First Thoughts on The Wind Rises / Kaze Tachinu (2013)

*All reviews contain spoilers*

Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, is property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The author claims no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the author and are not to be viewed as factual documentation.

 

On February 16th, I finally completed the “Ghibli canon” by watching The Wind Rises, which was the last Ghibli film I hadn’t seen (apart from the 1993 TV film Ocean Waves). Since discovering the incredible works of Studio Ghibli back in 2009, I’ve been slowly making my way through their back catalogue, and now I’ve seen them all – at least until they produce some more (here’s hoping). It’s been a fascinating journey and I’ve enjoyed it immensely, so here are my first thoughts on the great Hayao Miyazaki’s swansong, The Wind Rises.

The film was directed by Miyazaki in 2013, featuring music by his usual collaborator, Joe Hisaishi. It was originally going to be released on a double bill with Isao Takahata’s last film, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, similar to what they’d done back in 1988 with My Neighbour Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies, but in the end Takahata’s film was delayed a few months (apparently because the director was terrible at meeting his deadlines). As far as we know, these two productions would be the final ones for the now-elderly directors, but with Miyazaki at least, you never know for certain; he’s “retired” multiple times by this point and may yet surprise us with another feature down the line (there are already rumours of something called How Do You Live? as we speak).

The Wind Rises is a somewhat fictionalised biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, a brilliant aircraft designer for Mitsubishi during WWII. He was responsible for designing the Mitsubishi A5M fighter aircraft and its successor, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, which were used by the Japanese during the war and have gone on to become icons of Japanese aviation. Miyazaki’s film was adapted from a manga he’d created under the same name, which in turn was loosely based on a short story from 1937 called The Wind Has Risen by Tatsuo Hori.

The Japanese voice cast features Hideaki Anno in the lead role as Jiro, with Miori Takimoto playing his love interest, Nahoko Satomi. Hidetoshi Nishijima, Masahiko Nishimura, Stephen Alpert (yes, he’s in the Japanese version), Morio Kazama, Keiko Takeshita, Mirai Shida, Jun Kunimura and Shinobu Otake round out the cast. In the English dub, Jiro is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, with Emily Blunt as Nahoko and John Krasinski, Martin Short, Werner Herzog, William H. Macy, Edie Mirman, Mae Whitman, Mandy Patinkin and Jennifer Grey in the other major roles. (There are also cameo roles by Elijah Wood and Darren Criss).

Jiro is an interesting character, very different from the typical heroes of western animated films; I could really relate to him as a fellow bespectacled introvert. He is a quiet, gentle and hard-working guy with a passion for aircraft who dreams of designing beautiful planes for passengers to fly in, but due to the circumstances of his time period, he must find a way to reconcile his dreams with the harsh realities of war and the effects it has on his work. I’ve always liked that Ghibli films tend to feature very “ordinary” leads instead of the more romanticised and overconfident western ones – most Ghibli leads are simply trying to live their lives as best they can, without seeking anything “greater”.

Jiro’s love for his work is admirable; he is driven by the passion of a person who has been lucky enough to land a position in their dream career, and he’s working on some project or another in almost all of his scenes no matter what else he might be doing. The central conflict of the film is Jiro’s struggle to accept that his creations will be put to unsavoury uses as fighter planes, when all he wants is to build elegant passenger planes. Along the way, he meets the charming young Nahoko (during an earthquake, of all times) and must juggle his relationship with her with his responsibilities to Mitsubishi. As you would expect for Ghibli, the romance is played subtly with gentle nuance and is believable and sweet, although I must admit it’s not my absolute favourite Ghibli pairing (I’ll always have a soft spot for Sophie and Howl).

