Jamie Green for vsnotebook. originally published 14th June, 2014.
Writing and Direction: Hayao MiyazakiCinematography: Atsushi Okui Music: Joe HisaishiStarring: Hideaki Anno, Miori Takimoto,Hidetoshi Nishijima, Nomura Mansai
Runtime: 127 minsCertificate: PG
29 years ago, following the success of the film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds (1984), a group of dreamers led by the now legendary Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, set up the animation production company Studio Ghibli. Their moniker, taken from an aircraft engine designed by Giovanni Caproni (who appears in the film) named after the Italian word wind sweeping in from the Sahara, reflects their mission: “to blow a new wind through the anime industry”. That they have: earning box office records (outgrossing Titanic in Japan), winning international industry awards (including an Oscar and the Golden Bear) and garnering widespread critical acclaim for their offerings. Hayao Miyazaki’s final directorial film then, is an emblem of the dream they set out to accomplish, a retrospective of his recurring personal interests and themes and a fittingly beautiful and beguiling cinematic swansong.
The Wind Rises opens with the breathtaking flight of a gull-shaped airplane, wings outstretched, piloted by a young boy. The handcrafted animation immediately flourishes in this dream sequence, extending far beyond the imagined limits. This is something Studio Ghibli achieves relentlessly, although Miyazaki himself is said to have been particularly surprised by the results of his team’s hard work here. It is apparent throughout. While losing its Oscar nomination to Disney’s predominantly digitally generated feature Frozen seems to suggest a waning in the appreciation of this handcrafted form, The Wind Rises was nominated for the far more prestigious Venetian Golden Lion demonstrates just how relevant and powerful the art form can be in the right hands. There are of course none better than those of Miyazaki.
“Airplanes are beautiful,cursed dreams,waiting for the sky toswallow them up.”~Hayao Miyazaki's Jiro, The Wind Rises
The unadulterated joy of the opening dream sequence is soon and suddenly broken by the incoming shadows and raging firepower of demonic flying warmachines descending from the clouds above. Sinister and incredibly potent, the imagery lingers in the back of your mind as the film progresses to its much alluded conclusion: “Japan is going to explode, and Germany is going to explode”. In this sense, the studio and Miyazaki ostensibly break from their more fantastic and child-friendly narratives, focussing on the tumultuous interbellum of the 1920s and 1930s in Japan, and the eventual descent into destruction.
All the same, such a loathing and despair for war is apparent in the imagery throughout his and Ghibli’s oeuvre: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds (1984) and its post-apocalyptic worldscape; the war-weary, cynical pilot Porco Rosso (1992) who’d rather be a pig than a fascist; the heartbreakingGrave of the Fireflies (Directed by Isao Takahata, 1988) and embattled nature in Princess Mononoke (1997) all readily spring to mind. The most apparent analogue, Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), demonstrates both Miyazaki’s preoccupation with aviation and the devastating consequences of war, through the adventures of children, sky pirates, animal loving guardian robots and the flying castle befallen by catastrophe. The Wind Rises is his most direct commentary though, in part for its biographic elements and grounding within the real-world interwar period. It acts as an organic tale in which to tie up the themes of his life’s work.
Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli make films with a plethora of layers, which are enjoyed by children and adults alike. Miyazaki himself explains that even if children do not fully understand the messages within the narrative, the film will at least stick in their mind and resonate, encouraging contemplation. This, Miyazaki has said, was the effect of the partially unintelligible black and white films he saw in his youth.
Indeed, his latest effort is not unlike these clearly influential films: echoing the sweeping narratives of the major 1950s and 1960s releases, and their often operatic romantic trappings. Nevertheless, the love story is perhaps the only point of contention. It is not for a lack of earnestness or poignancy, which it delivers in droves. Rather it is the main deviation fictionalising an otherwise biographical film about the inventor of the Zero airplane used in the Second World War; an odd move. Yet its purpose remains explicit, further humanising the protagonist: engineer and husband.
The score composed by the utterly indomitable Joe Hisaishi, stands as a crowning achievement, and goes some way to help cement and validate this relationship. This is typical of Studio Ghibli (and of course Hisaishi’s output), who place great esteem in the harmony between image and sound.Orchestral swells pique poignancy throughout the film, without it ever succumbing to the melodrama inherent in lesser artistry, even in the melancholy love story. Silence too speaks volumes in the film, characteristically Japanese. The colours are thus allowed to shine; delicate throughout they never stray towards dilution. There is a simultaneous intensity resonant in the narrative, animation and voice-acting due to this subtlety.
