Feb 232014

Acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki’s last feature film The Wind Rises, may be his most personal film yet. An ode to the machines he so dearly loves and a stunning, but slightly problematic goodbye. My review of The Wind Rises (風立ちぬ ) is after the jump.

The Wind Rises is centered around aeronautical engineer Jiro, who is based on both real life engineer Jiro Horikoshi and author Tatsuo Horo (who wrote the book to which this film owes its title), who both lived during the same era of Japanese history. It’s 1927 when Jiro begins his lifelong dream of working as an airplane engineer for one of Japan’s largest electronic companies. Jiro has long been fascinated by the science and the beauty of flight and dreams of building beautiful flying machines. However this is a dark time for Japan. The country is recovering from the Great Kanto Earthquake, the Great Depression and the devastating illnesses which followed. War is omnipresent and the country must be prepared. This is not a time for flights of fancy, this is a time to build war machines. Despite’s Jiro’s distaste towards war, he sets out to build the lightest, most efficient and most beautiful plane he possibly can.

On his journey to build the plane of his dreams Jiro has to navigate politics, cultural differences, company policy and a love he finds in the most unexpected but fitting way possible – a beautiful woman introduced to him by the wind. Passion, commitment and artistic vision compel Jiro on this most challenging pursuit.

In 2013 the director announced that he was retiring and The Wind Rises was to be his final feature-length film. While I don’t think that this is one of his strongest films, I do think that this is his most personal. This film feels it comes from deep inside his heart. Miyazki has always loved machines and their intricate workings and he has often put them at the forefront of his work. From his earliest films machines have played a large part in creating narratives, building worlds, and transporting protagonists and villains alike to places beyond our imagination. Just think back through his work: whole floating worlds with dozens of intricate machines (Castle in the Sky), boilers which sustained fantastical other worlds (Spirited Away) and airships which threaten whole villages (Kiki’s Delivery Service), machines have been so important to Miyazaki’s stories. Here, with The Wind Rises we have a story in which he can pay ode to the men behind the creation of the marvelous machines.

Another aspect of this film which helps make it so personal to Miyazaki is the questioning of war. In a country when many are still afraid to speak out strongly against the government, Miyazaki has been a rare voice who has questioned conflict and nuclear power. Many of his films have spoken with sadness on the toll of war and the consequences of human greed and ignorance (Grave of the Fireflies, Princess Mononoke). Here Jiro just wants to build something of beauty. He has no interest in war and having lived through the Great Kanto Earthquake and subsequent fires, he can imagine the type of hell which machines that can rain fire will inflict. Jiro focuses on the science, the quest for his dream and tries to block the thought of war from his mind. Though he may block it out will awake, his dreams put up no such barriers. In conversations with great Italian engineer Caproni, he admits that he knows that war and death are coming, and he can do little to prevent it. The creation of an incredible Japanese plane is at least something people can be proud of during such a dark time.

This film is breathtakingly beautiful and sits alongside his previous films in terms of the animation quality. The lush Japanese countryside has never looked more tranquil and the fires of the Kanto Earthquake have never felt more real. Miyazaki and the talented artists at Studio Ghibli can create darkness and light in equal, exquisite measure. However, narrative wise this film lacked some cohesion. When focusing on Jiro and the building of the plane it was engaging and entertaining; however when the narrative strayed to focus on the love story, it faltered. The relationship didn’t feel like it added enough to Jiro’s character building to be worth the run-time it took up. The relationship was inserted awkwardly into the main narrative and I found myself feeling the film’s 126 minute length during these sidetracks and wishing it would go back focusing on the endlessly fascinating machines. While the story stammered at times, the world transforming score did not. The fantastical sweeping score, rose and feel as the wind dictated. It was magical.

Hayao Miyazaki is one of the finest directors to have ever graced us with his work. His ability to transport us and inspire us is second to none. I want to thank him and Studio Ghibli for some of the most magical cinematic experiences I have ever had. I hope that his guiding vision will see the studio flourish for decades to come.

“The wind is rising! … We must attempt to live! (Le vent se lève ! … Il faut tenter de vivre!)”

By Sam McCosh

The Facts

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer(s): Hayao Miyazaki
Starring the voices of: Hideaki Anno, Miori Takimoto, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Nomura Mansai
Runtime: 126 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: February 27 2014.