The Wind Rises is the latest and last film from legendary animator and director Hayao Miyazaki, known for such imaginative films as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and many more. While The Wind Rises may not be as fantastical as some of his more popular efforts, it is just as whimsical and a fitting end to a storied career.
The Wind Rises is a heavily fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the man responsible for designing the infamous Mitsubishi A6M, better known as the Zero fighter plane. However, World War II is not the focus here. Instead, Miyazaki centers on the creative process of the plane’s designer. Jiro, even as a young boy, had a love of all things aviation. In his dreams, he imagines piloting the most fantastical flying machines and forms a friendship with Italian designer Giovanni Battista Caproni (Stanley Tucci). However, in reality, Jiro’s eyesight is too poor to be a pilot and he sets forth on becoming a designer instead.
Jiro has a natural talent for design and a singular focus when it comes to his work, often getting innovative ideas and inspiration from simple objects like a fish bone. A kind soul, but the world outside of his work mostly goes unnoticed to him. He’s the type who will without second thought help a stranger and her injured acquaintance, like he does during the devastating Kantō earthquake of 1923, but run off before being properly introduced or thanked. Even though he only wants to create machines that soar across the heavens, the reality of how his creations will be used constantly surrounds him. Jiro is pressured by his employers so they can win military contracts. He is sent to Germany to learn design and witnesses the brutality of the upcoming war effort. Even in his dreams, his designs become warped. Jiro is conflicted by the work he loves so dearly and the true nature of his creations. Once again it is Caproni that guides his path asking him “Do you prefer a world with pyramids, or with no pyramids?” Ultimately, his love of design pushes him forward. But make no mistake he is well aware of the outcome, for World War II is an omnipresent force Jiro cannot escape.
The film’s core is Jiro’s short, but loving romance with the sickly Naoko Satomi (Emily Blunt). It was during the earthquake the two would first encounter, but it would be years later they would truly meet. Suffering from tuberculosis, any life they can live is punctuated by the fact Naoko’s time is limited. This shapes their relationship as much as the approving war shapes Jiro’s designs. Jiro’s time becomes split between his growing responsibilities at work and tending to his wife, highlighted best by a moving scene of him holding her hand, while sketching with his other. It’s absolutely beautiful but heartbreaking at the same time knowing this couple won’t have many more nights like this.
The American localization, handled by Disney, is done perfectly with the rest of voice talents rounded out by John Krasinski, Martin Short, Mae Whitman and Jennifer Grey all perform excellently. Martin Short is hysterical as Jiro’s supervisor Kurokawa, a brash short little man whose hair frantically bobs up and down with every movement. He delivers lines like “This is your desk. No one likes it. Maybe you will.” with an authoritative absurdity, one does not know if he is one of those prick bosses or a funny guy.
The hand draw animation is still a sight to behold, from the hypnotizing movement of a large crowd down to the beginning sketches of an airplane, everything is a joy to watch. Miyazaki and his team even manage to capture the massive power and destruction of an earthquake. Adding in a sound mix that is equally frightening, filled with moans and constant low level screams, the Kantō quake and subsequent fire after make for some of the most engrossing moments of the film. Caproni put forth the notion that an artist is his most creative for ten years and that Jiro should make the most of his. It’s no perfect parallel, given Miyazaki 50 plus year career; still, in a way the director is speaking to himself– all good things must come to an end. The Wind Rises is a human drama, set to the backdrop of a looming war and a fleeting romance. Miyazaki, like Jiro and Naoko, knows his time limited. Rather than lament on that, he rather focus on the aspects in his life closest to him and make the best of it.