A look at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II.
Year 2, Film #63
THE REVIEW: Earlier this week I was lucky enough to attend an advanced screening of Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film The Wind Rises at the Brattle Theater up in Cambridge. Back in April last year, I watched a whole bunch of Miyazaki’s films for the first time and was impressed with what I saw. A few really stood out and were absolutely phenomenal but even those that weren’t as great still displayed Miyazaki’s immense imagination both in terms of storytelling and in his animation style. The Wind Rises is actually very different than his previous films as it takes a look at a historical story — the creation of Japanese fighter planes during WWII — rather than a journey through a fantasy world. Note: this screening was the Japanese version with English subtitles which is a first for me; I’ve only seen the dubbed versions
One of the best parts about Miyazaki’s stories is the fantasy element. Seeing floating castles or talking fish is a unique experience. His ideas are so out-of-this world yet they are still rooted in a reality that we can connect with. Children are children and adults are adults and the things we go through, whether in a imaginary world or not, are still the same. Miyazaki’s earlier films are so enjoyable because they force you to use your imagination and dream of the extraordinary. The Wind Rises is not like this. This is probably his most traditional film in the sense that, while still highly stylized, it lacks that same level of imagination.
But just because it doesn’t have that same level of imagination doesn’t mean the film fails or doesn’t meet Miyazaki’s standards; it’s just different. Instead of focusing on the fantastical and the extraordinary, your attention is directed to the characters and the goals they’re trying to achieve. And in the case of this film, it’s a very hopeful and aspiring goal: create something spectacular. Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Hideaki Anno, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the dubbed version) was the designer of the Mitsubishi A5M fighter plane during WWII and is the main character in The Wind Rises. The story is a biography of his life from early childhood where he dreamed of piloting aircraft one day to his adulthood where he was one of the best designers of aircraft in Japan and helped introduce the already standard metal construction of aircraft into Japanese designs. Going into this film I knew nothing about this part of WWII history but prior knowledge isn’t necessary. Everything is explained very well and is spaced out enough to keep you interested in what happens next.
A lot of controversy has arisen about the veracity of the history depicted in the film. It shows the Japanese as a kind and peaceful people and whose intentions aren’t really war-mongering. Jiro is only designing aircraft because it’s what he has always dreamed of doing. He just wants to make a beautiful and functional plane not some weapon that will be used against their enemies. Even the Germans, who Japan was allied with, are shown in a positive light for the most part. They shared their aeronautical technology with the Japanese, somewhat reluctantly but shared nonetheless, and their involvement in the war was pretty much overlooked. The controversy has arisen because, especially in the United States, we see the horrible things that Japan did during the war including the attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s not to say we didn’t have our own share of attacks (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) but we don’t hide that fact whereas Japan, especially in this film, seems to pretend like the bad things never happened.
When it comes to the film as a whole and the effectiveness of the story, I don’t think it matters that much. Sure, it falls under the biographical genre and therefore the accuracy of the “facts” has to matter. But The Wind Rises doesn’t really try to be a historical film; it’s really a film about Jiro. And Jiro is a man with dreams and aspirations of designing airplanes. The film focuses a lot on these dreams and striving to do what you want in life. In the beginning of the film, and constantly throughout, we see and hear one line over and over again, primarily in French. “Le vent se lève, il faut tenter de vivre.” In English, “The wind rises, we must try to live.” While it might be difficult to see the connection between this line and the entirety of the film — it’s also hard to explain — the connection is there and is the reason why I find this film so captivating. This is a story about the many difficulties and obstacles we face in life. It’s about our losses and struggles and everything else that can go wrong. But there’s also hope. There is wind in all our lives as well. A wind that picks us up and helps us to dream and love and create. And it’s because of this wind, because of this hope, that we must try to live.
Something I discovered last year after watching a lot of Miyazaki’s films is that they seem tailored to repeat viewings and The Wind Rises is no different. With this first viewing I was taken aback a bit by my expectations. The result is the more traditional and historical story seemed less interesting and creative than I might otherwise have thought. Instead, the film is much more about the feelings it evokes which isn’t fully clear until the end. And not to forget the extremely weird sound effects that appeared to be created solely with the human voice (e.g. the plane’s propellers, take-offs, landings, etc. all sounded like a kid making noises while playing with toys). So, while The Wind Rises was highly entertaining and it was wonderful to see a part of history I was unaware of before (no matter how distorted or biased it might actually be) during this first viewing, it still left me with some doubts. Doubts that may be alleviated by subsequent viewings, but doubts nonetheless.
The Wind Rises is nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars this year but my favorite so far, by a long shot, is Frozen. However, for fans of animation, particularly Miyazaki fans, this is a film worth watching. I must also say that seeing it in the original Japanese was a worthwhile experience. While I’m interested in seeing the dubbed version later, and especially hearing how the two compare, I do feel the Japanese voices added another element that I never got before with any of Miyazaki’s earlier films.
The Wind Rises opens in the United States in limited release on February 21, 2014. It expands to a wider release the week after.
THE RATING: 4 out of 5