Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Okay, let’s start this review honestly: This is a Miyazaki film, so it’s extremely hard to come into this unbiased. “Spirited Away” is still one of my favorite films of all time, animated or not, and since Miyazaki has announced that this will be his final feature film before retiring, it’s hard to not come into this with some preconceived opinions (although Miyazaki later retracted the statement about his retirement, so who knows?).
“The Wind Rises” is quite different from Miyazki’s previous films, which use very strong fantasy elements to tell their story. This film is actually an animated biopic about Jiro Horikoshi, an aeronautical engineer who was responsible for designing the Mitsubishi A5M and A6M Zero fighter planes, which were both used by Japan during World War II.
Two things to keep in mind while watching this film is that it is a highly fictionalized biography and it’s highly stylized. Instead of fantasy elements as many of Miyazaki’s most popular films have relied on, this film uses dream sequences and stylistic wind to convey a sense of wonder and the abstract without leaving reality. Being a biopic, it’s generally a very realistic film that focuses on the major historical events that occurred during Horikoshi’s life, including the great Kanto earthquake of 1923 and the looming World War II, and how they affected the course of Horikoshi’s life and his thinking.
The film is beautiful. It’s thoughtful. It’s emotional. But it’s also not without controversy. Many will likely be upset that this film is about a man who designed machines that were used to killed thousands. The film answers this by portraying Horikoshi as a man who simply dreamed of building beautiful flying machines but was upset by their potential to be used in war., even at one point suggesting that they could lighten the aircraft’s weight by removing the guns. Whether this is true or not I couldn’t tell you and is beyond the scope of this review. But, again, this will likely cause and has caused some controversy in certain circles.
While the story of an engineer might seems dull, it’s really a story about dreams and about love and loss. It’s a story that is set firmly in the real world, based on real people and events, and shows how with big enough dreams, we can create wonders, but to guard those dreams carefully because they can just as easily be manipulated to create horrors. It could be disconcerting to watch such a realistic film by Miyazaki if the viewer is only familiar with his more fantastic works, and this film is not completely without fault, such as when one character begins to cry and water starts gushing out of her eyes, which seems out of place in a film and story so firmly based in reality. It also has a slow pace and little direct conflict outside of Horikoshi’s own mind, so the viewer to remember that this is a thoroughly artistic movie. However, with mind-blowing animation, some of the most beautiful cel drawings I have every seen, a wonderful and heartbreaking story, and a haunting soundtrack, “The Wind Rises” is a fitting swan song to one of the greatest animation writers and directors in the world.
“The Wind Rises” earns 4.5 out of 5 stars.