When Studio Ghibli released The Wind Rises (風立ちぬ) in 2013, it was welcomed by fans across the world with a bittersweet feeling of elation and sadness. Elation, because, every film by Hayao Miyazaki is a jewel of unmatched beauty, that deserves to be treasured. Sadness, because this was announced to be the film with which Miyazaki ended his 30 year career as a movie maker.
Inspired by the words of French poet Paul Valéry, The Wind Rises is a beautiful yet melancholic work, thematically brave and wise. There is nothing in the film that is either juvenile or old. The images are clear and well defined as is always the case with Miyazaki. But below the art is a message which is far more layered and perhaps, a little opaque.
The Wind Rises is the dramatization of the life of Jiro Hirokishi, the engineer who designed the (in)famous Zero– the Japanese fighter planes that bombarded Pearl Harbor and were the planes of choice for the Kamikaze. It was expected by many that Miyazaki’s film would touch on the responsibility of creating something as terrifying as the Zero, and its terrible consequences. Maybe it would be a film on Jiro’s doubts, hesitations and culpability. After all, one would expect that a film on Oppenheimer would also touch about his responsibility in the development of the atomic bomb!
But The Wind Rises does not interest itself in these questions, because, Miyazaki has other themes in mind. On one hand, the film is a tribute to a generation of Japanese who created the technological marvels that made Japan what it is today. On the other, it is an unabashed ode to the world of aviation. And, as anyone who has seen Miyazaki films like Porco Rosso, Nausicaa or The Castle in the Sky would know, Miyazaki adores flying machines. And the story of Jiro Hirokoshi, as narrated by Miyazaki, is a story of pure infatuation with aviation. Through reveries and dreams, The Wind Rises, takes us into the heart of a creator who is absolutely driven by the urge to realize his dreams.
It is also a story of tragic love and pain and is suffused with suffering. The film in fact, starts with the terrible Great Kanto Earthquake to juxtapose Jiro’s creative interior world and the harsh exterior- something that perhaps also alludes to the destruction his own invention would wreak.
If you expected The Wind Rises to be one of those exhilarating fantasies filled with extraordinary animation and flights of imagination that have characterized many Miyazaki films- perhaps, you would be disappointed. What it is, is a film with profound affection for the idea of creation and a deep, personal contemplation of his country’s history by perhaps, the greatest animation artist of our times.
In fact, the story of Jiro’s doomed love is a work of fiction. Miyazaki took inspiration from a novel by Tatsuo Hori and introduced it into the film in order to make sure that it is not just a film about making war machines. Miyazaki, sought to create a portrait of life before and during the war. The movie urges the viewer, as does the famous poem by Valery, to live life to the full, no matter how the wind rages.
The Wind Rises is contemplative and profound and touches on many things that are dear to the great animator’s heart. Going beyond war movie stereotypes and doomed love melodrama, Miyazaki’s film is a masterpiece that truly rewards multiple viewings.