There is something to be said for Miyazaki as a filmmaker and as a director. That for all his works that feel distinctly Miyazaki, there has never been that one work where you could say “His soul beats off the screen!” His whimsy or feelings regarding flight and nature can be present, but never a sense of himself. That is not to say he doesn’t put every inch of his being into his work, his countless years of filmmaking is a testament to the man’s passion, yet this one film seems to be his poetry to the world of animation. His work of pure cinema in a sense, well more of a lax usage of the term, where visuals and storytelling go hand to hand. This is the one film that I can honestly say, “Miyazaki has finally made the film he has always wanted to make.” Every director has that one project that speaks to them as a master of their craft, no matter the director. Yet that very passion project some try to accomplish can fall along the wayside and they can be lost within their immense desire to tell the story they have always wanted to tell. Does The Wind Rises fall prey to Miyazaki’s very passion, or does it have enough lift to carry us to the clouds with him?
The Wind Rises tells the story of Jiro Horikoshi, the Japanese engineer who created fighter planes for the Japanese during World War II, and that alone will spark a lot of disdain for this film. This is the first film Miyazaki has done that is about a real life person, and the subject will be hard for people from an international audience to be attached to due to how Horikoshi’s fighter planes would then go on to kill people. Miyazaki instead of making this a politically drenched wartime film, decides to show Horikoshi’s life from youthful optimist to a man fascinated with airplanes to watching his beautiful dream literally be used to harm others. This is a story about a man whose dreams came true in the most painfully ironic fashion. It is based on a sense humanity and how not everything will go your way even if your dream comes true. His love for aircraft and flying became one of the biggest tragedies in his life and that is a poignant moment this film has going for it. Miyazaki creates a very human portrayal of the man.
Miyazaki tells Horikoshi’s story effectively detailing his naivety, his passion and idealism regarding aircraft. The one aspect that the film will drive into your head is that fact that this freedom is a curse that this beauty of flying through the air will be repurposed for something different and more heinous and you can’t stop it. The film actively plays the role of an anti-war film while depicting the life of one of the great creators of weapons in WWII. It is based on the principle that tools are not inherently evil, but rather it is terrible situations that warp them.
The Wind Rises unfortunately while telling such a poignant message through Horikoshi’s own disdain for what his creations have been used for, is at times wildly uneven. I say this because Miyazaki wants to tell a very large portion of this man’s life and that can bring about different tones entirely. The first half of the film is about the man chasing his dream, by studying and going through life. Then you have the romance portion which turns the film into a well needed melodrama. Here is where we get some of the more clichéd, but also some of the more magical moments of the film. That is why I say the film itself is uneven simply because you can feel like you are watching two different films entirely. One about the discovery of a dream, and one above the irony of love of another and the passion of a creator. One drags on for what seems like forever with dull dialogue we are presented with that will often drown out those not infatuated with Miyazaki and aircrafts. It isn’t the subjects but rather the words. The other is a timeless melodrama about life that feels like a movie, and where ultimately this movie comes into its own.
To say a person’s life can shift tones comes a bit with the territory of a biographical work. Yet it’s how the film navigates these tones that can bring a person to life. There is not a moment of the beginning or how Horikoshi is portrayed that makes me see him as the hopeless romantic who falls in love. The beat kind of comes out of left field no matter how it is telegraphed in the beginning. The second half is definitely the stronger half, showcasing more of the point of this biographical picture and his life with his wife utilizing great scenes of visual storytelling that at times remind of the silent era. There is this vibrancy and life that we get from Horikoshi’s love whether it be planes or his wife and yet the way the film goes about detailing both is a bit muddled at the best of times. It rushes certain aspects of his life, and really dives into the aviation aspect a bit too much. It does show where the man’s passions take him, yet that very understanding of his passion could have done without the long trips through German planes, hangers, seeing the secret police chase down someone who has no relevance to the story. It has scenes that feel there just to encapsulate the era yet they feel unimportant to the story at hand.
