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The Wind Rises – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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The Wind Rises, in many respects, is a rather controversial film not only due to its premise surrounding that of the chief engineer behind the A6M Zero fighter plane used during the course of World War II, but perhaps more importantly, because it has been stated by its director Hayao Miyazaki to be his last work. Being 73 years of age at the time of the film’s release, Miyazaki has claimed that he is unable to continue working the long hours necessary to successfully direct, animate, and write his own films, having chosen to retire and dedicate the remainder of his time towards overseeing the productions of Studio Ghibli as well as becoming more highly involved in the contributory process of the Ghibli Museum, a museum dedicated the artistic works of Studio Ghibli as a whole. But despite this rather saddening news, The Wind Rises is a film that is easily reflective upon that of Miyazaki’s own resilience as an artist to see his vision become a reality, a notion that is complementary to that of the nature of the film’s central character of Jiro Horikoshi.

Opening with an inspiring quote from French poet Paul Valéry stating that “The wind rises; we must try to live.”, The Wind Rises is a highly fictionalized biographical take on the aforementioned engineer and his utter fascination for that of the artistry of airplanes, all amidst the backdrop of a tumultuous era within Japanese history. Whereas Miyazaki has often dabbled within the realm of fantasy throughout his previous works, The Wind Rises focuses intently on offering up Jiro as a man caught between his desire to simply create airplanes, his family, and the militaristic forces that dominated the political landscape at the time. With Japanese hegemony within the sphere of Eastern Asia coming to an apex during the late 1930’s, Miyazaki does not shy away from addressing many of the social detriments of Japan under an aggressive and warmongering government, with Jiro continuing to pursue his dreams even though he slowly becomes aware of the consequences stemming from his creations coming to fruition.

But from the fantastic opening moments of the film, with Jiro totally immersed within a vibrant dreamscape of him flying a majestic plane amongst the clouds, Miyazaki envisions Jiro as an individual far above the trivialities of how his plane designs would later be used to kill or maim others, instead utilizing governmental subsidies and military-backed funding to see his dream of constructing the ultimate plane come to life. This sense of moral ambiguity is expressed throughout the film as a whole, with historical hindsight informing us that Jiro ultimately did build planes that were later used for purposes of violence during World War II, but also showing us the sheer dedication of Jiro to see his personal dreams fully realized. This approach works in establishing Jiro as somewhat free from the restraints of postwar scrutiny as he was simply a man absorbed in pursuing his own ideals – ideals that regrettably coincided amidst a war ready and confrontational Japan.

This sense of moral ambiguity is certainly not unfamiliar to the likes of Miyazaki though, as many of his previous endeavors have subscribed to such an approach as well. This can especially be seen in the likes of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and Princess Mononoke (1997), in which we viewed seemingly opposing forces as equally fundamental towards each other’s existence, contrasting their necessity in offering balance to one another. Rather than focusing on several forces vying for control as viewed in those two films, The Wind Rises centers upon Jiro as the focal point between his talents as a designer and how those same talents are used for the purpose of promoting imperialistic and governmental agendas. The sense of opposing moral forces are still ever present within the film, with Miyazaki adamant on utilizing Jiro’s dreams as a metaphorical statement on how fantastic ideas can be cruelly transformed in devastating means of destruction as well as remaining spirited and lively goals of the individuals in which they originated from.

As Jiro slowly learns of his ever growing position within the militaristic undertakings of an Imperial Japan, the film hauntingly elaborates upon Jiro’s conflicting destiny through his lucid dreams shown throughout the film. This is most prominently seen through a reoccurring element of those dreams – that of Italian aeronautical engineer Giovanni Battista Caproni, an individual who works both as an inspiration and a prophetic voice for Jiro, easing him between realizing his personal goals as well as letting him know the possible destructive outcome that accomplishing those goals may entail. As Caproni’s ever growing presence continually questions Jiro’s tremendous determination, we begin to see that Jiro slowly begins to become morally blinding by his own creative ambitions. This is certainly a testament to the creative spirit and how it can actually be detrimental towards the peripheral understanding of one’s craft, focusing solely on attaining one’s goal and completely unaware of the functionary nature of how it will be used by others. Jiro is envisioned more so as a tragic figure because of this, finding atonement through the most unfortunate of ways near the concluding arc of the film.

But as such, Miyazaki is never entirely apologetic towards Jiro’s involvement as an engineer and his contributions leading up to World War II, instead both fully exploring the essence of his creativity as well as slightly addressing how his creations ended up hurting more than helping Japan as a whole. The contextual arrangement that Miyazaki establishes also helps us to better understand that Jiro was in fact working to develop planes in order to fulfill his own desire to do, but Miyazaki does not remove him from the responsibility of participating in such an act as designing planes for the purpose of war. The film also inserts rather subtle instances of the transforming world around Jiro, with a segment within the film in which Jiro travels to Germany in order to gain proper insight into how they engineer and develop their own planes. There he unexpectedly witnesses a raid by the German secret police, further questioning his role as a member working with a nation utilizing such devious tactics. Another moment occurs while Jiro is on a leave of absence after a failed prototype attempt, meeting a German man who is rather critical of Adolf Hitler and Japan’s growing siding with such a man. These moments and more offer crucial insight into Jiro becoming more involved in matters much larger than himself, offering glimpses of hope that we all know will not fully materialize given Japan’s inevitable involvement in World War II and their subsequent crushing defeat.

This approach offers The Wind Rises an overall bittersweet resonance, producing a complex understanding of an individual seeking to fulfill his love of flight and the struggle to ultimately carry out his dream to do so considering the turbulent era in which he lived. It is perhaps Miyazaki’s most grounded work as well, removing much of the fanciful elements of his prior films and instead focusing on Jiro’s own creative prowess as an individual willing to dream and to see his dream be realized. It is also one of his few films with a male character taking the lead, with Miyazaki going even further towards having the narrative be loosely biographical as well. But like Valéry’s poem in which the titles derives from, The Wind Rises is a title that equally works quite literally as it does figuratively. We see the emotions Jiro carries with him as he designs planes, seeing things where others do not and striving to improve his designs countless times over. We also see the winds of political change sweeping over Japan as well, influencing Jiro’s destiny and redirecting the true outcome of his calling. The Wind Rises is ultimately a film about following one’s dreams despite these challenges, and like the very essence of the title of film, offers a befitting swan song that will certainly carry Miyazaki’s incredible legacy like that of the rising wind itself.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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