September 03, 2015

Film Review: "The Wind Rises"

By David Sooby
Film review: The Wind Rises (2013; original title "Kaze tachinu"); an Anime biopic with fantasy elements.
My rating: 3-1/2 stars out of 4

How does Hayao Miyazaki, creator of such Anime fantasy masterpieces as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle, and Kiki's Delivery Service, go about creating an Anime biography of Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese aircraft engineer who designed the  Mitsubishi Zero, probably the best fighter plane in the early part of WW II?

He does it by including dreams and daydreams showing the desires and inspirations of a young man working hard to become an inventor and engineer; dreams of flight which fit very well into Miyazaki's style of beautiful, richly detailed, fantastic visuals. 

Dreams of flight in The Wind Rises
But counterpoint to the dream sequences, the setting of this film is firmly grounded in historical reality. The auteur does not shy away from showing the economic turmoil and social chaos in pre-WW II Japan. As shown in the film, this was a period of rising militarism, when Japan spent massive amounts of its limited wealth on building up its military, even while Japanese citizens were being impoverished and displaced.

As depicted in this film, aircraft designers like Horikoshi  wanted only to make wonderful flying machines, not weapons of destruction. (This might be not far from the truth. According to Horikoshi's Wikipedia entry, his diary showed he was "strongly opposed to what he regarded as a futile war".)  It is the supreme irony of the film that these engineer-inventors were able to see their dreams realized -- produced and actually flown -- only because aircraft development was funded by the military. Miyazaki does not shy away from this irony, and in fact underscores it by making the simultaneous rise of militarism in Germany and Italy part of the story.

The engineer-inventors get to see their dreams become real--but only with military help.
A parallel story in the film is how Horikoshi met and romanced the love of his life. This plot also seems, fatalistically (and fatalism plays a very big part in Japanese storytelling), to be on a road to inevitable tragedy, for soon after he starts courting her he learns that she has tuberculosis.

The story is slow moving and filtered through a very romantic lens. Miyazaki has eschewed suspense and excitement in favor of, apparently, sticking close to actual historical events, despite the heavy dose of romanticism. Patience by the viewer will be richly rewarded in the many beautifully rendered scenes of Japanese landscape and architecture, as well as the sometimes literally fantastic flying sequences. 

Japanese landscapes and a love story fill out the story, but slow the pace.
Counterpoint to the romance, Miyazaki injects some elements of realism into the mix; Horikoshi's slide rule is depicted with exacting detail in many scenes, as are the drawings and aircraft blueprints produced by his aircraft company. The many hours Horikoshi spends on calculations provides a counterpoint to the fantastic dreams-of-flying sequences.

I'm a fan of animation, and I don't see Anime as a separate genre, but rather as just one style of animation. This is by far one of the most beautifully drawn animated films I've ever seen. I give it a small down-check for occasionally wanting the story to move a bit faster, but overall it's a wonderful film.

Fantastic flight sequences, as we soar with the inventor's imagination.
One mark of a great director is that, somewhere in the film, he will insert a line which sums up his vision of the film. In Lawrence of Arabia, this comes at the half-way point, when a motorcyclist shouts across the Suez Canal to Lawrence: "Who are you?" The voice of the motorcyclist is the voice of director David Lean.

In "The Wind Rises", one of Horikoshi's idols is the Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Caproni. In the young engineer's dreams, Caproni becomes his mentor. In the final scene of the film, the imagined Caproni says to Horikoshi: "Airplanes are beautiful cursed dreams, waiting for the sky to swallow them up." I'm not sure whether or not Miyazaki intended for that to sum up the entire film, but it certainly does serve as an insight into the director's thinking. 

IMAGES: Many thanks to Anime Monday, for the first and final still images in this post, to Madman, for the movie stills of the military planes and the couple in the woods, and to YouTube and Deadline Hollywood, for the official trailer. 
PLEASE NOTE: this review was originally posted on the Laser Rangers Facebook Page.

No comments:

Post a Comment