“Le vent se lève, il faut tenter de vivre.”
We’ve come to it at last. Hayao Miyazaki threatened the world with his retirement for decades but it looks as if he finally went and did it. Maybe. There’s talk of him coming back for a non-theatrical short about a caterpillar. However as it currently stands, The Wind Rises is the capstone of his long and legendary career.
It’s not how I would’ve chosen to bow out. Renown for his fantasy and imagination, Miyazaki might’ve made his finale a soaring epic or a boundless dreamscape. Instead, he chose an elegant whisper and I think the film is ultimately Miyazaki undiluted.
The Wind Rises shows Miyazaki’s age and wisdom in its quietness, his cleverness in weaving fiction with non-fiction, his love for the craft, his eye for perfection, and his drive to speak to his audience. We should and must treat The Wind Rises as the summary of his career.
Here he says everything he has always wanted to say in a single word: “Live”. And really, is that not what he has been trying to say since Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind? We’re talking about a man who claims to be a pessimist, who seems to struggle between hopelessness and hope, between moving others and watching them remain unmoved, yet The Wind Rises is about “fighting the good fight”, as it were. Not surviving. Not merely existing… so many just exist from day to day. This film is a call to live. Survey his films (as we have) and you’ll see that one four-letter verb written like a banner across every drama, every romance, every adventure. Live.
This is his bookend, and whether you think of it as his magnum opus or as a disappointment, or even morally irresponsible, is irrelevant. Its significance lies in the fact that this is director Hayao Miyazaki’s final word to the world (theatrically speaking). As such, it deserves your attention at the very least. I believe that it is a worthwhile film also deserving respect. It is gentle, graceful, lucid, wistful, tragic, inspiring, dreamlike, moving, careful, and beautiful.
The Wind Rises is a pseudohistorical drama which tells a fictionalized version of the life of Jiro Horikoshi. Mr. Horikoshi was the Japanese aviation engineer best known for the legendary and widely produced Mitsubishi A6M “Zeke” Zero fighter famously (infamously) employed by Japan in World War II.
The Zero at its outset was an extremely efficient, finely tuned killing machine. Its sleek, light design was unparalleled. In an even dogfight, the Zero was agile enough to be absolutely deadly. In the early days of the War, no Allied fighter could match the Zero’s superior range and maneuverability. But by the War’s closing years, the Zero became less and less effective against advancements in Western aviation. It became so obsolete that it was eventually used in desperate and ineffective kamikaze attacks.
Yet despite having built such a fearsome engine of war, the real world Horikoshi (and the one portrayed in this film) was not a supporter of the War that employed his designs. The following excerpt from his diary was published in 1956:
“When we awoke on the morning of December 8, 1941, we found ourselves – without any foreknowledge – to be embroiled in war… Since then, the majority of us who had truly understood the awesome industrial strength of the United States never really believed that Japan would win this war. We were convinced that surely our government had in mind some diplomatic measures which would bring the conflict to a halt before the situation became catastrophic for Japan. But now, bereft of any strong government move to seek a diplomatic way out, we are being driven to doom. Japan is being destroyed. I cannot do [anything] other but to blame the military hierarchy and the blind politicians in power for dragging Japan into this hellish cauldron of defeat.”
Horikoshi endured terror air raids and was bedridden from being overworked. After witnessing the devastation of the bombing during the War, Horikoshi once noted that he had little desire to return to work and that feeling intensified as his country fell into disarray and chaos toward defeat. He was forced to watch the empire take his designs to further a war effort he didn’t believe in. I can’t imagine his horror.
In The Wind Rises, Jiro Horikoshi grows up with a fascination for flight. He dreams about soaring through the skies. However, because of poor eyesight, he is unable to pilot an airplane. He dreams one night that he meets Giovanni Battista Caproni, a famous Italian aircraft designer and a dreamer of dreams himself. Caproni does not fly planes but he builds them.
“If I’m not a pilot, can I still design airplanes?”
Jiro is inspired by Caproni and the seed of desire is placed in him to become an airplane engineer, to create these “beautiful, cursed dreams”. He is just a little boy who wanted to create elegant aircraft because of the wonder of flight but then came the War and he was pressed into the service of his country, only to watch everything that was magical and inspiring to him be turned to killing and destruction. He’s even forced to go to Germany and witness the horrible and beautiful flying machines being produced by Hugo Junkers, who would later be removed from his own company by the Nazis.
