Best known in this country for the vivid animated fantasy films Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, Japanese writer-director Hayao Miyazaki brings us what is arguably his most mature, moving and contemplative film, The Wind Rises. This is reportedly Miyazaki’s last film and with its artistically inspired and introspective protagonist and typical Miyazaki themes such as pacifism, environmental devastation, the role of women in Japanese society and the wonders of flight, The Wind Rises might be seen as a summation of Miyazaki’s career.
The film fictionalises the life of brilliant but controversial Japanese aeronautical engineer, Jiro Horikishi. While this animated film chronicles the events in the first half of Jiro’s life, its detours into the world of dreams and fantasy are most important. The Wind Rises depicts Jiro as a rabid aviation enthusiast who, since childhood, had desperately wanted to become a pilot but was thwarted by his short-sightedness. Inspired by dreams of his hero, Italian plane designer Gianni Caproni, Jiro becomes an aeronautical engineer who ascends the ranks at Mitsubishi to become a revered innovator. As his career flourishes, he also pursues a relationship with the beautiful Nahoko, whom he meets amid the chaos of the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923. Despite his success Jiro endures one of the most turbulent periods in Japanese history culminating in the devastation of the Second World War.
Employing hand drawn techniques rather than computer graphics, Miyazaki once again creates a work of animated art that is strikingly different from his Hollywood contemporaries such as Disney and Pixar. Miyazaki does not attempt the photo-realism of Pixar films where every hair on person’s head is clearly defined; instead he gives his characters simple features and places them in landscapes that resemble vibrant water colours.
Also, unlike Disney and Pixar films – which are admittedly aimed at a younger audience – Miyazaki’s films don’t contain constant, manic, eyeball-pummelling action, in fact characters often spend considerable periods standing still staring silently into space. Consequently, audiences raised on high-octane animated films may find The Wind Rises slow-moving and with much of its 126 minutes spent discussing aeronautical engineering, a test of their patience.
Those willing to immerse themselves in Miyazaki’s world will, however, be enraptured as The Wind Rises features a sublime combination of ravishing visuals, evocative music and a genuinely moving love story. The film also contains remarkable sound design which is best realised in the groaning convulsions of the landscape during the Kanto earthquake.
Visually and aurally impressive as it is, the film leaves us with gnawing concerns about Miyazaki’s depiction of Jiro. While the director clearly respects Jiro’s intellect, work ethic and the artistic inspiration he brought to aeronautics, Miyazaki still presents Jiro as an oddly ambiguous figure. Jiro – who looks distractingly like the Where’s Wally character – is exceedingly polite, yet unemotional to the point of insensitivity and oscillates between lovable nerd and workaholic robot. Also, exactly where Miyazaki stands in relation to Jiro’s contribution to the destruction wrought in the Second World War by his Zero fighter plane isn’t entirely clear. The director critiques imperial Japan’s warlike nature but doesn’t judge Jiro on his role in propagating the war machine.
The Wind Rises may not be a perfect way for Miyazaki to depart the world of filmmaking but it is still a wonderful showcase for this revered director’s unique artistry.
Nick’s rating: ***1/2.
Genre: Animated fantasy/ biopic.
Director(s): Hayao Miyazaki.
Release date: 27th Feb 2014.
Running time: 126 mins.
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