The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu)

UK Release Date 9th May 2014
Director Hayao Miyazaki
Starring Hideaki Anno
Runtime 126 Minutes
Certificate PG
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 5th May 2014

We’ve been here before, frankly to the point where I’m starting to suspect it’s going to become a caveat to any movie Hayao Miyazaki makes. Having now announced his retirement six times, the 73 year old is showing little sign of actually hanging up his pen. His latest though, is a more sober reflective piece that does make you realise that he can’t go on forever. Though he’s evidently going to give it a damn good try.

Beginning in the great depression and quickly encountering 1923’s Kanto earthquake, The Wind Rises tells the fictionalised story of Horikoshi Jiro, inventor of the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M fighter plane (the ‘Zero’ fighter so feared by Allied pilots during the Second World War). Jiro (Hideaki Anno if you’re watching the subtitled original - which you should be, or Joseph Gordon-Levitt if you’re watching the dubbed version), too short-sighted to join the airforce, dreams of building aeroplanes. Attending university with the intention of becoming an engineer, a chance encounter during the earthquake introduces him to what will become the love of his life - Satomi Naoko. They part without exchanging information but years later, another chance encounter at a hotel brings them back together and Jiro resolves not to lose Naoko, despite her admission that she contracted tuberculosis from her ill mother.

Fulfilling his dream of designing aeroplanes takes decades for Jiro as he struggles with a country still using oxen to pull the aircraft from the hangers. A trip to future wartime allies Germany inspires him as he meets legendary designer Hugo Junkers. Back in Japan Jiro struggles to move the industry on from wood and canvas, towards the all steel designs of their more advanced allies. As he sleeps he is visited by Italian aviator Giovanni Caproni, inspiring him with his outlandish designs for peacetime uses of bomber aircraft.

Anyone familiar with Studio Ghibli (and if you aren’t, you really should be) will immediately recognise Miyazaki’s style in his latest. A longstanding obsession with flying machines and stunning painted skies is, for want of a less pun-tastic expression, really given wings here. Caproni’s wonderful flying machines are explored in Jiro’s dreams as the youngster joins one of his heroes climbing through giant structures all animated in the usual superb detail.

Throughout the life depicted, Jiro encounters a succession of inspiring and typically idiosyncratic people. His boss at Mitsubishi is a wonderfully Miyazakian character, bounding about with a ridiculous haircut, at first endlessly berating Jiro but ultimately taking him under his wing and eventually marrying Jiro and his ill fiancé and allowing them to board with his family. Caproni crops up at regular intervals carrying the mantra from the film’s title and using it to encourage Jiro - ‘The wind is rising! We must try to live!

Miyazaki’s genius (beyond the almost miraculous animation) was always presenting the utterly fantastical down to the finest, wonderful detail and in The Wind Rises he makes no slips here. This is a more somber effort though than previous, not quite to the same level as Ghibli colleague Isao Takahata’ Grave of the Fireflies but it has more in common thematically with that picture than any of his others. Miyazaki paints a broad picture of a world in conflict over several decades and drops in parallel love story, not only between Jiro and Naoko but also between Jiro and his beloved aircraft. If there is anti-war sentiment here, it’s subtle to the point of being almost abstract - Caproni bemoans the use of his aircraft for war and a German expat that Jiro meets in the same hotel as Naoko warns prophetically of the disaster that will befall Germany if it continues on the road it has set out upon - but beyond that we are left to watch the detail of Jiro’s every day whilst war looms in the background.

The animation is of course amazing as with all Miyazaki’s output with probably one of his most impressive standout scenes  - depicting one of the most horrific earthquakes committed to screen. As Jiro travels by train, the world shakes and, as with many Miyazaki films, the earth takes on its own personality. The streets are swallowed and the train is thrown along its tracks by the rippling earth. Fire belches from the wounded villages as people run from the imagined terror of the train engine exploding. Contrasting starkly with this are the wonderful scenes with Jiro and Caproni exploring the latter’s fantastical aircraft, the characters running carefree along wings as the aeroplane soars into the air.

And between these scenes of horror and wonder, we have a tender love story as Jiro and Naoko’s doomed love is played out. A genuinely touching story of a man with two, sometimes competing, loves and who strives to do right by both his country and his fledgling family, The Wind Rises will not disappoint fans of Miyazaki. Rendered in beautiful blues and greens as well as vicious reds and browns, the screen is alive with visual wonder from start to finish. Your spirits will soar with the wonderful aircraft and if this is to be Miyazaki’s last (it won’t be) it is a fitting swan song to an unrivalled talent.

Check out the trailer here.

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