Hayao Miyazaki has been famously dubbed “The Japanese Walt Disney”. Whenever he directs and releases a new film, animation fans have sky high expectations. With his newest (and supposedly last) film, The Wind Rises, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Fortunately, The Wind Rises is an elegant, mature and beautiful film, which serves as a triumphant send off for the great Japanese animation master.
The Wind Rises is a semi-fictional/semi-biographical story about a Japanese WWII airplane designer Jiro Horikoshi. Jiro was indeed a real person, however, Miyazaki takes some liberties with the story to create a theatrical drama. Ever since Jiro was young, he was fascinated by planes and those who created them. As a boy, he has a dream in which he meets the famous Italian aeronautical designer Giovanni Caproni, who tells him to follow his sky-high dreams. Jiro grows up and becomes a brilliant engineer himself, eventually getting hired out of college by Mitsubishi to help build Japan’s next greatest war planes.
From the first scenes, the noticeable difference between The Wind Rises and other current animation films is the pacing. The Wind Rises is slow, taking its time to develop characters and tell the narrative. Also, it’s neither noisy nor rambunctious, but rather is content with telling the stories visually rather than with excessive chatty dialogue. This more mature, sophisticated tone allows viewers to breath and absorb the film, rather than having to stressfully keep up.
Although The Wind Rises is about mechanical airplanes, the film is incredibly emotional and heartfelt. I found myself crying at moments that really weren’t even sad. These scenes were happy and ripe with emotion. Miyazaki does a wonderful job transfusing these feelings into the audience, making us care for each of the characters and feel their highs and lows. I haven’t cried so much in a movie since The Book Thief or Les Miserables. After the film was done, I simply sat in my chair with tears streaming down my face, taking in the extraordinary film that I had just witnessed.
Some may be upset about the film’s themes about a man who created a warplane that killed thousands. But viewers need to understand that this is a Japanese film, by a Japanese studio, by Japanese director about Japanese history. The film makes it clear about how far behind technologically Japan was compared to the rest of the world: while the rest of the world was making metal airplanes, Japan was 10 years behind still making planes out of wood and canvas. The technical aeronautical advances made by Japan and Jiro during this time is really the only thing Japan can be proud of about WWII. The story is historically interesting and important as a part of Japan’s history.
As part of this, The Wind Rises has a theme of following your dreams despite the consequences. Jiro dreamt about designing airplanes since he was young. He works hard in school and finally gets the opportunity to design some planes himself. However, since this is during wartime, his company is looking only to produce military airplanes instead of commercial since those contracts were really the only ones available. Jiro never seems to be against making these planes, instead he is proud to serve his country in the war effort while also doing what he loves. He also has a love interest that distracts him from his dreams, which is another interesting point of tension in the film.
From the first note, Joe Hisaishi’s score stands out as a star element. The score is simply lovely, expressive and rich. While the film is set in Japan, the score has an unexpected Italian vibe as accordions and guitar carry the melodies. This unique music choice could represent Jiro’s obsession with the Italian airplane maker Caproni. Nevertheless, the score is flawless and Hisaishi creates strong themes and beats, which work together to add further romance, emotion and fantasy to the story.
The animation is simple and elegant. Clean, crisp lines; vivid colors; captivating backgrounds. All of these work together to create a beautiful, fresh-looking film. It will make you yearn for more hand-drawn animated films and appreciate the fact that Studio Ghibli has not forsaken the medium.
The Wind Rises is much different from Miyazaki’s other films, which are more fantasy and whimsical in nature. This film is little of those, but rather is serious, nostalgic, and thought provoking. The medium of animation is perfectly suited for Jiro’s story and the majesty of airplanes in flight. The experience audiences will have while watching this film is one that is rarely had in American animation or American films in general. The Wind Rises is one of Miyazaki’s best works that expertly evokes raw emotion from the audience and is worth seeing.