What keeps a man like this going? Well, he meets a young girl named Naoko first on his travels to the university when his train is derailed from an earthquake, and again later in life at the resort in Karuizawa. The two of them (spoilers: highlight to reveal) fall in love and though Naoko suffers from tuberculosis they decide to wed, a picture of beauty in brevity, just like his own short-lived, highly effective aircraft designs.
There are, however, notable differences between the film’s Horikoshi and the one who actually lived. In real life, Jiro had an older brother not a younger sister and his wife was not involved in a sanatorium. These elements came from Hori Tasuo’s novel The Wind Has Risen, and in that respect The Wind Rises is a literary adaptation as well as biopic fiction. It also takes cues as an adaptation of a manga written by Miyazaki by the same name.
Though these non-historical elements were added, they fuel the drama of the film and take center stage emotionally. In this sense, I wouldn’t really consider The Wind Rises as a historical film. It’s also been noted by better men that The Wind Rises seems to gloss over Japan’s involvement in and shared responsibility for World War II. I won’t comment too much on the controversy as more capable writers have already done so.
The film does depict a Japan that wasn’t doing so well economically: runs on the banks, tough employment, behind other countries’ manufacturing and technology. But the blame seems to be placed almost exclusively on the Germans who are depicted negatively as shrewed, uncooperative, and relentless. In my heart I felt Jiro’s dual awe and dismay upon seeing the frightening and massive German metal airplanes, beautiful in their design but terrible in their purpose.
There are a few scenes which portray the Japanese military as brash and brainless, a bunch of men shouting over each other. I think that this serves the film more so than it does historical accuracy, but this is what makes The Wind Rises an impactful film rather than a documentary.
Unfair? Well, maybe… but it equals good cinema. On the other hand, I don’t think it ignores Japan’s imperialist past. And I don’t believe that Miyazaki was morally obligated to make a preachy film denouncing past war crimes, either. I doubt he intended it to be a purely historical drama, anyway. If you’re offended by The Wind Rises, you may have missed the fact that both its protagonist and its director are disgusted by the war as well, while they simultaneously attempt to create something beautiful out of tragedy.
“Including myself, a generation of Japanese men who grew up during a certain period have very complex feelings about World War II, and the Zero symbolizes our collective psyche. Japan went to war out of foolish arrogance, caused trouble throughout the entire East Asia, and ultimately brought destruction upon itself… but for all this humiliating history, the Zero represented one of the few things that we Japanese could be proud of. It was the extraordinary genius of Jiro Horikoshi, the Zero’s designer, that made it the finest state-of-the-art fighter plane of the time… Horikoshi intuitively understood the mystery of aerodynamics that nobody could explain in words.”
Jiro might’ve just been the most appropriate subject for him considering the director’s pacifism and Jiro’s reluctance. Miyazaki even drew criticism in recent years and was called by some a traitor to his country for objecting to the Japanese Prime Minister’s plan to build a full-fledged military. The Wind Rises seems like his final word on his feelings about violence and art.
Indeed, as I’ve said thus far in this review, The Wind Rises was the perfect film for Miyazaki to close out his career with. It is clear that Miyazaki is fascinated with Horikoshi as much as the director is fascinated with flight. Miyazaki stated in an interview that he was inspired to make The Wind Rises because he encountered a quote by the aircraft designer, who said: “All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful.”
Is that not quintessentially Miyazaki?
The 8-bit Review
The Wind Rises shows off everything that Studio Ghibli animators have come to master with all of the realism, subtelty, character, and warmth that we’ve come to expect of them. It seems like everything was poured into this animation and it’s used here to tremendously lifelike and elegant effect in the minimalistic style that’s distinctly Japanese. It’s interesting that many Ghibli films, like this one, will never impress on the basis of explosive special effects typical of blockbusters. Rather, it’s in the details and the ordinariness of human movements and physics that the true skills of the animators show themselves. Imbuing extraordinary life and beauty into the ordinary is the work of real artists.
The smoothness of Jiro’s paper airplane gliding through the sky, the light catching on its wings, has got to be the most impressive animated flight I’ve ever seen. Another highlight is the Great Kanto Earthquake that throws up the land like an unfurled carpet. I’m again impressed by how well and how accurately Ghibli can illustrate vehicles like all the airplanes in this movie.
