Monday, March 30, 2015

Movie – The Wind Rises (2013)

The Wind Rises is purportedly legendary writer/director Hayao Miyazaki’s last film.  There are those people (I am among them) who hope that Miyazaki’s retirement announcement is like his previous five and he is inspired to return again.  However, if this is to truly be his final film then he made a great one to cap off a great career.  It has both a moving story and beautiful animation.  If anyone tries to tell you that only cgi animation can be stunning then show them this hand-drawn film.

You may be wondering how a 2013 movie ended up at number two on my list of the Top 10 films of 2014.  This is due to the fact that even though it was released in Japan in the late summer of 2013, and appeared at a few U.S. film festivals in late 2013, it was not until February of 2014 before it was released to the general public in America.  This was probably done to coincide with the Oscars being handed out since The Wind Rises was nominated for Best Animated Film.  If so, that delay may have ended up costing it the award.  I’ll discuss that later in this post.

Unlike his prior films Miyazaki kept the story in this one grounded, metaphorically speaking.  It does not have fantasy elements such as wondrous creatures (i.e. the catbus in My Neighbor Totoro), the spirit world (i.e. Spirited Away), strange transformations (i.e. Porco Rosso), or even science fiction staples such as robots (i.e. The Castle in the Sky).

Don’t be worried, though.  As always he imbues the movie with a sense of wonder and beautifully detailed animation.  In this one we also get the feeling that it might be the closest he has come to showing us his own creative process, via the dreams and ideas of the lead character.  And these dreams do still allow for creative license with the actions of the characters.

The story is based on Miyazaki’s own manga that he wrote a couple of years before.  He was convinced to turn it into a film.  It is a mostly fictional story that uses Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese airplane designer in the 1920s and 1930s, as the lead character.  Yes, it doesn't take much knowledge of history to figure out what Jiro's planes will be getting used for, but the movie goes out of its way to make a distinction between creating something beautiful, and the ugly uses your creation might be put to by others.

It’s no secret that Miyazaki loves planes and their history.  Hell, even the name he picked for the studio – Ghibli – is from an Italian airplane.  And stop to think of the various flying machines we’ve seen in his earlier films, especially Porco Rosso.  In The Wind Rises he is able to get the audience to share that love of planes with him.

As a child in the 1910s Jiro falls in love with the idea of flying.  He is nearsighted, though, so he will never get to be a pilot.  He decides the next best thing will be to become someone who designs airplanes and so he goes to college for that in the early 1920s.  In a brilliantly animated sequence we see Jiro experience the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 as he is traveling home after getting his degree.

As the city burns all around them, he helps a woman and girl get back to where they live.  He tries to check on them the next day, but finds that their house has burned to the ground.  He has no idea if they got to safety or not.  They did survive, but they do not know how to get in touch with Jiro.

Years pass and Jiro joins a struggling airplane manufacturer.  He and his co-workers are in awe of the Germans and their engineering when it comes to planes.  Jiro has always been inspired by Italian designer Caproni (whose company built the Ghibli, among many others) and the dream sequences in the film often feature Caproni meeting with Jiro and discussing their respective hopes for their planes vs. the realities of what others will do with them.

Years later Jiro does run into the girl he helped, now grown into a woman.  They connect, and they fall in love.  She has health issues, though (tuberculosis), so she is often at a retreat up in the mountains for the better air.  It is here, and in Jiro’s dreams, that the animation of the wind itself is truly spectacular.

Stop to think about it: you can’t see the wind; you can only see the effect it has on objects.  The movie shows it blowing an umbrella, clothing, hair, and even blades of grass in fields.  All of these moments are hand-drawn, and they are flawless when played at normal speed.  It truly captures the wind to the point that you can almost feel it blowing on your own face.

Planes fly by being lifted by the differences in air pressure on the top and bottom of their wings, but much more poetically they are lifted by the wind.  It is in this sense that Jiro’s years-long quest to build the perfect airplane also fits right in with the wind theme of the film.  As I mentioned earlier, you can easily see a parallel with Miyazaki perhaps feeling that he has had a years-long quest to create the perfect film.  I wonder just how much of the Jiro we see onscreen is Miyazaki showing us himself.

The Wind Rises lost to Frozen (2013) for the Best Animated Film Oscar.  Despite the fact that its story just recycled key elements from Tangled (2010) and Brave (2012), Frozen was truly a phenomenon, especially with the main song from it.  It was everywhere, and everyone was talking about the movie.  Contrast this with The Wind Rises.  I didn’t even hear of the film until it received an Oscar nomination, and there was no way to see it until the Oscars were being handed out.  The entire Academy votes in this category and all of them would have been familiar with Frozen and likely would have seen it on the big screen.  The only way they would have seen The Wind Rises, if at all, was via a screener mailed to them with several dozen others.  Realistically, how many of the voters would have actually taken the time to sit down and watch all the screeners, especially one for a film they had probably never heard of?  While there would have been some voters put off by the fact that The Wind Rises was about the man who would eventually create the key Japanese fighter plane of WWII, I feel that it was the far greater accessibility of Frozen that led to it winning the Oscar over The Wind Rises.

Right after I got done watching this movie I honestly felt that I had seen the best film Miyazaki had ever done.  And that is saying a hell of a lot.  I was wondering how much of that was the immediate euphoria from having just gotten done experiencing it.  Well, as I write this review three months later I still have this opinion.  I would place The Wind Rises even above Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro as the best film that Miyazaki has given us.  If I gave half star ratings this would be 4.5 stars.  I very highly recommend it.

Chip’s Rating:  4 out of 5 stars


  1. I won't go so far as to say it's Miyazaki's best, but I think it definitely rates. It's a truly beautiful film, and I think a very personal one.

    For me, it's hard to top the pure joy of Totoro. In many ways this is a more important and "better" film, but given the choice, I'm watching Totoro.

    1. Before seeing The Wind Rises I had Spirited Away as Miyazaki's best, with My Neighbor Totoro number two. I feel you can't go wrong with any of them.

  2. An amazing director and it's good that his last film is so memorable.

    1. Agreed. I would place him among the Top 5 Japanese directors of all time.