So I’m a Studio Ghibli nerd. You may not realise this because I’ve only covered Arrietty so far on here. That was a silly mistake. I should have covered way more than just that. This weekend I finally got around to watching Hayao Miyazaki’s currently, definitely, absolutely final film The Wind Rises. Miyazaki claims this really is the last film he’ll direct and I have reason to believe him this time. You don’t make films like The Wind Rises without it being the full stop at the end of the sentence that makes up your career. Click below and I’ll tell you just how brilliant this film is.
The Wind Rises charts the life of Aeroplane engineer and designer Jiro Horikoshi (Hideaki Anno) from Childhood in 1918 to around the end of World War 2. The character and many of the events are fictional but the film closely runs alongside actual history, including Events such as the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. Jiro’s story is split between his desire to create a masterpiece of a plane and his love of a woman named Naoko (Miori Takimoto). In some way this is Miyazaki’s Cinema Paradiso. Charting the life of a character with a passion drawn right from the director. Musing on the balance of work and romance and the changing of the times.
One element that you’ll feel as the film progresses is the looming threat of war, not just between Japan and the US but with the rising evil of Germany too. For one sequence Jiro visits Germany in the late 1920s to learn how they’ve been able to produce entirely metal planes. There we see the oncoming dangers of the state. Later, when on a break from work, he encounters a German man at the hotel he’s staying at who is later revealed to be wanted by Hitler’s regime forcing Jiro to be extra careful as he’s wanted as an accomplice. The film makes no moral judgments of Jiro for creating the planes that would later be used in war, and neither should it have really. The film isn’t really about that. Jiro laments that is planes could be used for war but he’s so in love with the craft that he just hopes they aren’t needed. At one point he jokes that he could make the planes lighter if they removed the guns. Everyone laughs at this idea not realising yet that the government they work for will not have much need for guns anyway. Any time the film starts to focus on the hard facts of the war it gently pulls you away to concentrate on the story of Jiro’s life, which is far more compelling.
Ghibli films tend to involve a large amount of fantasy but for The Wind Rises Miyazaki has kept the fantastical elements confided to Jiro’s dreams. In them he meets famed real life Aeronautical pioneer Giovanni Caproni (Nomura Mansai) who he discusses passion for their work and their love of planes. Sometimes this takes the form of visualising Jiro’s desires, such as in the opening scene, and sometimes it represents his take on problem solving. This is quite similar to the fantastical moments of A Whisper of the Heart. To add to the fantasy is the nice stylistic moments such as the warping of the ground during the earthquake scene and the way all the old plane engine sound effects, along with a few others, are done by people rather than being recorded engines or standard foley work, which probably resulted in a lot of fun recording sessions. Sound design in general is pretty amazing in The Wind Rises. I’d say the best sound editing I’ve heard since Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
Animation is of the standard you’d expect from a Ghibli film but as this is a lot less action focused and certainly less bizarre than many what you’ll notice is all in the details. The way clothes ruffle, the way people move be it in a realistic or stylised manner. Miyazaki’s framing of shots and his direction are incredibly well controlled here. There’s whimsy, joy, sadness and danger all conveyed with the sort of purposeful direction that you’d expect from a master of cinema. Even a scene of Jiro and an ill Naoko flirting with a paper airplane being thrown back and forth is structured in a manner similar to that of silent cinema. The actions convey the story and with little to no words you get their relationship fully. It’s got to be one of the great romantic scenes in modern cinema.
Miyazaki’s love of flying has always been apparent in his works. Literally every film he has directed has a moment of flying in it. I suppose it was logical that he’d eventually make a film about the craft of building a plane seeing as his parents were involved in the construction of kamikaze planes during World War 2. Miyazaki has always said he was against the war fully but he developed a love of aircraft from being around them. Isao Takahata has a similar story regarding World War 2 that formed his values and story themes years later. Both Miyazaki and Takahata were present for firebombing attacks on japan as children and it’s clear in their works that these events left a lasting impression. I’d recommend The Wind Rises as a excellent pallet cleanser to watch after Grave of the Fireflies actually. Grave of the Fireflies is a remarkable films but will leave you drained. The Wind Rises has a similar gut punch feeling in there but it will leave you feeling a lot more uplifted and is, in general, a lot more joyful.
It’s been 3 days since I saw The Wind Rises and I’m stuck trying to decide where I feel this sits in Miyazaki’s works. On the one hand it’s a remarkable work that I could say is his most well directed film. It certainly manages to be an effecting film on an emotional level. I’m just not sure I love it quite as much as many of his other films. But even then, it’s just a hairs breadth away from my favourites, those being My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away. I guess I could say it’s his best film but not my favourite. If that makes sense. It certainly deserves repeat viewings though and it’s definitely a perfect send off if this truly is Miyazaki’s final film.