The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises


Watched via theater/BD



PLOT: The Wind Rises is a semi-biographical historical drama centering around the life and work of Jiro Horikoshi, a famous designer for fighter planes in World War II. It seems rather fitting that Hayao Miyazaki would pick a biography as the subject matter for his last film. The proclaimed opinion on this film from fans seems to be that this story encapsulates Miyazaki’s fandom of aviation as well as his tireless work habits, to which I’d have to add that I completely agree. I don’t see any other way of looking at this film than to see that it was made through Miyazaki, and therefore says just as much about him as about Jiro Horikoshi.

It isn’t every day that Miyazaki makes a somewhat biographical account, and I must say, I wish he had done it sooner. While he spins a great fantasy, his literary adaptations were always a bit lacking in juxtaposition with the original texts. In The Wind Rises, Miyazaki finally comes back home to reflect on it all in this film dedicated to dreams and inspiration.

All right, so as far as the story goes, Jiro Horikoshi was born in Japan in the early 20th century and as a child dreamed of becoming a pilot. His terrible eyesight kept him from ever flying an airplane, but his works designing famous fighter planes still let his dreams soar. This film shows Jiro’s influences, tribulations, and masterpieces all in one beautiful dreamlike sequence.

Miyazaki, of course, took some liberties in the storyline, and altered the personal details of Jiro’s life. This would include his love life, which in the film is portrayed as a fateful encounter followed by heart-wrenching tragedy. The care and love portrayed by Jiro towards his bedridden wife, who is stricken with tuberculosis, draws a parallel to My Neighbor Totoro, and in turn Miyazaki’s own life encounters with tuberculosis with his own mother.

As far as storyline and plot, there isn’t a whole lot else I could have asked for. The mystery left between time skips reflects the gaps that are left in the collective memory of those who have already passed. The only real issue I had was there was’t quite enough of a visual cue given when time would skip forward. These time jumps seemed to run back to back as if the film ran out of time for proper transitions.

The scene transitions definitely got confusing, and I frequently had to consciously figure out the physical and temporal setting, since the film moves fluidly between memory and dream. You do have a point that it emphasizes how memories and thoughts flow together, but it can get frustrating as a viewer.

PLOT: Hayao Miyazaki’s always been influenced by aviation and aircraft design, as can easily be seen in most of his films, so for his last film he decided to depict the life of Jiro Horikoshi, a great Japanese designer of fighter planes. The film is a mix of Jiro’s life story, Jiro’s (and Miyazaki’s) fantasies about the possibilities of aircraft design, and the harsh realities of life in a period of war.

The most substantial thread of the film is Jiro’s life, beginning with his childhood dreams of being a pilot and subsequent realization that he can never achieve that goal due to his poor eyesight. Instead, Jiro decides to design planes like his role model, Giovanni Battista Caproni, single-mindedly pursuing that goal throughout the film. At times Caproni visits Jiro in his dreams, helping him design imaginative planes and encouraging him as an equal. Though these discussions are all imaginary, Jiro seems to place a large weight on them, and the film even ends with a dreamed discussion between Caproni and Jiro.

Jiro would be quite happy to work on planes endlessly, but love steps in and throws him a curveball. Jiro first meets his future wife, Naoko, during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, and later they reconnect at a summer resort where Jiro’s taking a break due to design difficulties. The two quickly fall in love and become engaged, but it turns out that Naoko has tuberculosis and must stay at a sanatorium to recuperate from her condition.

Amidst his blooming romance with Naoko, Jiro becomes friends with Hans Castorp, a German who’s critical of the Nazis and evading arrest. After leaving the resort, Jiro becomes wanted for questioning about Castorp and hides at his supervisor’s house, where he and Naoko get married before she leaves again to spare him to sadness of her death. The film finally ends in another dream sequence, with Jiro and Caproni discussing the value of Jiro’s work, which was meant to be beautiful but led to so many deaths.

The Wind Rises has fine pacing, but the plot threads ultimately seem muddled and incomplete, especially since Naoko’s illness and Castorp’s existence are completely fictional. I can see how they support Miyazaki’s major ideas of sacrifice and the problems of war, but I’m not convinced the themes balance out the fictions in this biopic. If the film realized its ideas more fully, the changes to Jiro’s life would make more sense, but as it is, I’m not convinced of their need to be present.

I’m not sold on Naoko’s role in the film, as her autonomy is never fully explored nor her personality developed as more than a Mary Sue.

SETTING: The Wind Rises predominantly takes place in Japan both prior to World War II and during. Jiro Horikoshi begins his studies by heading off to Tokyo to study at Tokyo Imperial University. Here he meets his future wife for the first time. Once he graduates he gets hired on by Mitsubishi’s fighter plane team, and is sent off to Germany to study their planes. Jiro’s insight into the German army delicately questions the use of weaponized aircraft during WWII, without having to point fingers at the Japanese directly. While it isn’t broadcasted, it is obvious to tell that Jiro dislikes the war aspects of his job, while reveling in the machinery itself. I think Miyazaki did a good job of remaining neutral in his portrayal of this historic figure, so as not to insight pro- or anti-war messages that directly correlate with any person, team, or unit.