The animation is especially good in the dream sequences, which there are plenty of in this film. The first leap into Jiro’s nocturnal animation shows him taking off in a homemade aircraft from his roof and as he ascends into open air, the sun rises over the horizon and bathes the rice paddies below in green and gold. I audibly gasped the first time I saw it. Literally breathtaking.
The theme of The Wind Rises is a sad melody which seems to capture both the silent grace of flight and the aspirations of a young artist. It’s got a definitive European/Italian feel to it with its mandolin, accordion, and piano. The various iterations of the recurring melody as it’s played throughout the film matches the mood of its scenes and it carries the emotional progression along.
Joe Hisaishi must of course be present here for the soundtrack of Miyazaki’s last film. The man is a genius at fusing Japanese and European sounds. The score for The Wind Rises is smaller than other scores he’s composed for Miyazaki in the past but it is more personal and intimate in its sound. I think it audibly resembles the hope to go on in the face of tragedy: the essence of the film.
Whatever you do, don’t look up the English lyrics for the credits song “Hikoki-gumo”. They’re exquisitely sad.
If you’d like to avoid SPOILERS for this film, please Ctrl+f Family Friendliness to skip both the Narrative and Themes portions of this review.
1918: Jiro Horikoshi is a boy dreaming about flying his own aircraft but his terrible eyesight prevents him. He even dreams about falling out of the sky because his vision becomes distorted. After reading about Giovanni Battista Caproni in a Western magazine, he dreams about the Italian aircraft designer that night. Caproni talks about his dream of making beautiful airplanes and Jiro wants to share that dream. He’s inspired to become an airplane designer.
1923: Jiro is off for the university and meets a young girl named Naoko on a train. She catches his hat as it flies off his head because of the wind. She recites a poem in French: “”Le vent se lève, il faut tenter de vivre.” “The wind is rising, we must try to live.” Jiro recognizes it. The train ride is interrupted by a massive earthquake which devastates the local community. Naoko’s maid breaks her leg scrambling off the train but Jiro mends it and helps to carry the maid to safety, assisting Naoko in finding her way back home and then leaving before they can repay him.
1927: Jiro and his friend Kiro Honjo (future designer of the Mitsubishi G3M heavy bomber) graduate from university and find employment designing the Falcon fighter plane for the empire. When the Falcon self-destructs during its test flight, the military embarrassingly rejects the design and Jiro along with his new boss Mr. Kurokawa are disappointed and depressed. Jiro begins to realize that his country’s technology is stuck in the wood and paper age when the rest of the world seems to have become modernized. Japan is years behind in aviation manufacturing.
1929: Jiro and Kiro are both sent to Germany to research the plane designs of Hugo Junkers, designer of the G.38. They briefly see Junkers but are prevented from learning all they can by the uncooperative Germans.1932: Jiro becomes the chief designer for a new fighter for the Navy. But the Mitsubishi 1MF10 fails in test flight and Jiro stands in front of its wreckage speechless. He retreats to a summer resort to rest and recuperate. There, he meets Naoko again, now become a young woman. He catches her parasol which is blown away by the wind, ironically. Later, when out on a stroll through the countryside, he encounters her beside a stream and she confesses that she wished to see him again, her hero, after all those years since the incident on the train. They walk back together in the rain and later Naoko becomes ill. Jiro is encouraged by a German patron of the resort named Castorp, who secretly tells him of the dangers Junkers faces in Hilter’s Germany. Jiro is wary but he and Naoko soon become engaged, despite Naoko’s tuberculosis.
When Jiro returns to work, he finds that he’s wanted by the secret police, undoubtedly because he was spotted with Castorp, who’d fled the resort before Jiro left. Jiro hides out at his boss’s house and begins work on his next fighter designs. When Naoko suffers a lung hemorrhage, Jiro rushes by train to her side but has to soon leave again because of his work for the empire. Naoko retreats to the sanatorium but eventually leaves to return to Jiro and the two agree to marry, realizing that she doesn’t have much time left.
They wed in the Kurokawa’s home with Jiro’s boss and his wife as witnesses, and though Jiro is a busy man, he spends as much precious time as he can with his bride. She soon is confined to her room, lying in bed as he comes home late after work.
Jiro’s new fighter, the Zero, is finally ready for its test flight, which will take him away from home for a few days. While he is gone, Naoko decides to return to the sanatorium to die, desiring that her husband remember her as she was before her death. During the test flight, Jiro senses a gust of wind from across the field and in a moment of silence understands that his wife is dead. His airplane design is a roaring success. It is faster than ever. He’s succeeded in realizing his dream but he’s lost the love of his life.
