TL;DR – A fictional re-telling of real-life aeronautical engineer, Jiro Horikoshi.
Review (warning: spoilers)
Director Hayao Miyazaki’s vast body of work explores many themes centred around humanity, and what he sees as the direction humanity is taking. A outspoken pacifist, Miyazaki often contrasts the beauty of creation against the horrors of violence in many of his films. He also has a distinct fascination for flight.
The ability to fly must be something Miyazaki sees as achieving freedom. Freedom from gravity, freedom from the weight of human failings, freedom from artistic restrictions, freedom from the boxes we are often forced into.
Whether it is a witch flying a broomstick (Kiki’s Delivery Service), flying castles (Laputa: Castle in the Sky), pigs in seaplanes (Porco Rosso) or riding dragons (Spirited Away), it is clear that Miyazaki’s passion for flight is not a mere motif in his films, but something that he sees as incredibly beautiful.
The Wind Rises is as literal as it gets to Miyazaki exploring the theme of flight. But this movie also expresses his immeasurably disdain towards violence and war. Set in the years leading up to World War II, the film tells the story of Jiro Horikoshi, a real-life aeronautical engineer, who designed and built fighter planes for Japanese Imperial Army.
Horikoshi was strongly opposed to the war, and it is clear that Miyazaki saw a kindred spirit. The Wind Rises is an unapologetic telling of how Horikoshi’s love for flying was used by political powers and the military for war much to Horikoshi’s heartbreak. He never sought to build planes to kill people, he built planes as an artistic expression of beauty, and The Wind Rises demonstrates that beauty in animated glory in a way only Studio Ghibli could deliver.
The dream sequences that Horikoshi has interacting with Italian aircraft designer, Giovanni Battista Caproni, are marvellous, and Miyzaki has not shied away from going into the technical challenges Horikoshi faced in building airplanes.
The Wind Rises also introduces the fictional love interest, Naoko Satomi, who Horikoshi eventually marries. However, she dies from tuberculosis, which somewhat mimics the overall tragedy Horikoshi experiences towards his planes being used for war.
The messages are much more blunt in The Wind Rises, which I imagine was intentional as this was meant to be Miyazaki’s final film. However, I have since learned that Miyazaki has come out of retirement to direct How Do You Live?
As an artistic work, I can appreciate The Wind Rises but I confess that I found other Miyazaki films more poignant and enjoyable. For example, Porco Rosso which tells the tale of an Italian World War I fighter pilot cursed as a pig far more moving and dramatic.
Nevertheless, The Wind Rises is yet another film from Miyazaki’s heart (and likely to him, the most important), and it is a heart that is filled with art and beauty and desire for peace. You cannot help but be moved by that as you experience The Wind Rises.
8 out of 10