Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
After numerous periods of “retirement”, Hayao Miyazaki once again announced that after the release of The Wind Rises that he would retire. It has now been three years, and while there are plans to direct a short film entitled Boro the Caterpillar, it would appear that Miyazaki’s retirement may actually stick this time. As a fan whose appreciation has grown tremendously throughout the process of this Studio Ghibli marathon, his home for so long in animation, I would love to see him return to direct at least one more film. However, if that never happens and The Wind Rises is the last film we get from Hayao, then I must say that Mr. Miyazaki will have gone out on top. The Wind Rises is one of his best works to date, produced in the form of a biography picture which may follow the conventions of the genre, but which looks inward at the depths of dreams to produce an extremely beautiful, poetic coda.
While on his way by train to Tokyo to study engineering, the airplane enthusiast Jiro Hirokoshi experiences the horrific Tokyo earthquake of 1923. In doing so, he befriends two women, whom he anonymously helps get back to their family in Tokyo. Years later, after having graduated from school, Jiro gets a job working for Mitsubishi, fulfilling his life long dream of designing aircraft. With the impending World War II, however, Jiro’s mission to build beautiful aircraft is twisted to building war machines. After taking a holiday to a mountain retreat, Jiro learns that the attractive young woman at the hotel is Naoko, one of the women he helped during the earthquake. The two begin to fall in love. Meanwhile, Jiro continues his work on a new fighter plane for the Navy, working toward bringing the Japanese technology up to speed with the rest of world, and building something the Japanese could be proud of.
It seems an odd choice for Miyazaki’s last film to be a biography about an airplane engineer, especially the one who designed the infamous Japanese Zero, which was used to great effect during World War II. However, in many ways, it is the perfect parallel to Miyazaki’s own career. Miyazaki may not have crafted war machines, but his films often highlight the fantastic and beautiful, something which the protagonist, Jiro, finds in flight, planes, and the wind. The Wind Rises is also about dreams, pursuing them, and perhaps never quite attaining them. In this world, concessions must be made, compromises. Jiro had no desire to build a war machine, but by designing a beautiful airplane of which he was proud, he indirectly produced a war machine for the Japanese. Miyazaki walks the fine line of this story between celebrating the man who built such a weapon, and the man who dreamed of beautiful things.
After creating such marvelous fantasy worlds in his previous works, the grounded The Wind Rises is a much quieter, more reflective investigation of the human spirit which permeates Miyazaki’s films. The Wind Rises uses sound to great effect when communicating its story. Joe Hisaishi’s score is beautiful, but it is also the sound design, and how sound is used. Miyazaki has always seemed to be obsessed with flying, and he captures these awesome sequences of flight, and the joy of being in the air so perfectly, and they so perfectly reflect the same feeling of joy in romance that the romance between Jiro and Naoko, which at first seems to derail the narrative, soon becomes central to understanding Jiro’s motivations and dreams. The Wind Rises is painfully beautiful in both its story and its animation.
The Wind Rises is not about celebrating the man who crafted a war machine. It’s about celebrating dreams. It’s about celebrating culture and achievement. It’s about celebrating love, of both a person and a profession. Jiro and Hayao are both deeply passionate about their work, and the results reflect that passion with beautiful and lasting output which positively reflects the Japanese culture. Jiro’s dream sequences are among the best in the film for the sole reason that they don’t take place in reality. We must dream bigger than reality in hopes of altering it, in hopes of pushing it forward in positive ways. Without these dreams, we are destined to remain stuck behind in the past, antiquated and technologically inept. This is not a film celebrating the design of a killing machine. The Wind Rises is a calculated, meticulously crafted exploration of what it means to have dreams, pursue them, and fail 90% of the time. It’s a film about the hope of the other 10%.