1945: World War II is over and Japan is ruined. Jiro walks in his dreams through a field of wreckage, the tatters of his aircraft designs, and encounters Caproni one last time. Jiro expresses his sadness at the way his designs were used for destruction. Caproni responds that airplanes are beautiful but cursed dreams. The two of them watch Jiro’s Zero fighter sail up into the sky. Caproni says that someone has been waiting for Jiro and Naoko’s spirit appears, telling her husband that he must live. Then she is carried away as well. Jiro shuts his eyes to remember and he whispers the words “Thank you”.
And live he did. Jiro Horikoshi in real life became a lecturer and professor. He became a legend among aircraft enthusiasts. He published a book in 1956 entitled Zero: The Story of Japan’s Air War in the Pacific. His memoir, Eagles of Mitsubishi: The Story of the Zero Fighter, was published in 1970. He lived to the age of 78 and died January 11th 1982.
The Wind Rises is complex. I sense that Miyazaki found in Horikoshi a kind of kindred spirit. Though Miyazaki isn’t an aircraft engineer but an animator, the both of them seem to share a love for the craft and a loathing for its application, a simultaneous joy and regret. Undoubtedly, Miyazaki is a dreamer and so is Jiro.
The Wind Rises is about dreams and pursuing them, and at what cost pursuing one’s dreams can demand. A contemplative young dreamer, Horikoshi is portrayed as so distracted and so obsessed by his own designs that his own bosses are surprised that he becomes engaged. He’s got determination as an artist. Jiro’s first complete engineered plane design destroyed itself on its first flight but he continues on. He eventually has to choose between being with his wife and serving his country, thus the film is more than just about pursuing one’s dreams. It shows that that is just another part of life, rather than life’s ultimate satisfaction itself. It’s not a glamorous image.
Then there is the call to live. The brevity of life (distinctly a Japanese consideration) is all over this film. Jiro’s wife Naoko dies tragically young and his own airplane designs were highly successful and the plane was beautiful but it was doomed by a failing war. Caproni reminisces that artists only get a few years in the sun. One of the chief reasons to live life to its fullest is the fact that it is so short and in that I feel that The Wind Rises makes its point heavily.
It is also about weathering the hardships of life. This is where the French poem comes in. “The wind is rising, we must try to live.” The wind is of course adversity. Jiro Horikoshi had many setbacks, many disappointments, and the tragedy of the death of his wife in the flower of her youth. Yet she never wanted him to give in to despair. She wanted him to keep on living. And further, the wind is what brought Jiro and his wife together, first on the train when she catches his hat and a second time at the resort when he catches her parasol. They even say “…the wind brought you to me”. The wind is more than just hardship. The wind is life’s uncontrollable circumstances. Our choices are simple: give up and surrender or continue on and live.
Throughout the movie, Caproni asks Jiro in his dreams if the wind is still rising. It’s a challenge for Jiro to keep pressing onward.
Life will have its setbacks, disappointments and tragedies but in them we can find community, friendship, love, inspiration, strength. I’ve been following a story recently about a 2-year-old boy who drowned in the bathtub after a babysitter neglected him and I can’t imagine how his parents must feel. They’re left with the horrible decision to pull the plug or not. They’ve expressed that they want to give him as much of a chance to recover as they can. I can only admire their strength as the wind rises in their lives and my prayers are with them and their little boy.
“Airplanes are not for war or for making money. Airplanes are beautiful dreams.” Caproni explains that the dream of airplanes is cursed: they must be used for fighting wars even though Jiro just wants to create them because they are beautiful. I’m fairly certain that Miyazaki drew this parallel with himself, as this seems to be how he feels about his own industry.
Looking around him after a decades-long career of creating art, he stands among the wreckage of low art anime full of cliché, fan service, and hyper-stylized gore. In his own words “they flaunt despair”. Miyazaki steps among ruins like Jiro at the end of the film walking among the broken wings and fuselages of the Zeros.
I guess Miyazaki must wonder what influence he really has had after all these years. It would seem none at all. While his films will probably always be touted as the work of a genius, his ingenuity, devotion to tradition, and love of peace and life will apparently not be reciprocated. What legacy will he have, if any at all? The world is never ready for geniuses.