"But remember this, Japanese boy…airplanes are not tools for war;they are not for making money.Airplanes are beautiful dreams.Engineers turn dreams into reality."~Hayao Miyazaki's Caproni, The Wind Rises
That Studio Ghibli is endlessly innovative is a gross understatement. Here sound design takes bold steps in a new direction, with Miyazaki seeking to utilise the vocalisations of people to construct the aural canvas. Here they form the sounds of airplane engines, steamtrains and propellers, and indeed most arrestingly in the guttural reverberations of the earthquake that billows and tremors through the animated landscape. The Great Kanto Earthquake forebodes further catastrophe and reiterates the Ghibli (and indeed Japanese) preoccupation with the unfathomable puissance of nature. This scene is far more terrifying and affecting than any similar live action sequence. It alone deserves accolades in abundance: a typification ofthe aforementioned harmony between the visual and aural.
Dreams utterly permeate the film in both the literal and metaphorical sense. As a narrative foil, Giovanni Caproni (a famous Italian aviation engineer) acts as a kind of spirit guide for Jiro throughout. Miyazaki has, to some controversy, rightly painted Jiro Horikoshi not as a villain for his instrumental efforts in the creation of Mitsubishi’s Zero airplane, but as an idealist with the hopes of advancing his field and technology. It is Caproni’s apparition in such dreams that demonstrates the imagined good Jiro, Kiro Honjo and himself strive to create, weighing against the unfortunate outcomes unfolding in reality. Here he conveys some of the film’s most potent and rhetorical dialogue, pointedly postulating: “Would you rather live in a world with pyramids or without?” The answer is of course clear.
Dreamers cannot be blamed for the misuse of their creations, for the misuse of technologies created for the betterment of life. Yet, the moral ambiguity and Jiro’s internal struggle prevents it from becoming a diatribe, rather a reminder of the humanity and the wonders such can create. The film equally acts as a reminder of the harsh realities of our human failings. Not unlike that poignant and tragic scene in Miyazki’sPorco Rosso, in which the phantom planes of the pilots killed in action soar into the clouds above, Jiro is likewise shown treading through a graveyard of planes. The hollow fractured shells of the fuselages and wings strewn across the field act as a reminder of the harsh reality behind the simultaneous beauty and destruction man can cause.
"All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful." ~The real Jiro Horikoshi
Notions of legacy linger and recur throughout. The film is very much about passing the torch on to the next generation. Both Jiro and Caproni in their own way act as avatars of Miyazaki himself. That is it Caproni who delivers these warnings and words of wisdom down to Jiro — whose remarks are said to have inspired Miyazaki and this film — creates a chain of influence. Whose dreams are they occupying anyway, they wonder? Each has been student and teacher, inspired and inspiration. Miyazaki scripts for these two visionaries a befitting, slightly tongue in cheek, meta-remark that at once circumstances his retirement and impels his onlooking audience:
“Artists are only active for ten years.We engineers are the same.Live your ten years to the fullest.”~Hayao Miyazaki, The Wind Rises
More than thirty years — no mere ten — of immense and remarkable creativity, Miyazaki makes of his viewers and production team the same entreaty that his retiring Caproni urges Jiro: to dream, create and truly live in his stead.
“Le vent se lève, il faut tenter de vivre!”“The wind is rising, We must try to live!”~Paul Valéry, The Graveyard by the Sea quoted in The Wind Rises
The Wind Rises is at once a celebration of creativity and a cautionary tale. It illustrates both the visuals and philosophies of Miyazaki’s worldview. Evocative of themes and fascinations throughout his body of work, even before the inception of Studio Ghibli, this final directorial film acts as an appropriate and convincing coda for the whole. Nevertheless, it stands as a picturesque, cinematic triumph in its own right in almost every conceivable way. Ultimately, The Wind Rises is a study of legacy and recognising the virtue in creativity and dreaming. Alongside the entirety of his oeuvre and the Studio he co-founded, The Wind Rises is a beguiling, poignantly written and directed testament that he has upheld this mantra. And so it stands: Hayao Miyazaki’s legacy is prolific.
‘The Wind Rises’ is still out in selected cinemas now, and will be released on DVD on 29th September 2014. (Try to see it in Japanese with English subtitles if you can, it is more engaging and nuanced despite the Hollywood A-listers on board the American dub.)