‘The Wind Rises’ Soars

During a hot summer night in upcountry Japan, a boy wakes and wordlessly wanders into the night. He climbs onto the roof of his house, where a small, handmade plane perches like a watchful bird. The boy climbs in and quietly flips switches and turns knobs with ease, and the plane takes off. The boy’s nighttime flight seems so real that when he opens his eyes, in bed once more, it takes a moment to register that it was all just a dream.

Courtesy of Studio Ghibli

Courtesy of Studio Ghibli

It’s this subtle, almost-lyrical blend of fantasy and reality that makes Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises” captivating from start to finish. The PG-13 Studio Ghibli film is in a separate category from its predecessors –– you won’t find any “Spirited Away” radish spirits or “Kiki’s Delivery Service” witches in this historical film –– but it still contains all the dreamlike elements Miyazaki is known and loved for.

Miyazaki’s “farewell film” — the 73 year-old director, whose filmmaking career has spanned over six decades, announced his retirement shortly after the film’s completion but has since retracted his statement — covers roughly 40 years of Japanese history. “The Wind Rises” documents the life of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the famous war plane Mitsubishi A5M, as he grows up, falls in love and comes closer to reaching his dream of building the next great airplane amidst historical events like the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and Japan’s involvement in World War II.

Jiro is, above everything else, a dreamer and an idealist, and its his imagination that allows for appropriate breaks during the seriousness of Japan’s reality for viewers to escape, if only for a scene or two. Some of the best scenes are the ones that take place in Jiro’s dreams, in which Jiro, voiced in the English-dub version by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, meets up with his childhood idol, Italian plane manufacturer, Giovanni Battista Caproni (Stanley Tucci), to receive advice and words of wisdom. Though the two have never and will never meet in real life, Jiro’s subconcious allows the two men of different worlds to come together and create architectural masterpieces out of thin air.

What keeps the story — and Jiro himself — grounded is Jiro’s relationship with Naoko Satomi, whom he first meets as a college student during the Kanto Earthquake. Though the two part ways as children, it is fate that reunites them years later in an earnest yet tragic romance.

The most momentous scene in the film is Jiro’s final test run with his completed plane. His model soars through the air gracefully and lands in one piece, a celebratory event for the crew, but Jiro misses everything, distracted by a sudden gust of wind in the distance that represents the passing of Naoko. The wind also represents the passing of an old era, as a once still-developing Japan has emerged in WWII as a nationalistic superpower.

Miyazaki’s last project has received criticism since its intital Japan release last summer, with audiences accusing the director of glorifying the man responsible for so much death and destruction in WWII — Jiro’s completed plane in the film is the one that was used to bomb Pearl Harbor.

But “The Wind Rises” is not a war movie. It may be geared towards adults rather than towards children, but it’s a film that beautifully illustrates the power of imagination with each Joe Hisaishi-composed, dreamlike tune and each nostalgically-drawn Japanese landscape.

And no Miyazaki film can be classified as such without an image or in this case, a quote repeated for audiences to interpret. “Le vent se lève! Il faut tenter de vivre!” Jiro often recites, recalling the words of French poet Paul Valéry.

“The wind is rising! We must try to live!”


RECOMMENDED: “The Wind Rises” is a more adult, yet spectacular new Miyazaki film.