Well I never intended for these DreamWorks reviews to be a biweekly thing, but that’s how it’s somehow turned out. I was about to break this cycle and put up my review of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron today, but something prevented me and, if you read the title, I think you can guess what it was.
It’s the first time I’ve reviewed a film that is still being shown in the cinema at time of reviewing since About Time and what a film to bring me back from reviewing films from years gone by. I’m a bit of a Studio Ghibli fan and when I heard that Hayao Miyazaki’s possibly final film The Wind Rises was screening near me I knew what this Wednesday’s review was going to be.
Whether or not Miyaki remains retired, as this to date is his sixth retirement, one cannot deny his genius with animation. Having made incredible films like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo to name but a few which have had his directorial, writing and/or producing influence, any audience member going in to see this film expects excellence.
But now with his possible exit from the animation world, one must ask the question: Is The Wind Rises a majestic farewell or an embarrassing flat note in his symphony of animation?
Just quick point before I get into this, when I put in brackets for voice actors for the characters I’ll be using the English Dub voice actors for two reasons. 1) Because I saw the dubbed version (the only one on at the time) and so I can judge their vocal abilities better and 2) because, and I’m sorry to my non-Western audience, but people are more likely to know the English Dub cast better. That said I’ll put a link to Wikipedia at the end so you can look at the Japanese cast. Sorted? Ok let’s do this!
In 1918, a young boy named Jiro Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), dreams about becoming a pilot but because of his poor eyesight cannot fly planes. However, in another dream he meets famous Italian aircraft designer Count Caproni (Stanley Tucci) who tells him that, anyone can fly a plane but not everyone can design a plane, telling Jiro that he can’t fly but still designs beautiful planes. Emboldened by this dream, Jiro decides to become an aircraft designer.
As he grows up he begins to realise his dreams, but the realities of the world around him constantly assail his dreams, with Japan being technologically behind the rest of the world as well as taking a course which will ultimately lead to its involvement in the Second World War. But, along with his aspirations of designing planes, Jiro meets a Naoko Satomi (Emily Blunt) who begin a whirlwind romance whilst their county spirals ever closer to war.
To complement Ghibli on having stunningly beautiful animation is like stating that there is a lot of water in the ocean, it is just a categorical fact that really should not be said. So I shall say no more than I have already said.
The Wind Rises is very different from the usual Miyazaki film as, although he has written the more grounded From Up on Poppy Hill with Keiko Niwa, this is a great departure from the usual Miyazaki, at least in terms of the fantastical element that almost all his films contain, instead rooting itself very much in the history of Japan. Although the dream sequences and collective visions allow for some quintessential Miyazaki-ness, the mystical quality that made up his previous works is somewhat absent in his final film. Yet this is by no means a criticism, far from it.
The Wind Rises still incorporates a great many things which makes his films so lovably unique and though-provoking. The Wind Rises showcases Miyazaki’s love for flight (see pretty much all his films except, interestingly enough, for Princess Mononoke) in a new and altogether interesting way. The visuals of the insides of planes, the test flights, how Japan was so far behind technologically yet managed to design such beautiful planes is awe-inspiring.
It feels like, if you explained to another person how a conversation on flushed rivets can be wholly interesting in of itself, they would give you a quizzical look and probably ask you to leave their house because he’s in the bath, but the joy and wonder Miyazaki has for flight and how humans have been able to conquer the skies shows in his work, and it does not disappoint and in no way does it bore. This is probably helped by the fact that his father helped make the very plane which comes to be the focus of so much of this film, giving the film a personal touch that is hard to find or replicate in the same way.
What makes this even more interesting is that, unbeknownst to me, is that Jiro Horikoshi was an actual aircraft designer. I initially thought he was a character completely made up for the purposes of the film but, aside from the fact that the account of his life is highly fictionalised, the impression we get about a man who loved to build planes is astonishing.
It is even more touching when you find out that he would have made a sequel to Ponyo instead had he not been encouraged to do so by Toshio Suzuki as well as a quote by Horikoshi himself, who said that: “All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful”. Horikoshi’s own anti-war stance also makes him the perfect character for Miyazaki’s own pacifistic outlook.
The voice cast is, for all intents and purposes, brilliantly chosen. They all seem to fit their individual characters well and it will be difficult for me now to watch them in the original Japanese. I admit that some of the dialogue, especially Naoko’s can be excessively cheesy at times, but it’s well done enough for it to be glossed over. It tells of love and loss in such a fantastic way that you forget the rare misstep or possibly “gooey heart-warming” dialogue.
