The Wind Rises will be the last film of legendary and renowned Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, as he announces his retirement (for the third time already). As a huge Hayao Miyazaki fan, I could NOT miss this film, and finally got the chance to see it in the UK.
The Wind Rises is based on Hayao Miyazaki’s manga of the same name, which is loosely based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the chief engineer of many Japanese fighter designs of World War II, including the Mitsubushi A6M Zero fighter. Jiro (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the English dub) has always been interested in aviation, and despite not being able to fly due to his myopia, he gets encouragement through his dreams where he “meets” the famous Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Battista Caproni (voiced by Stanley Tucci). Following his dream to become an aircraft designer, he later meets the love of his life Naoko (voiced by Emily Blunt) and also becomes involved in designing aircraft for the Second World War.
People tend to associate Hayao Miyazaki’s films with fantasy, especially with his fame and success through films like the fantasy film Spirited Away. But what I love about his style is that he uses fantasy and fairy tale elements to tell very grounded and human issues. The Wind Rises is much more grounded in reality, but the dream-like elements are still there, through the perspective of the main character: we’re offered an insight to what he sees or thinks when he’s working on a plane, sometimes as if he were able to look inside the structure of a plane. And other times he’s imagining or dreaming about Caproni as if they were a close friends, or dreams about planes in general. The dream-like moments are used at the right times, with planes being represented as light, graceful and elegant, but also big, dark and fierce when the issue of war is brought up. And it’s interesting to see how the planes in his dreams translate into reality (as the final product won’t always end up exactly how you imagined in your head).
It’s so strange that there was the whole controversy about Miyazaki telling a story about a war-plane designer, because some people made it seem like he was supporting war. I understand how the wars are a sensitive issue to the Japanese even to this day, but in NO WAY is war glorified or condoned in this film. In fact, Miyazaki has a very bitter attitude towards war: at one point he refused to attend the Academy Awards in the US out of protest over the American invasion of Iraq! But despite his pessimism, he ALWAYS finds a way to look at the issue through a different light. This is a film which deals with the complexity of human creation and progress. In here, Miyazaki completely understands that, while these planes were used for war, Jiro just wanted to do something he loved, and wanted to create something he saw as beautiful. He sees himself more as an artist than an engineer, although his engineering skills are exceptional and he uses to his advantage. Jiro is passionate with what he does, and to him it’s more about the plane’s craft, design and flight. It does sadden him deeply that his creations were used for war, since at the time he had no choice but to make those planes during a very harsh period. This, along with other Miyazaki films, deals with themes of creation and destruction, and the possibilities of human progress, both for the better and for the worst: the issue ends up becoming MUCH more complicated than we wish it were. Just like his other films, this story is extremely multi-layered, and the way the story is told is extremely poetic.
With a very optimistic main character and other memorable characters (and great performances by the actors voicing the English dub), there are a lot of funny and light-hearted moments too, as to balance out with the seriousness and ugly side of war. Even with things like war, death, and poverty, these are people constantly needing to remind themselves of a more beautiful side of life. This story is all based on this one big irony: how Jiro creates planes out of beauty, and yet they’re meant to destroy. How some things are meant for good, and yet they end up making things worse. How something beautiful can lead to something ugly. I even like the subtle touch where we see a train, a human accomplishment which allows people to travel fast from one place to another, having black smoke coming out of its engine, as if it were polluting the air (the blackness of the smoke contrasting with the whiteness of the clouds). Very subtle and extremely clever touch.
Something like Porco Rosso feels like a very personal film to Miyazaki in the way he related to the main character, while Princess Mononoke and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind feel like the kind stories with the themes and issues he prefers to tell the most. The Wind Rises has a combination of both those elements, which is why I think this is perhaps one of Miyazaki’s most personal films, if not, his most personal film to date.
The Wind Rises did not disappoint: it was a joy to watch, especially as a huge fan of animation legend Hayao Miyazaki. The animation of course is beautiful, with the flying and dream sequences, as well as the planes standing out in the animation, on top of all the gorgeous skies and breathtaking scenery. It’s a very powerful film with very human characters and a very human issue. As the last feature film we’ll be seeing of his, at least he ends on a very high note.
Thank you, Miyazaki-san, for being such an influence in the animation and film industry, and for making such powerful and beautiful films, including some of my favourite films of all time.