Hayao Miyazaki’s final film is an absolutely gorgeous one, but its daring story will no doubt divide audiences.
As with all Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki animations, The Wind Rises is a stunningly drawn work of art, with such astounding attention to detail. The colours are so sumptuous and the landscapes are beautifully painted. Visually this film is undoubtedly a masterpiece, but what will perhaps be problematic for some is the topic of aeroplane engineering and a drifting plot. That is not to say that the topic of aeroplane engineering is dull, but rather the contentious nature of who and what the aeroplanes are being designed for; the Japanese to use in the attack on Pearl Harbour and later kamikaze operations. However, Miyazaki cleverly presents a likeable main protagonist in Jiro Horikoshi (real engineer of the Zero fighter) and innocently washes over the atrocities these planes will become involved in, with only one acknowledgment by Jiro that none of his planes returned.
Instead the film focuses on the process of creativity, inspiration, passion and love. We first meet Jiro as a young boy when he comprehends his dream of flying planes will not be realised due to his near sightedness. His hero, Italian airplane inventor Giovanni Caproni, comes to him in a dream and from then on Jiro decides he will design rather than fly aeroplanes. We see as he gets older and travels to study the art of engineering, meet his future love, and gain employment at Mitsubishi. The flights of fancy with hero Caproni thankfully remain throughout the film but the tragic love story overly dominates the second half. The film is also based on poet-novelist Tatsuo Hori, who suffered from tuberculosis.
This is clearly an loving ode to Jiro Horikoshi, it is very much rooted in reality and so therefore may not have the same charm, especially for children, as other Ghibli films, and its slow pace may also mean children will struggle. It does feel a shame that there aren’t any of the strange creatures and magical elements that have become synonymous with the director as this is his last film, but of course the studio will live on. There are, however, the links to nature that are familiar, the seasons, snow and rain are charmingly portrayed, and the power of nature is explored with the Kanto earthquake which devastated Tokyo in 1923. An earthquake has never looked so beautiful in film.
The Wind Rises is Miyazaki’s disaster movie and it is the most optimistic and uplifting of such. It is bold and brave and gives a very different perspective on this era. Miyazaki deftly manages to make the topic of war secondary but remain in the subtext of everything. The juxtaposition of the gorgeous natural landscape and the beautifully crafted planes with the hints at devastation and destruction with billowing grey smoke are striking and whilst at first it appears that he has chosen not to completely acknowledge the war, like Jiro, in fact the subtleness is far more affecting.
As Miyazki bows out of filmmaking he has left us with a divisive film, full of conflicts, but these conflicts are some of the components of human life and in fact what Miyazaki has done is subtly and masterfully observed these and presented them to us in a wonderfully intelligent way. Poetic and sometimes challenging, The Wind Rises dares to show the optimism of life at a devastating time in history.
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Stars: Hideaki Anno, Mirai Shida, Jun Kunimura
Runtime: 126 mins