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The Wind Rises Review (Kaze Tachinu)

Trying to be objective about the film about the new films of Miyazaki or Takahata, the soul of Studio Ghibli for the past few decades, was never going to be an easy task.  The task, for a Ghibli enthusiast myself, will invariably be influenced by the impulse to compare it to the classic favourites of Studio Ghibli and those of Miyazaki himself.  One must accept, of course, that times have changed, people have changed, and it is unreasonable to expect similarity when the circumstances have become so different.  And yet, the comparison can’t be avoided, particularly for fans of the studio.  So I will begin this article by attempting to answer rather than avoid the obvious question: how does Wind Rises compare to Miyazaki’s beloved works of earlier years?

The answer is that it is a very different type of film, one which does not quite reflect the same charming qualities of the earlier classics but is nonetheless well-crafted, showing many of the quirks and tendencies of its director that will be appreciated by long-time fans.  It is also a much better film, in my opinion, than the most recent output of the studio as well as Miyazaki’s own recent films, with a larger, more satisfying scope more akin to that of Princess Mononoke than to, say, Ponyo.  As a semi-biographical film, there is no fantasy apart from numerous dream sequences, and the film eschews Miyazaki’s traditionally young characters for a mild-mannered engineer.  The main character is Jiro Horikoshi, who was the designer of a famous Japanese fighter aircraft, known commonly as the Zero, that was used extensively in World War 2.  Several critics immediately leapt to the following questions: Is the film, then, a tribute to an important figure in Japan’s involvement in that war?  A biographical celebration of a weaponsmaker?  Does it promote war?

The question is ridiculous to anyone familiar with Miyazaki, as his aversion to war is well known and has been a consistent theme throughout all his films, often in rather blatant ways.  What is true is that the film tries to keep something of a distance between its main character and the end result of his work (war).  Miyazaki’s vision of Jiro is of a man who wants to build airplanes and must justify to himself that the achievement of producing something beautiful is worth the knowledge that they will be used for war.  Whether the historical Jiro himself actually had these qualms is unknown to me, but the character of Jiro in this film is in many ways a recognizable projection of Miyazaki himself more than a factual account of the historical Jiro.  Miyazaki’s fascination with airplanes as a child is well-known, and it’s not difficult to imagine that he felt a particular kinship with his subject to the extent that facets of his own beliefs began to merge into Jiro’s personality.

Thus, rather than glorifying war, what the film glorifies is the ambition of an engineer to produce and create admirable things.  There are not many films, and certainly not many animated films, which set out to do this, and that alone impressed me to a degree.  In the end, Miyazaki does not attempt to resolve the celebration of the engineer’s work with the grim understanding of how they are used, although the question is explored in several key moments in moving ways, including the final scene.  In some ways, the question reminded me of Miyazaki himself, and his career as an animator.  It is common to hear Miyazaki complain in interviews about the lives of modern children, who have become wrapped up in television and entertainment, oblivious and lacking respect for the natural world around them.  Yet, his own profession, as an animator, can perhaps be seen as being a part of the very ecosystem he dislikes.

A romantic subplot is added to Jiro’s life, but its portrayal occasionally becomes distractedly theatrical within the otherwise low-key surroundings, and it doesn’t really feel unique or moving enough to warrant its inclusion in the film.  It is a relatively minor criticism in the context of a film that is, on the whole, a strong end to a career littered with classics.  Looking back, Wind Rises is not among the greatest films of Miyazaki, but its appropriateness as his final work cannot be missed.  Miyazaki’s character and beliefs seem etched in every frame, and the constant battle between optimism and cynicism, and the recognition that the two will never be resolved, is a clear reflection of Miyazaki’s own personality.

The heavily fictionalized tribute to a man who built fighter planes for Imperial Japan may not win political points outside of Japan, but to anyone willing to understand the mentality of Japan’s postwar generation, it is easy to understand Miyazaki’s influence in making the film: In his own words, there were not many things that Japanese youth after World War 2 could be proud of, but the engineering marvel of the Zero was one of those few things.  Unfortunately, Miyazaki’s refusal to sully the story with politics, though done with good intentions, is the type of thing that is easily misinterpreted, and many of those with historical grievances with Imperial Japan may misinterpret the film as intentional whitewashing.  That is simply the way things are in the modern world, and it is a situation where neither sides may be in a hurry to understand each other.