In addition to the Germans, Italy also makes a bit of an entrance in the form of aircraft designer Giovanni Battista Caproni, who appears to Jiro in his dreams. These otherworldly encounters transform the idea of inspiration and present it in a fanciful way which helps to tie The Wind Rises back in with Miyazaki’s other works. Without these little added elements, the film would lose all sense of wonder and become simply a fanfiction of Jiro’s life.

SETTING: The majority of The Wind Rises occurs in pre-War Japan as Jiro’s growing up, going to school, and designing aircraft. As you’d expect, there are constant reminders of Japan’s Westernization, from the predominant clothing becoming suits to the trains and cars. Furthermore, the film always lets you know where Japan stands in relation to other major world powers, especially when it comes to aviation. Japanese planes may technologically be ten years behind Germany, but they’ll do what they can to learn more and build better planes, including visiting Germany and other parts of Europe to do research. Unfortunately, the film only follows Jiro’s time in Germany due to time constraints—I’d have liked to see his perspective on other European countries.

Like Whisper of the Heart, The Wind Rises also features a fantasy world, where Jiro imagines new plane ideas and talks his problems out with Caproni. Jiro’s dream world really seems like Miyazaki’s, with its fantastical planes that bring to mind Castle in the Sky and Nausicaä, but Jiro clearly inspired Miyazaki, so maybe the worlds ultimately would be similar. Regardless, this dreamspace works nicely for Jiro and lets viewers clearly follow his major aviation-related thoughts and concerns, but it isn’t well integrated into the rest of the film. I’d have liked to see more evidence of Jiro’s wartime concerns than just his conversations with Caproni, but he never seems to mind designing warplanes while actually working on them.

CHARACTERS: Perhaps due to the subject matter, Miyazaki is forced to subdue his cast and make them more believable. Personally, I enjoy his more subtle works, such as My Neighbor Totoro. The cast in The Wind Rises may be dramatized, but they also feel relatable.

Jiro demonstrates his strengths early on. He is a man of great intelligence and strong character, which is demonstrated time and again when tragedy hits. Rather than showing a real change in character, we are granted a look into his life and how his true aptitude was able to shine through with hard work and constant dedication. I’ve heard it said time and again, but really I have to agree with everyone else that Jiro is a stand-in for Miyazaki and other masterful designers. The Wind Rises is definitely an ode to artists and creators alike, Jiro just happens to be the name of the character.

Naoko Satomi is a sweet young woman, who symbolizes family ties. While weak and sick, she spends her last bits of energy supporting her husband in his goals because she knows they are larger than life. While this is completely ridiculous in real life, it feels somewhat fitting for this highly idealized film on the nature of genius.

Jiro’s sister and boss are both more brazen and vocal. Without them, this film would have seemed sincere to the point of feeling incredibly superficial. Granted, it still does, but not to the same extent as it could have. Jiro’s sister stands up for his wife and family so that they do not become too burdened by being the pillar for him to lean on.

Like Jiro, his boss is also an idealist. His attitude and design constantly place him in the role of comedian (such as when his hair flops around when he walks quickly, or when he gets shown up by the newly employed Jiro). These flaws only go on to strengthen Jiro’s character when his “dim-witted boss” can even see his naturally strong abilities.

I understand this is a biography, but it would have been nice to see these characters perform any sort of role that doesn’t go on to strengthen Jiro’s notoriety.

If the secondary characters were going to be developed outside of their support for Jiro, then that would’ve taken away from the film’s creator-centric message. Essentially, The Wind Rises says sacrifice is okay because art is amazing, and therefore the secondary characters have to sacrifice alongside Jiro and support him faultlessly. There’s just no way for them to get any fair individual development around that main message.

CHARACTERS: As the main character, Jiro is an interestingly driven man who barely notices life around him in his pursuit of aviation perfection. Miyazaki must’ve identified with his workaholic attitude, as the film lauds it and conveys the idea that all of Jiro’s sacrifice is okay if he was able to make art. Though Jiro struggles with his wife’s tuberculosis and international politics, his great struggle is truly that of an artist trying to design something great and seeing it fail multiple times before finding the path to success. As someone who loves art and its creation, I found Jiro’s character interesting, but others might find him cold and distant instead.

Though Naoko and Castorp lead Jiro to face hardships while designing warplanes, creating most of the film’s drama, they’re actually pretty bland characters. Naoko feels like a stereotypical Japanese housewife, rooting for her beloved in the face of her illness and any common sense, even going so far as to endanger her health so he can work and smoke next to her at night. Castorp, meanwhile, is barely developed and present so little that I was initially confused at the importance of his disappearance. Castorp’s anti-Nazi sentiments are vaguely hinted at, and Miyazaki goes into them surprisingly little for being so vehemently anti-war in his other films. All in all, both characters are letdowns for being less developed and intriguing than similar characters in other Miyazaki films.