It’s also brilliant for putting across the not too crazy idea of equal rights for women for, although she is a minor character, Kayo Horikoshi’s (Mae Whitman) wish to become a doctor is supported by her brother and her progress is monitored through the film. Although not as overt in regards to his other films, Miyazaki still has women at the forefront of The Wind Rises, giving them important roles that plays against general stereotypes of women.
There is also brilliant anti-war and anti-fascist sentiments expressed through one character, the German known as Castacorp (Werner Herzog). He’s critical of the Nazi regime in discussion with Jiro, as well as noting that the Japanese Empire will fall as well. It’s brilliant for showing that people within difficult regimes do not always agree with the regime they are under. Even when confronted with the good things in life, he knows and says that they will not last, but encourgaes making the best of them while they are still around. His part is short, but fully formed and brilliant in the short time he is on screen.
Yet the line at the beginning of this film, and often repeated within the film itself, sums up the film beautifully. It is from Paul Valéry’s poem “The Graveyard by the Sea” and the line goes: “Le vent se lève! . . . il faut tenter de vivre!” Translated it means: “The wind is rising! . . . We must try to live!”.
That seems to encapsulate this film beautifully as the wind can be seen to representative of all the woes that befalls Jiro and Japan, failures both personal and natural. Yet it gives hope that we must live, we must strive on for if we do not, the wind wins. It is perfect to show Japan in a state of economic downturn, recovering from natural disasters, and continuing their war aspirations for a Japan that has been hit by natural disasters and the ensuing nuclear disaster in 2011, as well as being in debt.
Miyazaki always shows that we should press on and improve, as we always have. Bad things may happen, terrible things that we could not even comprehend until they have happened, but we must strive on all the same. It seems that all life is tinged with bitterness, but it is not the bitterness that shapes us, it is how we move forward from that bitterness.
This film has received its fair share of criticism since its release, with right-wing Japanese politicians claiming that Miyazaki is a “traitor” and “anti-Japanese”, something which Miyazaki himself helped stir up with an article criticising the Prime Minister’s proposals to allow for a fully-fledged military, significantly increasing the limited self-defence forces that were allowed after the war.
This to me just seems to be an irrational argument as one can be politically different to you, as well as presenting his viewpoint through the eye of history, without being a traitor or anti-Japanese. It is merely because they disagree with the film’s message and cannot see it for its greater value that they have criticised it in such a fashion.
Miyazaki has even been criticised by the left for making a film which has a war plane designer as its protagonist, feeling that it was wrong to portray a man who made killing machines in a good light. Some also brought up that the plane Jiro designed, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane, which was used in Pearl Harbour and kamikaze attacks, was made by forced Korean and Chinese labourers, a point which was not made in Miyazaki’s film. Yet the oddest point seems to be that the anti-smoking lobby were angry against this film for its repeated use of smoking in the film.
I’m not even going to start on the anti-smoking lobby, because that is just nonsense that doesn’t need debate. However I think the left-wing critics have missed the point, as critics have missed the point in the past. I reviewed John Steinbeck’s The Moon is Down a while ago and, although this looks like a plug for one of my earlier articles, it really does have a connecting point here.
While The Moon is Down garnered much praise, the novel received much criticism from men like James Thurber and Clifton Fadiman. They accused Steinbeck of putting the Nazis in a fuzzy, fairy-tale atmosphere in contrast to the realism of The Grapes of Wrath on America in the Great Depression. They even went so far as to say that the novel would demoralise the natives of Europe by portraying the Nazis as people and not solely as brutal oppressors.
But they, as the critics for The Wind Rises, have missed the point. Where Steinbeck shows the Nazis to be humans as well, making his propaganda more effective, Miyazaki shows that just because a man makes a fighter plane which would be responsible for many deaths on both sides in the upcoming war, you cannot deny that the plane Horikoshi created was beautiful and a masterful product of aviation. It is even acknowledged in the film, saying that although the planes would go on to destory, a thing Horikoshi regrets, he is reminded by Caproni that he still got to design something beautiful. And in the end, that is what this film is mainly about. The beauty of man’s continually mission to conquer the skies better than anyone else.
The Wind Rises is a perfect swan song for Miyazaki as, although we are sad for his departure, we can feel good that he left on such a high note that may not reflect his early and more prominently known works, but have a life and vitality of their own that comes from a personal love of the subject. Whatever you may feel after watching this film, you will at least feel that Miyazaki cared so much about what he is talking about that he did justice to the subject in such a brilliant manner, as well as giving us a love story that we shall not forget for years to come.
I hope you enjoyed this review as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please don’t forget to follow me here, as well as one Facebook and Twitter. But most of all, please like, comment and share this around please! Oh, the link for the Original Japanese cast is below so click on that if you like!