The visuals on show in this film are as gorgeous as always. I particularly liked the imaginative depiction of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which was probably my favourite scene (although the sound effects were a little odd). I’m a sucker for historical fiction and the references to events like this and WWII really drew me into the world of the film. One thing that sets this one apart from the other Ghibli films are the hints of German culture scattered throughout it; Japan’s historical relationship with Germany has generally been more positive than America’s, so it makes for an interesting change of pace. At the hotel, for instance, I was curious to look up the song that Hans Castorp sings while playing the piano – turns out it was Das gibt’s nur einmal (English: It only happens once). While I’m here, though, I have to note how creepy I found Castorp himself, even if he is one of the “good guys” – it’s the eyes, I think, something about that design just feels… off.

Given that this film is nearly five years old now, I think I’m safe in discussing the end without risking spoilers (but please stop reading here if you haven’t seen it). I’m always impressed that Miyazaki isn’t afraid to end his films on a bittersweet note; his characters must often lose something before their story can be concluded and Jiro faces one of the most crushing losses of all, when his beloved Nahoko is taken from him by tuberculosis. The way this is handled is artful, with her spirit coming to him in a dream to reassure him – I must admit that it was so subtle that I wasn’t certain she’d actually died until the very end of the film, but it made it easier to swallow than a blunt funeral scene would have.

The animation is top-notch as always and has an almost nostalgic quality to it; for anyone familiar with Miyazaki’s works, you’ll spot little “signatures” of his all over the place. Everything from the fantastical designs of the flying machines to the way the characters walk, run and wave, even down to the suits and dresses they wear, all of it just oozes Miyazaki. There’s a delicacy, a hesitancy almost, in the character animation which you don’t find in the more polished Disney style, and I think it goes without saying at this point that I adore anything traditionally animated in this age of computer domination.

As a minor criticism, I must admit that I found the film a bit slow-paced (just a little) and I was beginning to check the time towards the end – with its hefty two-hour running time, it could, perhaps, have benefited from being just a fraction shorter. Still, that’s really just a matter of taste; my favourite Miyazaki works are his fantasy epics from the early 2000s like Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, but The Wind Rises still makes for a very strong note to end on, if it does in fact end up being his final film. It actually reminded me a lot of his 1992 film Porco Rosso, at least stylistically, which also featured a story revolving around planes and war. Overall, I enjoyed The Wind Rises, even if it’s not my favourite Ghibli feature – the quality of these pieces is nearly always exceptional and puts most western studios to shame (emphasis on “most”: I’m a huge Disney-Pixar fanboy).

The Wind Rises became the highest-grossing Japanese film in Japan in 2013 and won several awards, as well as an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature. However, it did also generate a bit of political controversy for using a warplane engineer as its protagonist, as well as for seemingly supporting smoking. The same year, a documentary about the production process on this film was made called The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, which I also watched about a week after seeing the film. It’s really illuminating, giving you an intimate glimpse into the creative process at Ghibli and showing you Miyazaki’s own thought processes and personality. One thing I took away from it in particular was how much Miyazaki related to Jiro on a personal level, as he, too, grew up with a passion for planes at a time when they were largely being used for war. His interest in the machines had always clashed with his firm anti-war stance, and it was this that he was keen to explore in this film.

Like just about every Ghibli film out there, I’d definitely recommend seeing this one. Whilst it might not be the most action-packed of Miyazaki’s works, it’s still a highly engaging and thoughtfully told story which is well worth checking out at least once. I can only hope, like the other Ghibli fans of the world, that this doesn’t end up being his last, as I’m sure we’re all hungry for more from the master.

 

Thank you for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed the article – I will be back to film reviews from next week if all goes to plan, but as I explained at the bottom of my Atlantis review, I’ve been having a spot of computer trouble lately and am thus in the process of replacing my tired old desktop. Whatever happens, though, I will definitely be getting back into it as soon as possible, so please do stick around for more. Until next time, stay animated!

 

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37936203 – credit for poster

4 Replies to “First Thoughts on The Wind Rises / Kaze Tachinu (2013)”

  1. Personally, I don’t mind the slow pace of the film at all; if anything, this kind of pacing actually suits this particular type of story quite well.

    As far as the character of Hans Castorp goes, I must say that his sudden abrupt appearance in the story and the way he constantly keeps watch on Jiro makes me not trust him very much…

    Liked by 1 person

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