Film Review: The Wind Rises
This film is a fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi, who was a plane designer and engineer prior to and during World War Two. The film follows Jiro's life. It begins when he grows up dreaming about the beauty and power of planes and having dream interactions with an Italian plane designer named Mr. Caproni.
The film follows Jiro mainly as an adult later, detailing the years when he went to school, how he met his wife, her struggle with sickness, and how he struggled to create better planes, at a time when Japanese planes were hopelessly behind other countries'. He travels to Germany, dealing with the disdain German engineers have for his "backward" country. He works hard when he returns, showing a knack for innovation and real determination to drive his country forward so it will be taken more seriously.
It's a bittersweet film, about how life gives us ups and downs (literally, in the case of plane engineering) and we have to make sacrifices. It makes a strong case for not letting go of one's dreams. It's about how the human spirit persists in the face of defeat.
The Wind Rises
Manga and Screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki
Historical Fiction, Drama
As is to be expected of Hayao Miyazaki, this movie is Oscar-quality. The film is like a sad, skillfully played violin solo, a fine work of art that makes us think deeply and feel deeply. One thing you'll notice is, outside of the dream sequences, The Wind Rises has fewer fantasy elements than almost any other Studio Ghibli work. There's also much more of a focus on humans, whereas many other Ghibli movies involve Shinto spirits or talking animals. So, it lacks what some people might like about Ghibli, but it ends up making a more serious, adult-feeling film, because it lacks wacky fantastical beings.
This was well received by critics on both sides of the Pacific, but it was a bit controversial as it celebrated the work of a man who made war planes. I had to admit, it was a little uncomfortable for me as an American thinking, "but in our movies, the bad guys fly those, and the good guys shoot them down". But you have to realize that history is subtle, nuanced, and doesn't really have "good guys" and "bad guys" as much as it simply has winners and losers. And they made Jiro very troubled by the idea of his planes being used for war. What he originally wanted to do was make planes for passenger travel. He saw planes as beautiful and inspiring dreams, not as devices for war. But of course, life gave him no choice in the matter. It was either make planes for war, or not at all.
This is probably the most Miyazaki movie of all. Instead of putting planes or flight into another story and subtly alluding to his own past (his father was an aeronautical engineer during WWII), he instead is telling his own story, and his father's story, and the story of planes, naked of any metaphorical substitutions. You can tell that Miyazaki wanted to tell this story for a long time. At his most personal and authentic, you see him really shine.
It's often difficult to make a feature-length movie narrative out of real events. Real history is continuous, without clear beginnings and endings. Focusing on a specific person's life, and specific events, like World War Two, give us landmarks in time that help writers create a story. The ending of course, is bittersweet. If you know history, you know Japan ends up defeated. Almost every one of the planes Jiro worked tirelessly to design crashed, either by being shot down or, later in the war, by the frantically desperate tactic of kamikaze suicide attacks. His life's work a sad ruin, Jiro still finds hope in the end of the war for a better future. I think that makes the ending uplifting, to think that someone could suffer so much and still end with a positive spirit.