The Wind Rises (Cert PG)
2 Discs DVD/BD Combo (Distributor: Studio Canal) Running time: 127 minutes
You may not realise it but anime legend Hayao Miyazaki has something in common with equally legendary rock group The Who – both have been claiming to retire for many years now but never do. However unlike The Who it seems that The Wind Rises really will be Miyazaki’s swan song as a film director.
A fictionalized biography of World War II aviation designer Jiro Horikoshi, which loosely adapts the short story The Wind Has Risen by Tatsuo Hori, Miyazaki caused some upset in his native Japan when he was accused of presenting a flattering portrayal of a man who created “killing machines”. This is of course isn’t true as Miyazaki merely paid tribute to someone who dared to dream and followed up on that dream, but as an outspoken and self-confessed pacifist accusations were thrown at Miyazaki for downplaying the eventual deadly use of Jiro’s aircraft.
Jiro himself is portrayed as both a dreamer and a bit of a realist, although the former is given greater prominence from the onset, opening with a dream sequence meeting between Jiro and his idol, Giovanni Caproni, the famed Italian aeronautical designer and engineer. Caproni makes regular appearances offering Jiro pearls of wisdom and helpful advice whenever his back is against the wall, which Jiro in turn acts upon leading to a marked improvement in both his fortunes and his designs. His early infatuation with all things aviation related meant Jiro was more committed than his fellow students and engineering college and later on when he joins Mitsubishi, working his way up the ranks from humble design team member to head designer.
Miyazaki doesn’t avoid the real history of the period, starting with Jiro helping out a damsel in distress when his train heading to Tokyo is halted when an earthquake strikes, in this case the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. The woman he helps is the maid to a young girl named Naoko, who breaks her leg. Jiro gets the maid to safety but leaves without giving his name. They meet again later at a summer resort where they realise their love for each other and get engaged, although Naoko is struck down by TB and a recovery seems unlikely.
Meanwhile Jiro is sent to Germany to research their technical methods and broker a production license for Junker planes. By being vocal about the Nazi’s intentions for their planes and their overall totalitarian attitude, Jiro gets on the wrong side of the German secret police and is forced into hiding. At the summer resort back in Japan where Jiro and Naoko are reunited, Jiro is approached by Hans Castorp, a German critical of the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany, which again allows Miyazaki to make his feelings of war clear without taking sides.
It is to some bemusement that people were so consumed about the story’s political subtext, or lack thereof, when there is such a whimsical and delightfully uplifting (pardon the pun) tale being told. Putting the unpleasant backdrop aside, we are given a fleeting but insightful education on aircraft design back in the day before computers and machinery to do the actual construction. Jiro finds inspiration from a mackerel bone to create a curved wing which he cultivates and experiments with a good old fashioned paper airplane.
Even with its dream sequences The Wind Rises is Miyazaki’s closest film to reality since The Castle Of Cagliostro where his previous works have all been set in fantasy worlds or distorted versions of a regular world; yet it is resplendent with his trademark flights of fancy and easy going magical style that embraces the audience like a comforting parental hug. Substituting the furry forest gods and no face spirits are the planes themselves, serving as metaphors for the dreams and progress of Jiro, and presumably Miyazaki too, tying in with the central theme of reaching for the skies.
In another departure the story is often tragic, although this is not related to the war, the events of which are never shown as the story ends before the conflict begins. Naoko’s illness is designed to a create an emotional hook and rather sloppily for Miyazaki, it is introduced almost out of the blue and is the only real crisis Jiro has to conquer aside from the German police and even then Jiro continues to concentrate on his work than his ill fiancée. I doubt the intention is to make Jiro sound selfish and insensitive rather a reflection of a busy man under pressure but the idea is hard one to ignore.
The artwork and character designs are unmistakably Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli, and while this may create a sense of over familiarity, the main players are distinguishable enough to stand out along side the rogue gallery of other Miyazaki creations. Only Naoko and Jiro’s sister Kayo feel idly generic, the latter an adult composite of Mei from My Neighbour Totoro and Chihiro from Spirited Away. The bespectacled and bookish Jiro is a cross between Harry Potter and Christopher Reeves portrayal of Clark Kent while his supervisor Kurokawa stands out due to his squat appearance and eccentric haircut.
Staunch opponents of CGI the Ghibli cell drawn style is a refreshing change from the visually impressive but soulless Pixar type outings, creating a sense of warmth and palpable movement, especially the rustling of the grass under the wind’s presence. The flying scenes are fluid and balletic while possessing a sense of foreboding of the upcoming battles. As a regular collaborator music composer Joe Hisaishi provides another emotive and flawlessly synchronised soundtrack as if he is able to read Miyazaki’s mind.
Perhaps a little fat could be trimmed from the run time but if The Wind Rises really is Miyazaki’s final film then he bows out on a high, both emotionally and creatively. His contribution to animation should not be underestimated we as film fans should feel blessed that Miyazaki has shared his visions with us.
Arigato gozaimasu Miyazki-san.
English Language 2.0 Mono
Japanese Language 2.0 Mono w/ English Subtitles
Press Conference For The Announcement of the Completion of the Film
Trailers and TV Spots
Limited Collector’s Edition Only:
Four picture Postcards
Rating – **** ½
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