Reel Look: The Wind Rises

Released in Japan as Kaze Tachinu (風立ちぬ), “The Wind Rises” is a 2013 Japanese animated historical drama film based on an original story written and directed by the anime master himself Hayao Miyazaki, which was adapted from his own manga of the same name.  But first, a little history.  The movie was loosely based on a 1937 short story of the same name by Tatsuo Hori—a writer, poet and translator from mid-20th century (Shōwa period) Japan.  This era in Asia was potentially a “period of enlightened peace/harmony” or “period of radiant Japan”.  It was the time when Japanese history corresponded to the reign of the Shōwa Emperor, Hirohito, from Dec. 25, 1926 through Jan. 7, 1989.

“The Wind Rises” is a fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi (1903-1982), designer of the Mitsubishi A5M and its successor, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero and of whose life Miyazaki pays tribute in chronicling.  Both of these aircraft he envisioned and created were used by the Empire of Japan during World War II. Released by Toho in July of last year in Japan, the film was also released by Touchstone Pictures in North America, first with a limited release on Feb. 21, 2014, followed by a wide release on Feb. 28.  With a budget of three billion yen ($30 million), it blew away its cost to make and flew in with $127 million plus with box office sales.  But what is it about this movie that truly makes it soar?  Regarding the English-dubbed version that I viewed in theaters, let’s take a look.

Set in early 1918 Japan, a bespectacled boy named Jiro Horikoshi (voiced for American audiences by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a young kid with giant dreams and aspirations of flight, living in a provincial town.  We first see him as a boy, having a dream about climbing up onto his roof donning aviator goggles and taking off in a bird-like plane.  Suddenly a large, monstrous ship emerges from the clouds, dropping anthropomorphic bombs on him as his plane tailspins and plummets to the ground.  He awakens but has another dream later on in the film where he meets Carponi, (Stanley Tucci) an famous Italian aeronautical plane designer, posing also as the a mentor for the eager lad as well.  Carponi tells Jiro that he cannot fly a plane with glasses, but teaches him that the art and passion of building aircraft is better than flying aircraft itself.  Jiro awakens again and decides to construct planes that will truly push the technological envelope.

Image from Geekadelphia
Image from Geekadelphia

Five years later, traveling by train back to Tokyo after holiday from studying engineering at a university, he meets a young girl named Naoko (Emily Blunt) who is also traveling with her maid.  Enter the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the train grinds to a halt, causing the maid to break her leg.  Jiro then delivers the maid and Naoko to their family and then walks away without revealing his name. Jiro then goes on to become an airplane manufacturer, assigned to a fighter design team, which ends in disaster.  He is sent to Germany to do technical research and obtain a production license for a Junkers aircraft.

While in Germany, Jiro dreams of Carponi again, who further mentors him amidst his discouragement.  He runs into his love interest Naoko again in 1932 at a summer resort.  He is happy to see her but feels disappointed as well, as he had now been promoted the position of the chief designer for a fighter plane competition that had also ended in disaster.  Jiro confesses his love of Naoko later on to her father, and Naoko overhears and accepts.  But having been afflicted with an incurable case of tuberculosis, she refuses to marry him as she is later sent away to an alpine sanatorium.  As her health continues to deteriorate, the love between the two grows ever stronger, right up to the day when Jiro’s prototype of what would become the Mitsubishi A5M takes to the skies.  Ending in a dream sequence, Carponi tells Jiro that his dreams and inspirations were nonetheless realized as Naoko appears in his dream for the final time, urging her husband to live on in the trust she had thus placed within him.

This film, I believe, is a fittingly bittersweet farewell to the great director Miyazaki; a somber sayonara to one of the greatest masters of anime.  At 73 years old, his vision and scope throughout this particular art form over the decades his indeed pushed the boundaries of where this medium could possibly go, creating a whole new level all on its own and into the hearts of all who have loved and grown up watching his beloved albeit haunting films.  His retirement after a long career of meticulous drawings he shared with the world will and should always be cherished that originated from the mind of a man who performed glorious yet sometimes disturbing magic with the tip of a pencil.

Miyazaki’s movies will always continue to emanate his essence with each viewing, reminding viewers that his passion for what he did has indeed touched a certain place in all of us that evoked a moment of laughter, tears or deep and eloquent thought about the God-given beauty that surrounds us everyday with a newer understanding, within a 2D environment.  He awoke a realm of imagination and fantasy from its slumber and made it his, sharing it with everyone and anyone who are willing to really open their minds to embrace his creations and worlds on an entirely new and unfamiliar spectrum.

“The Wind Rises” might be Miyakazi’s most mature film to date. Although the drawings lack a bit in detail compared to his earlier films, the depth is still there, along with the means of telling a meaningful story of endearment, tragedy and love.  With echoes of “Grave of the Fireflies” and “Spirited Away,” this film both reveals a fantasy/drama and knows when to show this without falling into schmaltz, despite its turbulent surroundings.  From flights of the imagination to the horrors of WWII amidst Germany-occupied Japan, Miyazaki again does not disappoint in his last magnum opus to his Eastern and Western audiences alike.  Inspiring, bold and rapturously beautiful, “The Wind Rises” is an innovative yet melancholy swan song of the visionary amine wizard, who indeed adapted this very concept and truly took it to new and incredible heights.  Eight planes out of 10.