The real secondary character stars are Kiro Honjo, Jiro’s best friend, and Kurokawa, his supervisor. Both challenge Jiro to do his best and support him when he’s low. Honjo’s especially interesting because he seems to make advances in designs before Jiro and takes a markedly different approach, but they both respect each other and play fair when comparing their designs and sharing their ideas. Kurokawa, on the other hand, is incredibly self-important in a slightly silly way, bouncing around with his bad hair and short stature, but he shows a deeper side when necessary. These two men helped this movie succeed for me, and I would’ve loved to see more of them and of the design and building process, especially leading up to the production of Jiro’s iconic plane, the Zero.

I totally agree, the film could have cut out the love drama and daydreaming and solely focused on the work aspects of Jiro’s life and it still would have been interesting and compelling, if not more so. I suppose it wouldn’t have seemed so dreamy though.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: There isn’t a lot to say about the animation. Of course it was beautiful and awe inspiring. That is to be expected out of a Studio Ghibli film. I think what stood out the most for me was when the earthquake first struck around Tokyo. There was something mystical and spiritual about the sounds of the wind and the way the earth moved that really connected with me. It was sensually very moving. I was a little disappointed that this was the only moment in the movie that played up the use of sound and visuals so strongly to give a feeling of the power of wind. Sure there is a scene later when Naoko’s umbrella flies into the air, but it isn’t quite the same.

Actually, speaking of the umbrella, there are quite a few subtle uses of wind that I found helped unify the story together. In particular the wind tends to be used as a means of tying the two young lovers together, such as when Jiro meets Naoko again after several long years apart and throws paper airplanes up at her window. These scenes are well placed and gracefully craft out emotion, rather than bombarding the viewer with visual information that becomes nonsensical (like in Howl’s Moving Castle).

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Like all of Ghibli’s movies nowadays, this movie looks beautiful, from design to art to animation. Ghibli’s got animation down to an art, and Miyazaki certainly knows what he’s doing, as you can see throughout the film. The coloring all does look a little plasticky, which I think is a product of it being done digitally, but otherwise The Wind Rises is visually on par with any other Ghibli movie. As Whitney said, the earthquake really takes the cake in this movie, unleashing nature’s raw fury and leaving utter destruction in its wake. Though the cause is completely different, the earthquake reminds me of Nausicaä’s Giant Warrior and how it mercilessly rips apart the countryside with no thought for humankind at all. It is unfortunate that, in a film about airplanes and the wind, the image that most sticks with me is an earthquake. Even Ponyo had vibrant, electric waves to visually emphasize its themes, while the airplanes in The Wind Rises look cool at best but don’t have much staying power. Honestly, I expected more, both from Miyazaki’s last film and from a film about an airplane designer.

OVERALL: There are a lot of wonderful aspects to The Wind Rises. I think it makes a beautiful ode to creativity and to one of Miyazaki’s biggest influences. As a whole, the plot seems to have been well pared down to fit into a standard movie size.

With that said, some of my biggest issues are with how idealized the film is. The cast is charming, but shows no real depth of character. The story was even edited to cut out any real drama that may have occurred between Jiro and his family. Additionally, the film couldn’t have tried harder to cover up that it was a story about the Axis Powers. Younger audiences would never have guessed at the true historical significance these people and planes played in WWII. I’m sure part of this was to find a middle ground where Japanese and non-Japanese alike could enjoy the film, but I would have liked to see less tiptoeing around the real history. After all, if nothing is said, what is the point of even speaking?

Which brings me to my overall rating. I know there may be people who disagree with me, but I feel that this film didn’t quite live up to Miyazaki’s potential, or anime’s potential as a whole. It was a slow and often drawn out film, that left little to grab your attention aside from knowing that this was a love letter from one creator to another. We can all appreciate fandom, but we need a little more to go off of. I will say, though, I love that Miyazaki did a “biography,” and I would love to see Studio Ghibli do another one, even at the cost of it being historically inaccurate.

OVERALL: Though The Wind Rises is an interesting film, it has a lot of problems that keep it from being a cohesive whole. For one thing, it divides its attention too much between aircraft design, doomed love, and the troubles of war, never giving enough time or development to any of them. For going out of its way to include Naoko’s tuberculosis and Castorp’s anti-Nazi sentiments, the film doesn’t capitalize on them enough to make either of these fictions seem worthy of inclusion. On top of that, if the film ends with Jiro worrying about the use of his Zero, why doesn’t the film include him working on it at all? The final test flight of the film is for the direct ancestor of the Zero, but there’s no mention of Jiro’s major life’s work aside from that final scene with Caproni, which relies on outside knowledge of the Zero and its use throughout World War II.

Despite these issues, I still think The Wind Rises is a good film that’s worth seeing to round out your Hayao Miyazaki experience. After all, it’s the director’s final feature-length work, and it does have important thoughts on the necessity to make art despite all else going on. Jiro’s ailing wife and eventual political concerns seem to mirror struggles Miyazaki may have faced, allowing him to excuse his own relentless focus on animation at the expense the rest of his life, and that’s worth considering. As a historical or semi-biographical piece, The Wind Rises is severely limited, but it shines as a means of insight into Miyazaki’s mind. This very narrow means of interpretation may limit the film’s audience, but I find it makes the film a more intriguing work than merely being a thematically-muddled, over-ambitious look at Jiro Horikoshi’s life.


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