The Wind Rises, directed by Hayao Miyazaki

wind rises small

 

2013, 126 minutes, currently out on release on DVD and Blueray from Studio Canal.
Review by David Knox

The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu) was never intended to be a movie. It was originally conceived as a manga side-project by its director and head of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki. The manga was loosely based on the 1937 short story The Wind Has Risen by Tasuo Hori, a fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi. When approached to turn his manga into a full-length feature Miyazaki was reluctant given that he didn’t believe the manga was appropriate for children, but was swayed by his staff’s reasoning that even children should be allowed to grapple with challenging themes. I’m glad he changed his mind, though it’s also bittersweet given that this is his last feature film before retirement.

Jiro Horikoshi was a designer of Japanese fighter planes during World War II and The Wind Rises follows him as he struggles to build his aircraft and grapples with life in pre-war Japan. There are elements of Jiro’s life that have been embellished somewhat. For example, Jiro’s wife did not have tuberculosis. Miyazaki’s mother did, however, and his father was also director for the company that supplied rudders for the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, which was designed by Jiro Horikoshi, so when watching this part of the story one cannot help but feel that the film is somewhat autobiographical.

Does it need to be said that the film is achingly beautiful and stunningly animated? Probably not – it is Studio Ghibli after all and we’ve come to accept nothing but the best from them. But it’s hard to fathom how the Studio keeps improving in a purely visual graphic sense. They were already at the top of their game with seemingly nowhere else to go with their last movie, From Up on Poppy Hill, but here they improve once more; the colour pallet is exceptional and every line is exquisitely drawn and wonderfully animated.

Sound design has also long been a strong suit for Studio Ghibli, and in The Wind Rises they have really raised the bar. Many of the sound effects are rendered by human voice and this lends the machinery a distinctly living, breathing character. The scenes depicting the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 in particular exemplify this inspired artistic choice. The animation in conjunction with the vocalized sound effects gives the sense of a world that is alive, rippling, hissing and groaning as it cracks apart. It really felt as though Namazu – the earthquake causing catfish of Japanese mythology – was stirring.

The film is punctuated with dream sequences in which Jiro converses with his hero and fellow aircraft designer Giovanni Caproni. Such set pieces should be familiar territory for those versed in Studio Ghibli’s more whimsical side. These sequences have a wonderful flow to them; Caproni acts almost as a guide and mentor to Jiro, extolling on him the virtuous beauty of his designs and lamenting, as does Jiro, their ‘inevitable’ use for violence. It is hard here to be sympathetic, and the film in general is not without controversy. We are after all viewing a film about a man who designed a machine that was used to kill people during the most problematic era of Japan’s history. At one point in the film Jiro contemplates that a weight problem with one of his designs could easily be rectified by removing the guns. That’s just not an option, and he knows it, but he continues to design his aeroplane anyway. Jiro’s thoughts on what his aeroplane is fundamentally going in to the world to do are only really explored in passing. At one point he remarks that “Japan is making an enemy of the world” and, in a frank observation, that “Japan will blow up”. The film is challenging in this regard, which is what takes it to another level; here we have a man who knows what his creations will do and yet at the same time he is creating a design masterpiece, the A6M Zero.

Is The Wind Rises Miyazaki’s best film? No, for me that honour lies with Spirited Away. Is The Wind Rises a great movie? Yes, entirely so. It is visually spectacular, beautifully written and, when required, wonderfully subtle. But most importantly, it feels deeply personal, as though this were a little piece of Miyazaki’s heart on screen. It is no secret that Miyazaki has always been passionate about aircraft (Studio Ghibli is named after an Italian Ca.309 Ghibli, designed by Giovanni Caproni), and this film is clearly fuelled by the passions of its author.

Jiro is quoted as saying of his aircraft “All I wanted to do was make something beautiful”. Miyazaki has certainly done so.

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