Review – The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises Poster

Purportedly the final film of Japanese animation legend, Hayo Miyazaki, The Wind Rises is a gorgeously animated story about the true life of an engineer who was instrumental in developing the airplanes that would make Japan a formidable fighting force in the air.

First off, I saw the original Japanese version with subtitles, so I cannot speak to any changes made in the English version coming to a limited number of US theaters.  Historically Miyazaki’s films have been some of the better dub jobs though and this doesn’t look like it will be an exception.  There’s an impressive amount of voice talent in the American translation including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinsky, Martin ShortWilliam H. Macy, Mandy Patinkin, Stanley Tucci, and Elijah Wood.  With that lineup, I’m tempted to go see the film a second time.

From the time he was a young boy, flight has captured the imagination of Jiro Horikoshi.  It fills his every waking and sleeping moment as he learns English to study aviation magazines and meeting famed Italian aeronautic engineer, Caproni in strange dreams that only Miyazaki could animate.  Destined to never become a pilot, due to his eyesight, Jiro instead turns his passion into design, determined to solve the problem of inferior Japanese aircraft.

This is essentially an animated biopic, leading us through the ups and downs of Jiro’s life.  He grows up, is caught in an earthquake, goes to school to be an engineer, gets a job, falls in love, faces tuberculosis, designs airplanes, and contemplates what role he is playing in the world.  It is not your typical Miyazaki film, playing rather straight forward with a realism – save for some dream sequences – that is not often seen in the director’s other work.  In some ways, yes, this is a fantasy like his other films, but the fantasy of a real person, lived out in real life.  A fantasy of flight and ingenuity.

Despite the lack of fantastic story elements, this film is no less beautifully hand animated than Spirited Away or any of this other movies.  His fluid style captures the essence of wind in a way few others can, and the story plays out so visually it would almost be possible to watch it in Japanese without even reading the subtitles.  The sound editing is both genius and a little distracting, with many, if not all, noises being obviously produced by human voices, lending the world a very living nature.

Being based on true events, this film has been met with its share of controversy.  Some question putting a war machine designer in the position of hero, while others pointed out perceived inadequacies such as the fact that many of the planes were built with forced labor – something the film doesn’t mention.  I don’t see this as a controversial film though.  It is the story of one man and his intense imagination and passion.  It doesn’t ignore how that passion was used, and it gives us glimpses of the horror of war as Jiro wrestles with what designing a fighter plane meant, but those are not the focal points.

It’s a powerful, if often subtle, message about one man’s dreams and the impact they have on him, those around him, and the world.  If you have been scared off by the wildly strange nature of many Japanese animated films, this would be a safe first step that shows of the incredible beauty and design of Miyazaki’s unique style.  It’s not my favorite film of his, but it is still very much worth your time.

Mrs. Hamster says:

“It felt longer than it should have been and it was weirdly different than his other films.”

My rating: Four out of five hats

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Trailer:

The Wind Rises soars into 21 theaters, February 21