There are the dream sequences though. Horikoshi has these dreams with an Italian aircraft engineer called Caproni, where he depicts the world of war and peace through his own airplanes. We see the horrors and wonderment it can bring, places being bombed and people happy to be up in the air waving their national flag and enjoying the feeling of flight. These are the moments where this film has absolute brilliance. The visuals soar to new heights and take us through the mind of Horikoshi and his dreams and where he fears they may go. It is these moments in the film, outside the dream and inside, where the film showcases that same magic in animation that Miyazaki can make you feel. The problem is that most of the animation feels more up Takahata’s specialty than Miyazaki’s. In fact this film feels more in line with what Takahata does with the studio as this is the one film in Miyazaki’s resume that stands out like a sore thumb.
Miyazaki feels at times not in his element. Despite the passion that is noticeable from the very first frame he does better with broader strokes rather than small ones. Takahata is best known for taking the mundane and the average and giving them this breathtaking detail. There is this slow pace that allows slice of life to breathe and he can take his time and pay attention to the small things. Miyazaki has always been known for his exciting storytelling, his grand worlds and how his characters choose to navigate them. Even in a film like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service there is this fantastical approach to the mundane that doesn’t allow it to ever fall into focusing and loving the smaller things. So these elements often stuck out to me as odd choices, much like why he decided to do a close up of a guy devouring vegetables. These are odd choices I don’t expect Miyazaki to make when filmmaking and at times he feels aimless in his direction.
Horikoshi and his wife, Naoko, are wonderful together though. There is this beauty that comes through such a sweet love story that borders on saccharine. While its tone clashes with the prior, it doesn’t really give you a vibe of it being thrown in. These two and a few of the other more notable characters are given ample time to flesh out their personalities. We see multiple dimensions of those who are important in Horikoshi’s life even if some don’t make enough of an impact on the film at hand and one could wonder their inclusion. I understand that this is trying to depict the life of a person, yet every aspect of every person they come into contact with can’t come into play. Like Horikoshi’s sister who comes and goes without much point to her besides a couple of lines or cues in the beginning. Why she shows up afterwards is a bit…weird and feels random because she contributes nothing to the story at hand.
Overall, what we have here is another passion project that gets blinded a bit by said passion. The dialogue is easily one of the worst aspects of it not only because of the lines and their focus but also a bit in the delivery being nothing great. I mean there are some stand outs like Martin Short as Kurokawa, but for the most part it is noticeable that some actors are not voice actors. The love of airplanes is apparent and taken to magical heights with terrific animated sequences (primarily the dream ones), yet that same love can bog down the dialogue a bit too much. This is a film that lacks a sense of restraint for that very love, and that can make the first half of the film particularly in the dialogue portions to be a slog. It has a story filled with melodramatic romance that will sweep you off your feet, reminiscent of classic romance tales in Hollywood. The characters are likeable and human and the theme about the tools of wars and not being abused by others is quite poignant and effective.
While it may seem like I don’t enjoy the film, for once I can say the animation literally floored me in moments. The visual storytelling, was a bit repetitive in moments, but was never ineffective or less than magical. You could feel the passion of Horikoshi towards airplanes through his first dream, or the cute nature of Horikoshi and Naoko’s relationship or the pain of Horikoshi’s dream. All of these are told through the animation and create a powerfully moving experience in scenes peppered throughout the film creating some of if not the best moments in his filmography. The passion comes through in moments and I for one am glad to have experienced them. And for the story to be told by pure visuals is impressive because it shows a level of precision in subtle character features or to pack enough emotion in a scene to convey everything without words. That is the true mastery on display here and I for one can’t say it’s anything less than fantastic in moments. It is visual poetry in motion, enough to save this film quite a bit in my books. I may not have been in the clouds, but I could certainly see the majesty he does even if I stood on the ground.
And thus ends Ghibli week…for now! I do plan on going through every Ghibli film at some point, but as of now I shall hold of on watching others and get back to other material I have neglected for a tiny bit. It was certainly a treat to watch Ghibli films especially for a long period of time and I can certainly say I was swept away by the beauty of their work. I still have some I have yet to see and I look forward to someday closing that chapter in my life of animation. Bittersweet but true.
So have you watched The Wind Rises? How much passion do you think a director needs to allow into their film and how much restraint should they have? Feel free to leave a comment down below and don’t forget to soar above the clouds someday!