With all being said and done, one line lingered in my mind afterwards – during the film, a character tells Jiro that a creative person has about ten years in which he produces his best work, then asks him if he is satisfied with his own ten years.  I couldn’t help but ponder at what Miyazaki thought about his own career as he wrote those lines.


8 responses so far

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8 Responses to “The Wind Rises Review (Kaze Tachinu)”

  1. NATon Nov 24th 2013

    Excellent review! I can’t wait to see this for myself. I’m also glad to see that you are still posting. Speaking of the ‘controversies’ surrounding the film, did you hear about how the Japan Society of Tobacco Control complained about all the smoking in this film?


    I understand that people are trying to be politically correct, but that was pretty ridiculous.

  2. Theowneon Nov 24th 2013

    Indeed, I’ve heard of that. No matter what you do, you’ll always have someone up in arms. I think the silliest I’ve recalled was the American organization who wanted to boycott “Kiki’s Delivery Service” for promoting witchcraft.

  3. signorRossion Nov 29th 2013

    I haven’t watched this yet, as I will wait for the German BD to come out, but I am quite sure that I will like it. Wait, a release scheduled for November 2014, I am not sure that I will hold out for so long…
    Btw, when will your review of ‘Wolf Children’ be up? 😉

  4. Theowneon Nov 29th 2013

    I’ve been out of the anime world for some time, so I actually didn’t know about this film. I’ll add it to the queue!

  5. Orphic Okapion Nov 29th 2013

    Great review of a challenging film. I’m still not sure how I feel about the way Miyazaki handled his subject matter; while it’s absolutely true that the movie doesn’t glorify war, I feel that he may have sidestepped some of the trickier questions regarding Jiro’s war involvement. You are absolutely right about the parallels between Miyazaki himself and his protagonist, both working in systems they don’t fully support.

    The Japanese phrase that came to mind as I watched this film was “shikata ga nai,” which implies a resigned acceptance of something over which you have no control. Most Westerners have a somewhat different (perhaps more individualistic) perspective on war, I think, which I why I have a hard time admiring Jiro, although I know he was a great engineer. I didn’t want him to accept the war. I wanted him to decry and resist it, like so many other Miyazaki protagonists. But this is a realistic film, and I think Miyazaki did a great job capturing what was probably the fatalistic attitude of most Japanese during WWII.

    Like you, I appreciated the larger scope of the film. I think it’s Miyazaki’s fullest creation since Spirited Away, and a perfect note on which to end his career.

  6. signorRossion Nov 30th 2013

    I noticed that you were absent since I checked this site from time to time and didn’t see any updates for a looong time. 😉 I myself am half-out of the anime world atm, since I haven’t had a series in the recent seasons I would have looked forward to every week. Fortunately a good movie fills the gap left by mediocre at best series from time to time for me, like ‘Wolf Children’ did last month. If not by the story (which I find unlikely that you will not) you will be left awed by the gorgeous art it has (rain animation and landscape scenes, just WOW!). And then I have to look forward to Kaze Tachinu and now also Kaguya Hime Mononogatari, which I am actually more interested in right now than Kaze Tachinu.
    Gonna have a listen at the Kaguya Hime OST now, which surprisingly was composed by Hisaihi this time, he never did this for a Takahata movie before.

  7. Theowneon Nov 30th 2013

    I suppose the difference for me is that I didn’t necessarily process the film from an overly historical perspective, despite its outward packaging. When I see the Jiro in Miyazaki’s film, I recognize too much of Miyazaki’s ideals to be able to believe that I am watching a representation of Jiro, and that’s the perspective from which I viewed the film. I suppose that’s why my feelings towards Jiro himself or WW2 never really came into the equation as I watched the film. But, it is for this same reason that so many see the film as “whitewashing”.

    It is a tricky situation.

    I am anticipating Kaguya-hime as much as you are. I’ve listened a little bit to the Kaguya-hime OST and enjoyed what I heard, though I’m wary of listening to too much prior to viewing the film. The reviews so far seem very positive and paint it as being exactly the sort of the film I tend to like.

  8. KVLon Sep 6th 2014

    I found this movie remarkably upbeat, despite the war, the earthquake, and a grave illness. Not the usual Miyazaki film, more rooted in reality, but better than a couple of his latest, IMHO. Great to see he can explore different styles at his age. Maybe he will come out of retirement again. I wish I knew more aeronautical history in order to appreciate the movie better.

    Eagerly awaiting the “Kaguya” movie. It’s supposed to be out in the US next month.

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