The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgYoung Jiro fantasizes about being a pilot. But the boy’s nearsightedness makes that impossible. Instead he joins a major Japanese engineering company in 1927 and starts designing airplanes to satiate his desires. The Wind Rises is a fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi, the creator of the Mitsubishi A5M and its famous successor, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. Both fighter planes were used by Japan during World War II. When Jiro is focused on designing aircraft and pursuing his dreams, the movie is an uplifting portrait of a man with a purpose. Jiro is motivated by his idol, Italian aviation pioneer Giovanni Caproni who appears to him in hallucinations. These anecdotes help flesh out a character that remains somewhat enigmatic. The narrative later finds our protagonist consumed by his devotion for Naoko, the woman who would become his wife. Their relationship is less captivating. What starts as a fascinating chronicle of a visionary sort of falters in its gooey love story of a romance affected by the onset of tuberculosis. There are still many beautiful images that highlight this graceful presentation of flight.

Hayao Miyazaki has announced that this is his final film. The 72 year old director is a legend in the world of Japanese animation. He was largely unknown in the West until Princess Mononoke was released in 1999. Then came Spirited Away which won the Academy Award for Best Animated feature of 2002. Both were breathtaking fantasies filled with magic and mystical creatures. This is Miyazaki’s first to be inspired by an actual figure. Intertwined into the plot are historical events leading up to Japan’s entry into WWII. The Wind Rises is not dependent on supernatural elements like Hayao Miyazaki’s other works. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of gorgeous visuals. A simple sequence of Jiro contemplating the path of a paper plane as it takes to the sky is hypnotic. The spectacle of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 is a stunning feat of both sight and sound. Throughout it all, Jiro remains the picture of a pacifist. History buffs might pause at the placid portrayal of the guy responsible for the very machines that kamikaze fighters would use to kill people. Although never really addressed, the depiction implies that his nonviolent passions were exploited by the military.

The Wind Rises is a fitting swan song for legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki. With its slow pace and developing love story, the drama almost comes across like a live action film. Despite some lighthearted vignettes, the tone is decidedly serious. In that respect, the production is not aimed at children. Its deliberate pace and extreme length do tend to tax viewers who are not already devotees of anime. However there is a lot to recommend about The Wind Rises. Its poetic style and luminous imagery are beyond compare. Additionally the careful attention to an authentic time and place makes this unique amongst the stridently hip, modern anachronisms found in most cartoons of today. I appreciated its history of real events like the Great Depression and the rise of fascism woven into a rosy reflection of an innovator captivated by airplanes and flight. It’s all gorgeously hand drawn in the anime style so fans of Studio Ghibli will most definitely be in heaven. The imaginative production is clearly the lovingly crafted work of a talented director driven by passion.

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12 Responses to “The Wind Rises”

  1. Wow. Sounds like quite a dense film, and even more credit must be given since it’s anime. I really am not a frequenter of the genre but this one might get me. That, and the great review you have for it. Nice work.

  2. Sounds great. I figured this would be a perfect send off for the legend. throughout his entire career, aviation has been a huge focus and is a worthy way to end. yes, i would have liked another magical romp through his imagination, but to have (what sounds like) a rather personal film as a swan song is all the more beautiful.

    • I would like to see this get an Oscar nomination. Not my favorite animated film of 2013, but it’s nice to see quality animation from a studio other than Pixar and Disney get recognized.

  3. such a lovely film indeed.

  4. Did I get that right? A tribute to the guy that designed the fighter planes the Japanese used to conquer China and the Pacific, and to a pal of his that devised a new and better bomber for the same purpose? I can imagine the 1941 residents of Hawaii and the Philippines and Singapore and Hong Kong didn’t look up much while they were hiding under all those bricks; so this movie lets their great-grandkids get a good look at the engineering that went into the planes they were being bombed and strafed by and pay tribute to the individuals responsible. Next, how about a memorial to that American guy – what was his name? Oppenheimer, I think – and those beautiful clouds he managed to put into the sky over Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

    The funny thing is, the writers don’t even try to make it appear that Jiro and Honjo didn’t realize what the military people were up to. The fact that they were out for conquest is brought out in onscreen conversation along with the fact that that’s going to lead Japan to “blow up”. What it all boils down to is that the two main characters like to design airplanes. If the Navy’s willing to pay them to do it, let the Navy worry about what happens as a result. The planes, see, are sooo beautiful. As things turn out, Jiro’s efforts help bring about four years of disaster for everybody on both sides of the conflict, but for the Japanese flyers most of all. What worse heritage could anybody leave his country and the world than that.

    Not to say you can’t make an interesting movie about somebody who winds up being responsible for terrible things, whether purposely or by accident. But the writers try to avoid the point in order to make Jiro seem sympathetic. The story they come up with is a routine one though of his going to college, starting work and finding love, with virtually no serious consideration of the moral dilemma he’s faced by. Probably the most striking incident in the whole story is his spiriting his girl friend away from the sanitarium where she’s being treated, so she can waste away in his rooms while he’s caught up in designing his fighter.

    The movie is too long, but it isn’t wholly boring. The draftsmanship is good, but the overall quality of the animation is routine by today’s standards or those of early Disney. It’s the philosophy behind the production that’s hard to make sense of.

    • I found it quite different from most of the animated films I see. The point of view had something to do with that. While I don’t agree with it, I still appreciated its uniqueness.

  5. I know exactly what you mean about deliberate pace and length being tough for some when it comes to anime. I recently watched the anime film Wolf Children, which is also a nice story, but tiring to watch. I haven’t seen this particular movie yet, although I’ve heard a ton about it. Most of what read is from the people who have moral objections to it painting a sympathetic portrait of someone whose work caused so much suffering. For that reason, I haven’t been in a rush to see The Wind Rises. I might catch it eventually.

    • It’s one of those things that didn’t quite hit me until after it was over. Regardless, it did very well in the OFCS awards. Apparently a lot of people worship at the altar of animator Hayao Miyazaki.

  6. Finally had a chance to see this, and so I’ve now come to see your review (as is often my habit). 🙂

    Once more, we agree (has there been on which we completely disagree?). I too think this is best when it’s about Jiro building aircraft and worst when it focuses on his love story. Miyazaki simply doesn’t develop Naoko as well as he probably ought to have.

    On balance, though, the flick is a fitting finale for a truly memorable filmmaker.

    • There was some talk of a possible upset for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars. I’m glad Frozen won. Surprisingly it was Disney’s first win in this category first given in 2001.

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