Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writers: Hayao Miyazaki (comic), Hayao Miyazaki (screenplay)
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt
July 20th, 2013 (Japan)
February 21st, 2014 (USA – limited)
February 28th, 2014 (USA – wide)
Runtime: 126 min
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Hayao Miyazaki, famed directer of such acclaimed films as Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, has publicly stated that The Wind Rises will be his final feature length animated film. At the age of 73, and a career that stretches back into the 1960s, perhaps he deserves a break – it’s just a shame that he won’t be around to produce more films like this one. Click after the break for my full review.
If you go into the theater thinking that this will be another Ponyo or Totoro, you might want to adjust your expectations. If you are expecting to see a serious subject addressed in an adult manner, with the signature Studio Ghibli artistry and sense of wonder, you’ll feel right at home. The Wind Rises is Miyazaki’s first movie based on the life of an historical figure, Jiro Horikoshi [Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Zach Callison as young Jiro]. He is best known as the aviation engineer who designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, easily Japan’s most effective fighter of World War II, and the most agile fighter plane of any nation in the first several years of the war. And yet, Miyazaki’s message in this film is very clearly anti-war.
We first meet Jiro as a young boy, arguing with his sister Kayo [Mae Whitman/Eva Bella as young Kayo], and dreaming of flying in the clouds. In his dreams, he meets Count Caproni [Stanley Tucci], who tells him that he’s visiting his dreams, not Jiro’s own. He tells him that “Airplanes are beautiful dreams,” and this becomes a recurring theme in the movie, one that gets changed in subtle ways by the end. An older Jiro travels to university, meeting a young woman, Naoko [Emily Blunt (her name is spelled Nahoko in the credits)], who catches his hat for him as the wind almost blows it away. They’re obviously interested in each other. They’re caught up in The Great Kanto Earthquake as they travel to Tokyo, and Jiro helps Naoko and her servant (whose leg is broken during the quake) to escape from the fire engulfing the city, and to reunite them with Naoko’s family in Ueda (a district within the city). He leaves without telling the family who he is, and the two lose touch for several years.
Jiro becomes an engineer working for an aviation firm (historically, this is Mitsubishi, although it is not named in the movie). There, he works with his best friend from university, Honjo [John Krasinski], under the direct supervision of the always comically angry Kurokawa [Martin Short]. He’s the hot new genius at the firm, and quickly shows how indispensable he is, solving problems that others can’t crack, and getting sent to Germany to learn engineering techniques from the Junkers company. This becomes important later, when back in Japan on a holiday he meets a mysterious German named Castorp [Werner Herzog], who tells him that Dr. Junkers is in political trouble for expressing anti-Nazi or anti-war sentiments. This foreshadows Jiro’s own pacifism, and the troubles he too will meet as he attempts to avoid political problems while continuing his work. While at the retreat, he also reunites with Naoko, who just happens to be the daughter of the hotel’s owner.
Although war is brewing in the world, and the planes that Jiro is working on are clearly intended to be bombers and fighters, his focus is always on the artistry of plane design, rather than the use to which they’ll be put. At one point, when discussing ways to reduce the weight of his Zero design, he suggests that removing the guns would be the best option. He faces the increasing militarism of his own country, and receives several warnings as it worsens: first the German Castorp warns him that Japan will explode, and later Caproni in a dream sequence reiterates the same, while also telling him that “Airplanes are a beautiful, cursed dream.”
The dream sequences are a beautiful touch of Miyazaki magic, and they remind the viewer that they are in fact watching an animated film, rather than an historical live-action drama. There are some interesting design and production choices in the film, the most notable being that all of the sound effects are organic in nature. When The Great Kanto Earthquake takes place, the growling rumbling sound it makes is done by human sub-vocalizations and groans; trains are literally the whoosh of breath; and every plane propeller is done by voice, the sounds a child might make when playing with his or her toy airplane. In my opinion, this is an attempt by Miyazaki to connect the dreams of youth (which we see in the young Jiro), with the realities of adulthood – our dreams made real. Jiro, facing war and a romantic life fraught with difficulties, is absorbed into his childhood dreams as he makes his visions into reality.
This is a beautiful film, with adult themes and a very serious tenor, despite the occasional humorous moment, and the whimsical nature of the many dream sequences (which themselves are sometimes darkened by nightmare visions). As his final film (if he really stays retired this time), Hayao Miyazaki has chosen his most serious subject, treated in true dramatic fashion. There is no question as to why this film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature this year; the only question is why it didn’t win.
Steve’s Grade: A
A beautiful masterpiece that blends dreams and reality in a magical love affair between a man, the woman he loved, and his airplanes. Serious subject matter and long character development in the middle third of the film means this might be best reserved until middle-school ages and up.