Review: 風立ちぬ “The Wind Rises”
I have been in a rough spot with Ghibli movies for the last couple of releases. Particularly those Hayao Miyazaki has directed and written himself, with the last major release being Ponyo (2008). I found Ponyo a little too childish and I also had really mixed feelings about Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). I originally entered the Ghibli ring with Spirited Away (2001) and grew to love all the older works afterwards. With a man like Miyazaki, it’s easy to try and see how each film bounces from one to another, from the heavy social commentaries of Princess Mononoke (1997) and Nausicca of the Vally of the Wind (1984) to the more fantastic Castle in the Sky (1986) or Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989). Going into “The Wind Rises,” I really did not know what to expect: with a director that I’ve cherished, but increasingly became concerned of, how would this fare? By the end of the film, he could not have won me back any more.
The Wind Rises covers the history of Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the massively utilized Japanese fighter plane during World War II, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero . Starting from his childhood, he is given an English aviation magazine that features the life story of Italian aviation designer Caproni. Through a series of dreams, Jiro talks with Caproni, who tells him he should rethink his dream of being a pilot and design airplanes instead because, as Caproni states, “you can’t be a pilot who wears glasses!” The story then follows Jiro as he climbs up the ranks of Mitsubishi to eventually design the Zero. The story of The Wind Rises, though, is not much of a true tale. While the story chronologically follows the creation of the Zero, the movie also ties in the story of a seperate book, actually called “The Wind has Risen,” which tells the story of a woman during a tuberculosis outbreak in Nagano, Japan. While no one going into this film should expect this to be a true-to-heart biography on Jiro’s life, the fictionalized love story that is tied in is still very well executed.
If anything, I should put a big disclaimer here and say that, with the minimal Japanese skills I have, I did not pick up every single line out of the movie. Simple conversations, sure, but when it came to the highly detailed and philosophical discussions between Jiro and Caproni, I have to say that I missed a lot. To the film’s credit, however, Miyazaki has such a way of animating people and their faces that I still understood the emotions and motivations of the characters. Even when it came to a German man, who spoke very slow Japanese, who appears later in the film, I could understand who he was and what he was expressing. It’s one of the more magical aspects of animation: the characters can be just as expressive as any real life actor, still present a very impacting performance and can be understood beyond any (if not most) cultural barriers. While Rises will sure have an English translation in the future, the film still expressed itself in its native tongue in a way for me to still appreciate all that it was saying (and what I understood).
Jiro is a fascinating character himself: a man that appears to be living in a world of dreams, but stops at nothing to accomplish his goals. Earlier scenes that have airplanes designed by Jiro and Caproni almost have a child-like sound to them, similar to the noise one might make when playing the “Airplane” game to feed a baby. But as the tech became more advanced and the design more fine-tuned, the planes began to sound more real themselves. The dream is becoming more realized, as is Jiro’s world.
In some respects, this is an engineering movie in disguise, at least for the first half. Certainly, Jiro is a man that works and there are many scenes in the film that just show Jiro just sitting down, writing down calculations and doing math. Whether he’s bored, inspired or turning into a nervous wreck, he turns to his notebook and begins to work. There is a scene earlier in the film where as Jiro begins to construct some of the earliest equations of the Zero and an airplane is seen gently flying in the background. However, as he continuous to write, and as the calculations begin to not add up and become more complicated, the plane slowly falls down, until it crashes completely. There are other scenes in the film were Jiro goes out of his way to tell his bosses just how certain wires would help the wings of a plane and in a later scene discusses with his colleague how certain bolts would work better than others. During all of these scenes it actually shows on the screen how those particular functions would work in real-time. I do not claim to be an engineer by any stretch, and I can only imagine that the vast majority of the audiences going to go see the movie are not either, but I still understood what was going on during the creation process. And, yes, while it has become the joke that Miyazaki has a little bit too much of a fascination with flying machines, he is still never one to undermine the detail that goes into creating them (both in Jiro’s case and in the animation).
As with any Ghibli movie, the animation of The Wind Rises is spot on, with beautiful country landscapes and very elaborate airplane designs that absolutely come to life. Particularly the interpretation of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, while very traumatic by any sense of the word, is one of the most visually grasping parts of the whole film. The music is also fantastic, with Joe Hisaishi returning once again for the score. The main theme is always pleasant (but somehow kept reminding me of his earlier work, “One Summer’s Day” from Spirited Away) and the ending song, Vapor Trails by Yumi Arai, is also great. The voice acting should also bear no complaints. While Hideki Anno (best known for creating Neon Genisis Evangelion) sounds a bit too old for Jiro during his college years, by the end of the film his voice became a lot more natural and the last couple of lines really cemented him in the role.
The Wind Rises has been “stirring up” some controversy lately (quotations on purpose), but while Miyazaki does have many films that promote pacifism and presents the harshness of war, Rises is not one of those films. At the end, the film does not shove any such theme down the audiences throat, but rather presents that Jiro was a man who simply wanted to create and shows what responsibilities one has once that dream becomes a reality. In the same respects, Miyazaki is a filmmaker and director that many people look to see what modern animation can do and where it can go. I don`t think there could have been a better way to hold him back up to such high regards.
You really need to go see this.
(As of this writing, The Wind Rises has no plans of wide-North American release, but will premier at the New York Film Fest in late-September)