‘The Wind Rises’ Review: Miyazaki’s last film before retirement mostly soars

Photo courtesy of www.thewindrisesmovie.tumblr.com

Rating: PG-13

Length: 126 minutes

Director: Hayao Miyazaki 

Stars: 

 Jiro Horikoshi – Joseph Gordon-Levitt (voice)

Honjo – John Krasinki (voice)

Naoko Satomi – Emily Blunt (voice)

The animated film The Wind Rises is a monumental moment in world cinema, as it is not only legendary Japanese animated filmmaker Hayao Miyzaki at the top of his game, but also it being his last film before retirement. Interestingly, The Wind Rises is also his most provocative.

The film has caused a bit of controversy in Miyazaki’s native land as it is a fictionalized WWII-era biography of Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the aeronautical engineer who designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane – an aircraft that would be used by the Japanese Imperial Navy to attack Pearl Harbor.

The Wind Rises, which harkens back to the sweeping Hollywood epics of yore, tells the tale of the starry-eyed Horikoshi, whose dreams of one day building elegant and beautiful airplanes come true – a reality that will inflict heartache upon not only himself but the world at large.

The story is composed of two realities – the everyday world where Horikoshi and his friend and fellow aeronautical engineer Honjo (voiced by John Krasinski) design dependable and state-of-the-art aircrafts, and a fanciful realm where Horikoshi dreams he meets Italian aircraft designer Gianni Caproni (voiced by Stanley Tucci). Caproni encourages the film’s protagonist to pursue his aeronautical ambitions. In a commendable display of artistry, the 73-year old Miyazaki expertly weaves together these two tonally disparate threads. It’s jaw-dropping sequences like this film’s seamless transitions between realities that has one wishing Miyazaki will knock it off with this retirement nonsense.

While sublimely crafted, The Wind Rises does, at times, become tedious to watch. Miyazaki’s storytelling flourishes best and most brilliantly when the story is centered in the ambitious dream world of Horikoshi – not surprising when you consider the vast majority of his work have been fantasy films, such as  Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle.

The dream world scenes with Caproni are delightful, but become few and far between as the plot becomes more centered around Horikoshi’s romantic relationship with Naoko (voiced by Emily Blunt). While ultimately touching, for most of the film the pair’s blossoming romance feels schmaltzy and, at times, verges on almost seeming nonessential to the film’s overall plot. Fortunately, Miyazaki corrects this mistake right before the film’s conclusion.

In many ways, outside of the film’s incredible visual flare, The Wind Rises is most interesting when one begins to think about the underlying message of the film – war fosters innovation in science and engineering, and that innovation will bring about misery long before it brings about good. The airplanes of grace and beauty that fill Horikoshi’s dreams must first become flying instruments of death, as he is being funded by the Japanese military/industrial complex. There are just a couple of scenes where either Horikoshi or another character show reservations about their work. However, they are fleeting as the characters are determined to bring their dreams to life.

One cannot watch The Wind Rises and walk away without feeling a bit unnerved. You’ll share in Horikoshi’s excitement as his plane pass its test flight in the film’s climatic moment. But after you’ve finished rooting him on, you’ll feel a sense of dread. Perhaps Miyazaki’s most important message with The Wind Rises is that an artist is a slave to his creative ambitions – no matter the final cost.

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4 thoughts on “‘The Wind Rises’ Review: Miyazaki’s last film before retirement mostly soars

  1. Interesting review. This will get a release in the UK next month and part of me is hesitant about being too enthusiastic about this since I like Miyazaki’s more whimsical side and this looks serious.

    • Thanks! I will say I felt a tad underwhelmed with the film. The whimsical side is definitely present, I wouldn’t worry about that. However, despite Miyazaki’s best efforts to gloss over the issue of war (with the exception of handful of scenes, you’d almost have no clue that the world was at war), there is an ominous feeling that runs throughout the film. That ominous sensation may very well have been something I projected onto the movie, but I wish it Miyazaki tackled it head on a bit more.

      What we get is a story about a man chasing after his dreams, a tragic love story, and wonderful animation that is a feast for the eyes. ‘

      I just feel that Miyazaki made a film that featured a character facing a serious moral and ethical dilemma and I wish Miyazaki had explored that a bit more.

      I’d love to hear your opinion on the film once you’ve seen it.

      I feel as though something was missing from it, but I can’t deny that it’s a very well made film.

  2. First time to visit your blog, enjoyed the podcast. Have to say I share your sentiments on this movie. His previous work – Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away among others – remain favorites. There is something lacking in his final movie. Its hard to say what it is but I felt the characters were not fully developed and its quite hard to identify with them even though the main character is almost always present. The train encounter and the introduction to the academy remain quite memorable though…

    As mentioned already, its supposed to be a war movie/anime but I cannot really feel the intensity…

    • Thanks for visiting. Went on a hiatus for awhile because of college but I’m back now and ready to write about films.

      I concur there is something lacking in The Wind Rises. I’m glad to have read the news Miyazaki will be returning to film as I’m hoping he has one last cinematic homerun left in in.

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