9 May 2014


It's been a while since I last reviewed a Ghibli movie, and I still haven't quite made it back to see a dubbed version of a film since the shrill English soundtrack for Ponyo. As a result, I haven't seen The Wind Rises with the English dub, which features the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt, but I'd recommend it anyway- there's just too much beautiful stuff here for you to be reading subtitles.

Ghibli's stuff transcends language barriers and entertains kids and elder cineastes alike, but Hayao Miyazaki's (apparent) final film as a director is markedly pitched at the latter of them, playing more as a fictionalised historical drama than the flights of fantasy and magic that we associate with his work. Jiro Horikoshi was the chief engineer of various Japanese fighter planes during World War II, and here, Miyazaki explores the personal cost of his life's work as he chases his dream of making a beautiful aircraft.

Without wishing to feel as if I'm writing from a template for reviewing Miyazaki movies, this is about as visually delightful and ecstatic as we've come to expect from Studio Ghibli. Interestingly, this would be a very apt film for the director to go out on, because it almost feels like a thesis film, coming at the end of a long career in storytelling, rather than a spell at film school. Themes of pacifism, nature and aviation are all present and correct, and Jiro's dreamscape even provides a little wiggle room for magic too.

These more colourful scenes find Jiro interacting with his hero, Italian airplane engineer Gianni Caproni, through a kind of shared dream state. Caproni's dream version of the first passenger plane might be the most Miyazaki thing I've ever seen- a gorgeous, utterly impractical thing that's packed with people. Caproni is a pivotal figure in the film, firstly because he opines that there's a finite amount of activity in a creative person's life, (which would seem to mesh with Miyazaki's own readiness to retire from filmmaking) but mostly because he's the one who gives voice to the dream of flying having been irrevocably cursed by war.

It's further illustrated throughout the film by Jiro's passion for engineering, as compared to the absolute necessity that his superiors and colleagues impose upon them. There's his boss Kurokawa, a fastidious little troll of a man who rants and rails next to Jiro's impenetrable calm and creativity, and his colleague Honzo, who seems to just see his work as a day-to-day grind, more frustrated by the lack of available resources and technical know-how than the elusive muse. In both attitudes, there's an awareness that war is coming, and Japan is determined to be in there when it arrives, which doesn't seem to fluster Jiro quite as much.

The wind of the title has a different meaning to him, carrying him to and from a lilting romance with Naoko. He first meets her during a thunderous depiction of the Great Kanto Earthquake, in which the film briefly veers into stirring, disaster movie territory. Their later scenes are altogether nicer, with a more poignant edge that only becomes sharper as the film dovetails to a close.

Others have written, more passionately and knowledgeably than I could, about the perception of the film as a hagiographic portrayal of Jiro, bowdlerising all of the real atrocities in which his creations were instrumental for the purpose of making a more romantic statement. Even watching the film without any of this in mind, it's clear that Miyazaki is telling the story he wants to tell, inside a vaccuum, largely affording Jiro the freedom from duty, obligation and (ultimately) culpability that he didn't get in life.

Crucially, The Wind Rises isn't a piece in which Japan can recant for their acts during World War II, and it's unfair to project that onto it. It's a brave and interesting choice to make the film biographical rather than allegorical, and some may argue that it doesn't always pay off, but the director has negotiated an absorbing "safe" area within that context. It's utterly gorgeous to look at, and even if it doesn't necessarily stare the horror of war right in the face, its sweet spirit never seems ignorant or trite.

The Wind Rises is now showing in selected cinemas nationwide, in subtitled and dubbed formats.
If you've seen The Wind Rises, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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