The Wind Rises is the last film to see venerated anime film director Hayao Miyazaki at the helm. The film is a fictionalized biography focused on Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese plane designer who created several war planes for Japan, most famously the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane. Does Miyazaki's swan song soar to the heavens, or does it go down in flames?
Warning, for me to fully disclose my opinions on this film, there are some minor spoilers in this review. In my best efforts, I will try to refrain from going into exact details with these spoilers and will try to keep them as vague as I possibly can.
This is a film that is just so clearly the work of Hayao Miyazaki. It is well known that Miyazaki is a fan of planes and other flying vehicles, as is evident by practically every film he's directed featuring flying vehicles in some form or another. And in this film, Miyazaki let's his love of flight take center stage. Beautifully designed planes are abundant in The Wind Rises, and the introduction of each new plane is a sight to behold, even if some of the planes clearly don't look like they'd realistically fly.
Some of the best scenes in The Wind Rises visually are Jiro's dream sequences where he is able to share dreams with Italian airplane designer Giovanni Battista Caproni. The colors used during these scenes are amazing. On top of that we get to see some pretty wild airplane designs courtesy of Mr. Caproni. Lastly, these scenes are where the film is allowed to show that it is still a Studio Ghibli film.
A Forgotten Period:
One of the greatest strengths to The Wind Rises is that it is mostly set during gap between the end of World War I and the start of World War 2, a time period that is probably best known to Americans as the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression. This time period is rarely depicted even from the American side, so foreign films that cover this period are even rarer.
I may have said in my review of Makoto Shinkai's The Garden of Words that I thought that film was the best looking non-entirely CGI animated film I have seen, but The Wind Rises is no slouch. While it may not be as meticulously detailed as The Secret World of Arrietty, the overall visual package is Studio Ghibli's best. A lot of care went into the animation for this film.
Grounded in Reality:
For the most part, Miyazaki's films have been fantasy films that take us to unique worlds of magic and monsters. Many of his past films have used the real world as the setting, but with fantasy flavorings. The Wind Rises is the only film of his that I can think of that is entirely set in reality. The only fantasy elements in this film occur in Jiro's dream sequences.
Just a Man:
If you followed anime news this past year, one thing you couldn't escape was the controversy about this film being about the man who created the Zero fighter plane and that the film is about the creation of said plane. The film is just about Jiro Horikoshi and shows that he, too, is just a man. He simply wanted to create planes, regardless of who his clients were.
As is the usual Miyazaki trademark, The Wind Rises features a strong male and female lead duo with Jiro and Naoko. Though unlike the typical Miyazaki lead duo, Jiro is the focus character with Naoko being his emotional crutch.
Right Mix of Funny and Feels:
The Wind Rises has a nearly perfect balance of comedy and emotional moments. Not only are they nearly perfectly balanced, but nearly perfectly placed as well. I felt like I laughed at the right moments in the film and was punched in the gut at other right moments.
Tale of Two Tragedies:
The Wind Rises is a tragic movie, but not just for the reason most people who watch it think. While Jiro's and Naoko's romance is a sad, tragic one, there is another tragedy in this film. And that is seeing the product of one's dreams and ideals being used in war to cause death and destruction. One of the running themes in the film amongst the three characters of Jiro, Caproni, and Jiro's friend Honjo is that they wish to put passengers in planes, instead of bombs. Most of Caproni's planes in Jiro's dream sequences feature these passenger planes, and when Jiro and Honjo fly in a German plane, they comment on putting passengers in it. This second tragedy clearly is a personal conflict for Miyazaki as he loves planes, but hates war.
Castorp is a mysterious expatriate from Germany who is extremely critical of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party and strikes up a friendship with Jiro, Naoko, and Naoko's dad as he resides at their summer resort. He's actually one of the best side characters in the entire film. The problem is, he is just extremely unsettling looking when in motion. He looks alright in the above picture I am using, but when he was moving and talking it sent chills down my spine. I think it is the eyes, mostly.
Weird Sound Choices:
As has been brought up in pretty much every review of the film, including Rockmandash's and Kotaku's, this film has some weird ass sound effects. I totally get they were intentionally done that way, but even knowing that, it was still weird as hell hearing for instance a plane engine sputtering to a stop with a human voice making the sputtering noise. On the other hand, the film has amazing music, so it balances out in the end.
This is the End:
Much like my complaint about The Garden of Words' length, this is just me being greedy. It didn't exactly hit me while I was watching the film, nor immediately after the film ended. Hell it didn't really hit me until I was watching the Oscars on Sunday and saw The Wind Rises lose to Frozen for Best Animated Feature Film. This is it. The end of Hayao Miyazaki's illustrious directing career. The end of the career of the man who solidified my love of anime at a young age when I saw Princess Mononoke, my first Miyazaki film, for the first time. While it is entirely possible for him to still write scripts, like he did for Arrietty, he is never going to be the headlining creator again.....unless he decides to come out of retirement once again, but that's a topic for another day and another article.
As I said earlier in this review, there was quite a bit of controversy surrounding this film. And most of it is unneeded. Really the only controversy I can understand is the backlash the film got in Japan for having the guy who created Japan's most famous warplane being the subject of an anti-war film. And I only understand that because I know how touchy the subject of World War II is and how it relates to Japanese nationalism. But things like the backlash about how the film is about the creation of the Zero is rather unnecessary and honestly is untrue. Sure the Zero appears in Jiro's dream sequences often, as it is his dream plane in the film, but the bulk of the film isn't about the Zero at all. Most of the planes he designs aren't related to the Zero and the plane prototype he's designing in the last act of the film isn't the Zero, either, but rather the Zero's direct ancestor, the Mitsubishi A5M. Funnily enough, the only time the completed Zero DOES show up in the film is in Jiro's dream sequence at the end of the film, after World War II has ended and he's standing on a graveyard of the things.
Ultimately, The Wind Rises is more than a fitting end to Miyazaki's career. It is everything Miyazaki loves and does best on full display. While the film does start a little slow, once Jiro starts actually designing planes, the film really gets going and never stops until the end. As you can probably tell by my review, I love this film. I'll even say it is my second favorite Miyazaki film of all time, only second to Princess Mononoke (sometimes you just can't triumph over nostalgia). Even ignoring my personal rankings of Miyazaki films, I feel The Wind Rises is not only Miyazaki's best film since Spirited Away, it is the best film since then put out by Studio Ghibli as a whole.
Thank you for taking the time to read my review.