The film is a fantasy account of real life aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi, and there have been objections from certain critics stating that the film celebrates the life of a man who in some ways was responsible for the devastation of Pearl Harbor. In the film’s defense, The Wind Rises never shirks away from the horror of the second world war, often depicting images of great loss and devastation, and all of them Japan’s.
The title The Wind Rises comes from French poem by writer and philosopher Paul Valery: “The wind is rising! We must try to live!” and is quoted several times throughout the film by characters who, when mentioned, form a bond with each other. Jiro Horikoshi was the man who designed the Mitsubishi A5M and the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, both used by Japan during World War 2. The Wind Rises isn’t exactly a historical account of the man’s life in the traditional sense – for one thing, the film is animated, and second, the story is full of fantasy and adventure – but it uses real events as a backdrop to present a sweeping, epic account of a young man who dreamt of flying but who would never realize his dream of being a pilot because of poor eyesight. Instead, he sets his mind to designing, eventually becoming one of the most famous Japanese designers of all.
There’s a trancelike beauty to the film throughout, as if the whole movie, not just the fantasy sequences, are all part of one, long, lyrical dream. Miyazaki’s distinct, animated style is at times breathtakingly beautiful whether it be illustrating something as simple as a train journey through the countryside or the undeniably horrific sequence depicting the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. It is here, during the earthquake sequence where the young Jiro meets the beautiful though fragile young girl, Naoko and her maid. What follows is an exciting account of heroism on Jiro’s part as he saves the lives of both Naoko and the maid who has broken her leg while surviving a spectacular train wreck caused by the quake. Jiro uses his slide-rule as a splint and helps carry the young woman back to safety.
The ambitious scope of the story as it sweeps several decades is one to be admired. At a running time of more than two hours, The Wind Rises covers a lot of ground, incorporating not only historical events mixed with flights of fantasy but also several emotional themes, including love, loss, heroism and eventually sadness, particularly in the second half as the health of Jiro’s young bride quickly deteriorates.
For some, there’s a danger that the film is perhaps too lyrical, as if its continual feel of unexpected and stylistic sweetness slows things down. Plus, in age of American computer animation where the fluid movement of its characters and the line between what appears real and what is CGI becomes increasingly blurred, Miyazaki’s old-school, hand drawn Manga style of animation can be a tough sell for those who, after all these years, are still new to a Hayao Miyazaki film.
However, The Wind Rises is an animated feature intended for and best appreciated by adults. The Manga comic animation style originates from the Japanese culture of the late 19th century; a stylized form of Japanese art that remains an important part of the country’s publishing industry today. As Miyazaki’s swan-song with its sense of eventual melancholia, the film is a fitting end to a remarkable career. For those who already know they can fully appreciate Miyazaki’s style, the end result will be quite magical.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 126 Minutes Overall Rating: 8 (out of 10)