The Wind Rises (2013) film review by Mark R. Leeper.

Japanese cult animation director Hayao Miyazaki makes his final film before retiring, a fictionalised biography of the aircraft designer who gave Japan the Zero fighter plane. The story is okay, but not really compelling. What is more engaging is the view of life in Japan between the World Wars and Miyazaki’s take on international politics.

The Wind Rises
The Wind Rises

Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Hayao Miyazaki has made many animated fantasies in Japan, some classics like ‘Spirited Away’ and most seem to deal with flying in one way or another. His interest was sparked when his father ran an airplane rudder factory. Flying machines are a lifelong fascination for him. He now plans to retire and his exit film, animated as usual, is the fictionalised story of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane that was used effectively by the Japanese in World War II. This is a brave choice considering the importance of the American market and the film openly admiring the plane that killed many Americans.

Jiro is very much a Miyazaki sort of character. From the time he was a young child, he has dreamed of climbing to the roof of his house and flying away. Soon, he also is dreaming of meeting Giovanni Caproni, a famous Italian aircraft designer. Needing glasses, Jiro cannot be a pilot and chooses instead to become a designer himself. Jiro’s fantasies are a big part of the story with unannounced segues from the real world into Jiro’s world of fantasy. As he gets older, he goes to work for an airplane manufacturer, I do not remember it being identified as Mitsubishi. There he works of a supervisor who is visualised as only coming up to waist-level on the young designer. At first, the little supervisor gives Jiro a hard time, but eventually they become close friends. Jiro also meets a girl a little younger than himself who becomes his love interest.

The film steers away from Jiro’s attitude about the Americans whom Japan will be at war with. More it emphasised is his relationship with Germans and the rest of Europe. He does seem to dislike the Germans who are supplying second-rate technology to his country and keeping the best for themselves. He is portrayed as really being more in conflict with them than with Americans who really are not portrayed in this film. In any case, this is the first time in my memory that a Miyazaki film involves itself with real world politics.

Visually, the film is very nice, showing beautiful studies of natural settings and, when away from nature, showing amazing detail in his views of towns and of the aircraft factory. My wife pointed out how much detail there was on the slide rule that Jiro uses from time to time and how nicely Miyazaki animates airplane propellers accelerating. Going from having each blade visible to having it be a disk where you no longer see each blade is difficult to transition.

Toward the middle of the film, the pace slackens but the time is not wasted. We see Japan ravaged by the Great Tokyo Earthquake albeit presented so we are not sure we are not just seeing another of Jiro’s fantasies. We also see a country attacked by tuberculosis.

Is this a film that people will want to remember Miyazaki by? In my opinion he will be better remembered for like ‘Spirited Away’ and ‘My Neighbor Totoro’, but this film is well above his average. His ambivalence to war with the United States may strike some as off- putting, but that is Japan not Miyazaki.

I rate ‘The Wind Rises’ a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Mark R. Leeper

© Mark R. Leeper 2014

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