The wind is rising. We must try to live.
Genres: Biopic, Drama, Historical
Creator: Hayao Miyazaki
Length: 126 minutes
Highlights: (Possibly) Hayao Miyazaki’s swan song.
Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the English dub and by Hideaki Anno in the original Japanese) is a boy who only dreams about one thing: flying. Unfortunately, he is very near-sighted, which prevents him from ever becoming a pilot. After reading an aviation magazine, he has a dream where he meets a man named Count Giovanni Battista Caproni, a renowned Italian aircraft engineer. He tells Jiro that he can’t be a pilot either, but that it’s even better to build airplanes. Jiro immediately decides that he is going to become an aviation engineer and goes away to study at Tokyo Imperial University. Eventually, he gets a design position with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries aviation division. He wants nothing more than to build beautiful airplanes, but things are not so simple. The only planes he gets to design are fighters for the army, as the specter of war looms over Japan. In addition, he meets a falls in love with a beautiful woman named Nahoko, but events conspire to keep her, Jiro, and his airplanes from living a happy life.
The Wind Rises is Studio Ghibli’s first (and so far, only) biographical film. Jiro Horikoshi was a real man who designed the infamous A6M Zero fighter plane used by the Imperial Military during the Second World War (although the plane most focused on in the film is actually the A5M Claude, which was apparently Horikoshi’s favorite design). However, the film is not a 100% accurate representation of his life. Much of Jiro’s personal life as shown in the film was actually based off the novel The Wind Has Risen (for which the film is named) and the life of its author, Tatsuo Hori. One of the characters is lifted from a novel called The Magic Mountain by German writer Thomas Mann. The film is also partly based on Miyazaki’s father, who was in fact a designer for Mitsubishi during the Second World War.
The film generated a considerable amount of controversy when released. Many Japanese conservatives criticized the in particular film for its negative portrayals of war and Miyazaki in general for his well-known pacifist views, dubbing him “Anti-Japanese.” In contrast, some leftwing Japanese criticized the film for sugarcoating history, pointing out that many of Horikoshi’s airplanes, in addition to being war machines, were built through Korean and Chinese forced labor. The film itself discusses the fact that designer’s planes are used for war; in one of their dreams, Jiro and Count Caproni talk about whether they should build planes even if they will inevitably be used for war. In the end, they come to the conclusion that they should, because they “…would rather live in a world with pyramids [airplanes] than without them.” The fact that that the film was released when the Japanese government was considering altering Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which outlaws war as a means of settling international disputes, only inflamed matters further.
The film has taken Ghibli’s trademark animation style to its furthest extent yet. As can be expected, the film contains astoundingly beautiful shots of the sky, planes, and landscapes of Japan. Jiro, Nahoko, Count Caproni, and all the other characters are drawn in an extremely simple, almost childlike style. The backgrounds, however, are extremely lush, alternating between possessing a sort of watercolor-like stylization and reminding one of vintage photographs. While this is not a war film, it does contain a few scenes of devastation brought about by the war looming inevitably over Jiro, detailing destruction which brings to mind similar scenes from Grave of the Fireflies. The film is also notable for accurately depicting engineering designs and mechanical systems and for the fact that all of the airplanes shown in the film were real (yes, even this one).
Hayao Miyazaki has announced his retirement several times now (approximately six), so his most recent iteration of “retirement” has been met with skepticism from many fans, who expect him to suddenly announce a new film sometime in the future. I hope that Miyazaki does make more films, but if not, than The Wind Rises is the perfect swan song for one of the greatest creators of animation ever; the perfect ending for a man who loves airplanes.