The Wind Rises (2013) / Animation-Drama
aka Kaze Tachinu

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some disturbing images and smoking
Running Time: 126 min.

Cast (voices, American version): Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, Mandy Patinkin, Mae Whitman, Werner Kerzog, Jennifer Grey, William H. Macy, Elijah Wood
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki

Review published March 4, 2014

Hayao Miyazaki's reported final film (though he has already recanted this statement), the Oscar-nominated The Wind Rises, is a mostly fictionalized biography, adapted from Miyazaki's own earlier manga, of noted Japanese aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon), who, in the first half of the 20th century, dreamt of making the world's finest planes from an early age, following in the footsteps of his hero, Italian aviation pioneer Gianni Caproni (Tucci, Catching Fire).  The film goes into a two-pronged story, with one dealing with Jiro's career working as a designer of fighter planes in the all-metal mold of Hugo Junkers' German fleet, while the other deals with his more romantic pursuits with Nahoko (Blunt, Looper), a girl he meets as a young man, then later marries when he comes across her again by chance.

Horikoshi is most remembered for the design of the Japanese fighter planes used in World War II, including the Mitsubishi A5M and A6M 'Zero' designs.  One of the main conflicts of the film is the internal struggle that Jiro goes through in knowing that his joyous creations will ultimately be used as instruments of war and destruction.

As with many of Miyazaki's films, the importance of dreams comes well into play in order to derive meaning to what the characters go through in their daily lives.  In Jiro's dreams, he is able to communicate with his idol, Caproni, who imparts great wisdom to him, not only in regard to aviation, but also about how to approach his life.  It also gives us the intellectual and philosophical resonance that makes The Wind Rises a thought-provoking and inspirational movie, and gives us far more insight into Jiro's aspirations and hopes as a person that couldn't be so easily done through just following a checklist of events in his life.  It also reveals, most importantly, Jiro's desire to just be a true artist and make the best planes he can, as well as his lamentation that his wonderful creations would be used to do such destructive things.

Wind motifs run through the film, seen as something that can bring people together (meet-cutes abound when hats fly into the air, caught by would-be lovers), or it can tear people apart (exacerbated the spread of the fire that rages through Tokyo during the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923).  It also relates to the wind as life, as exemplified by Nahoko's suffering through the symptoms of tuberculosis, which can also be seen as the wind as death.  But, above these, the wind can also represent the rise of a struggling Japan into the rest of the world, thanks in large part to engeineers like Horikoshi in greatly advancing the technology to the modern day.  His planes ride the winds, and the planes represent the hopes and dreams of the people they carry.

The Wind Rises is being distributed theatrically, as with most of Miyazaki's prior releases in the last 20 years, in the United States and other English-speaking countries with a dubbed version full of star actors in the key roles.  Although the film is animated and relatively family friendly, it is likely that most young children may grow bored and restless at such a slow, serious, and subtle biography about engineers, though older kids who can handle an introspective work could end up loving it.  Adults who don't mind animation, especially those already familiar with Miyazaki's previous works, are the true target audience, and to whom the themes of realizing one's dreams, of love and loss, and of the beauty of flight and tragedy of seeing wonderful things used for destructive purposes should prove most resonant.

There's a moment in the film in which Caproni advises Horikoshi that artists only have about a decade of truly creative output in them.  However, thirty-five years after the release of 1979's The Casle of Cagliostro, the 73-year-old Miyazaki had disproven this at least three times over.  It's another great, beautifully poetic work to add to his already prodigious collection. We can only hope his retirement proves short-lived, and for one more ten years of output from the animation genius.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo