The Wind Rises (PG.)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
Featuring voices of Hideaki Anno, Mioro Takimoto, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Masahiko Nishimura, Stephen Alpert and Morio Kazama. In Japanese with subtitled. Dubbed version featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, John Krasinski, Martin Short and Mandy Patinkin. 122 mins
The retirement of Hayao Miyazaki is a notable event in cinema history. Firstly because almost no film director gets to choose their way out and because Miyazaki calling it quits is something akin to Walt Disney putting down his pen. Of course, old Walt has a reputation as a bit of an old Nazi, while Miyazaki’s reputation is that of a gentle, ecological minded, slightly stuck-in-his-ways, pacifist do-gooder. The last film Walt oversaw was The Jungle Book. So how does the man who enthralled viewers with delights such as Totoro and Spirited Away decide to take his leave of us? With a sentimental fictionalised biopic of the aeronautical engineer who designed the planes used by kamikaze pilots in World War II. Can I be honest and say that, despite containing wonders, it is not what I wanted?
The Wind Rises is a melancholic farewell, a wistful meditation on the limitations, compromises and dangers of creativity. That title is not some kind of vague poetic generality; the rising of the wind is a recurring visual metaphor throughout the film representing the capricious whims of fate and the driven nature of obsession.
The film's subject is Jiro Horiksho, who in the film is an idealistic, clean cut, relentlessly hard working young man in Harry Potter glasses who is too short-sighted to be a pilot. An all-round good egg, he stand up to bullies, is always courteous to ladies and doesn’t really approve of his country’s Imperial ambitions or the military applications his planes would be used for. Just to make sure we sympathize with him Miyazaki gives him a doomed, tubercular love interest, an historical detail entirely of his own invention.
It's not exactly Springtime For Hitler, but it is a partial whitewash. “We're not arms merchants,” he says, “we just want to build good aircrafts.” Oh well that's OK then. Miyazaki says of his film that “I have no plans to defend our lead character, such as by saying that he actually wanted to make civilian aircraft. I want to portray a devoted individual who pursued his dream head on. Dreams possess an element of madness, and such poison must not be concealed.” The film certainly doesn't excuse Horiksho and in the, rather rushed but beautifully drawn, finale he is faced with the destruction he has wrought. He is sad but somehow unrepentant, as if he is somehow removed from what has been done by the planes he and his colleagues built; that his involvement with the war effort was a dreadful trick of fate that he had no way of avoiding. This may explain why the film has received a frosty reception from Japan's Asian neighbours who are already exasperate by the Japanese insistence on saying sorry for everything except the things that they really need to apologies for.
It is an odd, rather fatalistic move by Miyazaki to fritter away some of the good will he has built up around Asia over the decades, but there is something mournful in the film. It holds to the notion that genius only lasts for about ten years and this final statement suggests some ultimately dissatisfaction with what he has achieved.
With Studio Ghibli you always know roughly what you are getting but The Wind Rises is something of a departure in that it is Miyazaki’s first non-fantasy film. There are plenty of dream sequences but it is fundamentally a realistic story, taking Jiro from his student days, through his work at Mitsubishi to the end of the Second World War. The story is comparatively dull with little inherent visual stimulus (hence the shoehorning in of all those dream sequences) but the crisp simple animation is often just so beautiful you swoon in admiration. The drawing is so precise, the details so telling that it captures the reality of the scenes much more than even the photorealistic computer generated animation of the West. That said, though in the cinema it seemed to me that the visuals were enough to make up for the rather boring story, watching at home the dullness of the story won out.
This is one Japanese animation where the American dubbed version may be superior to the subtitled one. This is partly because Hideaki Anno voicing of Jiro seems a bit flat and droning, he sounds like a Japanese Ray Romano. Mostly though it is because of the bizarre reality of a Hollywood cast voicing this paean to a man who helped kill so many Americans during the war.
Choice of subtitled or dubbed version.
The whole film in storyboard form.