from his own manga of the same name, which was loosely based on the short story ‘The Wind Has Risen’ by Tatsuo Hori. The Wind Rises is a fictionalized biography of aerial engineer Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, used by the Japanese during World War II.
The creator of animated classics like My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and Princess Mononoke (1997), Miayazaki has also been a controversial voice in Japanese media with his strong anti-war/establishment views. The changing political and cultural landscape in Japan, post-Great Kanto Earthquake and pre-World War II provides a rich foundation for Miyazaki to explore Hiro’s aeronautical dreams and engineering feats. I adore Miyazaki’s love for invention and his obsession with how machines function, the details of which have always been carefully included in his films. The motion of flight (Castle in the Sky, Porco Rosso) and the image of machines in action (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle) has always been an incredibly beautiful element of his animation and are at the heart of this tale. The Wind Rises is a distinctly personal film, a strikingly animated tale of love, inspiration and artistic commitment.
The film’s early chapters are a little confusing, with a haunting blurring of dream and reality. We are introduced to Young Jiro, who, being unable to become a pilot due to his poor eyesight from an early age, turns his ambitions toward engineering having been inspired by his dreams of Italian aircraft designer, Caproni. Significant events shape Jiro and set his path into collision with a beautiful young woman named Naoko, who he would later meet again at a summer resort and ask to marry. He shows immense courage and selflessness in aiding Naoko and her injured maid back to her house following the Kanto earthquake (one of the most eye-popping visual achievements in animated film). From Jiro’s university studies, he begins working for a manufacturer, traveling to Germany for technical research, before becoming chief designer for a project sponsored by the Japanese Navy.
Jiro is aware of the impact his designs will have on the world – conveyed through fiery premonitions and discussions with university buddy Honjo – but he chooses to dedicate himself to the task all the same. While some have criticized the film for sidestepping the role that Japan played in WWII, portraying the Germans as the primary bad guys, Miyazaki has created an endearing protagonist who never lost sight of the beauty of flight and invention. Even though the world he lived in used the air for destructive purposes, he uniquely found love and inspiration from the skies above.
The film’s hefty run-time (an overlong 126 minutes) and relaxed pacing will be fidget inducing for some viewers, and will likely be further appreciated by Miyazaki fans, acquainted with his prior films and his strong political views. After acclimatizing to the story, which takes a while unaided by conventional precursory narrative building, the two-pronged tale took its form. While my attention wavered during the less-effective tragi-romance plot, which dominated the second half of the film, the relationship between Jiro and Naoko is very sweet. Their love was an orchestrated destiny, but we don’t see Jiro change very much. Naoko ends up being the perfect wife – supportive of his art, her strength to battle illness giving him the courage to complete his work.
The Wind Rises tells a pleasing tale of how one uses the creative drive to suppress the horrors (both the natural; the earthquake, and the inhumane; World War II) that are plaguing the world. Jiro deals with these disasters by dedicating himself to his work, suppressing the world around him and focusing on completing his vision. Miyazaki has made some wonderful films over the years, including perhaps the greatest animated film ever made in Spirited Away. He has ignored his critics and for decades has transported audiences to wonderful places, filling his stories with poignant social commentary and strong female characters. While The Wind Rises will not rank amongst my favourites from Miyazaki, it is undeniably a grand finale.
Andrew Buckle – follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22