“Inspiration unlocks the future, then technology catches up.” That must be Miyazaki’s prayer. I won’t pretend to the pretentious assertion that only Miyazaki’s work stands as the pillar of art in anime, but I do hold that there’s precious little like his work generally speaking. “Cool” is not the same thing as “beautiful”. There isn’t really anything like The Wind Rises, Miyazaki’s film about flight and about himself.
Family Friendliness: 6/10
The Wind Rises is a mature film with adult themes: war, loss, death, life, aspirations, dreams, enduring. Turns out that Miyazaki originally didn’t intend to make this film. He wanted to make a sequel for Ponyo but producer Toshio Suzuki stepped in and suggested that Miyazaki adapt his manga for The Wind Rises instead. Thank God for Suzuki. Miyazaki apparently didn’t want to make The Wind Rises because of its adult themes and his last film was a movie for young children. His animation studio is often viewed as a creator of films for children. He however changed his mind when a staff member assured him that children should be exposed to subjects they’re not familiar with. Thus Miyazaki agreed to go ahead with The Wind Rises.
All that being said, this film is not intended for children. It is sad, though there is no violence, full of dread, though there is nothing directly frightening, and complicated, though in the end as simple as a dream. Children could watch it and learn about the history of the Zero fighter and its designer, except I’d imagine they’d just be bored. That’s not to suggest that any adult bored by The Wind Rises is somehow a “child”. The movie is very slow paced, as other Ghibli films can be. In that respect it’s not entirely suitable for children though there’s no hugely objectionable content. Unless of course your kid is going to be offended at any perceived glossing over of Japanese war atrocities.
I found it quite funny that Hideaki Anno played Jiro Horikoshi in the original Japanese, but as this is for the English dub let’s talk about Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jiro. I think that while Gordon-Levitt did a great job of rising to the levels of contemplation, emotion, and wonder in the voice of Jiro, I just think his voice doesn’t match the character. There are some moments in the film when he just sounds too throaty when yelling or singing. Maybe he was trying to “do a voice” rather than just be natural but it comes off as slightly awkward.
However, that may be the only let down in an otherwise exceptional cast performance. Emily Blunt sounds much less Britishey than she might have and I was surprised to find out she voiced Naoko after the film was over. Martin Short is always a pleasure and he brings to charming life Jiro’s diminutive boss Mr. Kurokawa. In true Ghibli fashion, his is one of those side-characters that’s incredibly endearing, as is Caproni voiced by Stanley Tucci and Castorp voiced by Werner Herzog.
I honestly can’t think of any other complaints and all of the other voices matched in my mind. Kind of funny that they snuck Elijah Wood in there as some super minor character with something like three or four lines. How did that decision happen? “Hey, we need an actor who’s not doing anything at all…” *snaps fingers* “I know! Get me Elijah Wood!”
Only Hayao Miyazaki could’ve made this film. Again, it’s not the note I would’ve chosen to end on but then again, I’m not Mr. Miyazaki. This movie has his personality all over it and it couldn’t be a more perfect summation for his work. I wonder, years from now, if this won’t endure as one of the films which best represents his feelings and capabilities as an artist, more so than Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, or Spirit Away. He is Jiro Horikoshi.
My Personal Grade: 9/10
So funny story: we planned a day with friends to go to the cinemas for a double-feature. We were going to watch The LEGO Movie and The Wind Rises, but we weren’t sure about the order. We ended up seeing LEGO first and Rises second, and thank blessed Deity we did! The LEGO Movie was surprisingly hilarious and that laughter would’ve been hollow had we’d peeped Rises first. Conversely, all the bubbly humor of LEGO made Rises all the more powerful and moving with its emphasis on the frailty and temporariness of life. I was moved to tears. We’d had a good time watching the first movie and the second confirmed that spending time with friends is one of the things which makes life valuable, and something which ought to be treasured given life’s brevity. It was a happy and solemn day, and those don’t come around very often. Life is too short to forget about death but too short to not enjoy life. There is wisdom.
“The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning…”
Thank you, Mr. Miyazaki for all for the wonderful stories you’ve told over the years. Thank you for the food for thought. You’re a visionary. Your fingerprint will remain forever but your penchant for innocence, sweetness, wonder, peace, and serenity will be sorely missed. With your retirement, you’re leaving a gaping hole in the entertainment industry, rife with gratuitous violence and gross sexuality. The world needs more storytellers like you inspiring us to live.
I’ll miss your kingdom of dreams.
Aggregated Score: 9.0
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Categories: Movie Review