'The Wind Rises' Review: Miyazaki's Most Beautiful Film Yet Focuses on the Skies
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'The Wind Rises' Review: Miyazaki's Most Beautiful Film Yet Focuses on the Skies

By Amanda Mae Meyncke | Film Reviews | March 7, 2014 | Comments ()


The Wind Rises reminded me of things I had almost forgotten, mostly how much I love Hayao Miyazaki’s way of looking at the world that exists around us and the way of showing the world that cannot be seen, only felt. But, also how positively obsessive it is to love airplanes and all the promise that they hold, the thrill of adventure, sleek beautiful lines and the sheer audacity of breaking free from the Earth.

Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro!) from his own manga, the film follows two stories. The pre-World War II, real life work of airplane designer Jiro Horikoshi, a young man mesmerized by the mechanical properties of planes and the mystical process of flight. Jiro dreams of planes, of flying and soaring, and dedicates his life to making something beautiful that can fly. In his dreams, he meets another airplane designer who shares his love of planes. The lack of magical creatures in the film ordinarily found in Miyazaki’s movies doesn’t even provide much of a stumbling block, as the dream sequences where Jiro walks and talks with his hero, Mr. Caproni, are quite fantastical. Mr. Caproni, who is himself a famous airplane architect believes himself to be sharing dreams with Jiro, and the two inspect various planes that have not yet been built. Eventually, Jiro gets a job with the Mitsubishi company, building planes, and works tirelessly to create the most useful, well-made planes he can, utilizing German techniques and his own ingenuity.

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What the film does fictionalize is his personal life, a quiet journey that initially brings a young Jiro into contact with a precocious girl on a train. When the train is derailed by an earthquake and fire, Jiro risks his life to save the girl and her servant. Years later, fate conspires to bring the two of them together again, and Nahoko lends color and life to Jiro’s clean, precise world. The intertwining of the two stories, from the clean, clinical approach to building planes to be used during wartime, all the way to the gentle love story that bolsters and defines the day to day monomaniacal vision of Jiro, his twin devotions seem to go comfortably hand in hand.

This is almost certainly not a movie for children, despite the animation, clocking in at 126 minutes. The realities of war are touched upon here and there, there’s some frightening imagery of fire and earthquakes, and every character seems to essentially smoke non-stop throughout the film. The characters, especially Jiro, don’t seem to talk much, and while there’s certain slapstick elements throughout, the film is a serious one. Slightly troubling as well is the almost casual approach taken towards war. While Jiro can see some of the consequences of the machines he builds, war is more like a half-forgotten dream itself, existing only in the peripheries of Jiro’s world. Seeing how other cultures perceive huge, life changing events differently is fascinating. I remember a Japanese classmate in college telling me that there were still Japanese who believed that America started the war, instigated the attacks at Pearl Harbor. Still, the film seems to shy away from taking any particular stance on the war, and we are delighted when Jiro manages to build the fastest plane, even as we know this plane will be used to kill, and expressly to fight against America. Remarkable to come up against one’s own self-centered view of the world during an animated film, but there it is, none the less.

Yet, this is certainly one of the most beautiful films that Hayao Miyazaki has ever directed, wide open Japanese vistas, the sweeping magical power of flight lovingly drawn and animated. Nobody sees skies, or rain, or mud the way Miyazaki does, the whole Earth seemingly pouring itself from reality into two dimension. The film captures so elegantly the love of flight, that it’s almost easy to dismiss how casually stunning it is, overdosing on beauty.

As lilting as a song, as delicate as a dream, Miyazaki has managed to capture what a searing, almost painful thing it is to love something as ephemeral as flight, what it might be to give your life over to making instruments to rise above the earth. How devastating it can be to love a thing that doesn’t know your name, and can’t ever be what you think that it might be. People and things will never make us happy, but maybe we can find some happiness in how beautiful and fleeting they are, and that we had them for a while.

The Wind Rises is now in theaters.

Amanda Mae Meyncke writes about movies and hangs out on Twitter sometimes but mostly writes stories on Instagram.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • MissAmynae

    This was my first Miyazaki film. I was utterly enchanted and entranced.

    Lovely review. Sums it up beautifully.

  • VohaulsRevenge

    Though it's no "Spirited Away", which will probably top my animated list for all time, this is a lush, amazing film, a heartfelt love letter to the Golden Age of Aviation. The man has a talent for making even the ugly look beautiful (blood, smoke, fire), and the beautiful look sublime; when I hear about his retirement I keep hoping that he's just trolling us.

  • Sassy Pikachu

    Last time I saw a Miyazaki film without a fantasy focus it almost wrecked me emotionally. "Grave of the Fireflies" is still one of the best movies I have ever seen. And I can never see it again because how much it rips me at my soul. (Even though I was raised in China and grew up learning all the horrible things the Japanese did, the story itself rings true regardless of nationality and it's just fantastic through and through)That man has a great vision and is a fantastic storyteller and I cannot wait to go see this movie.

  • JtD

    That was actually an Isao Takahata film. Still part of Ghibli though. But yes, when you get the chance, watch The Wind Rises! You won't regret it.

  • I can't wait to see this. His movies are always so heart-breakingly beautiful and they never fail to make me happy.

  • Haystacks

    To be fair, there are Americans who believe the same thing about Pearl Harbor, mostly because it was such a moronic thing to do. Why bring a powerful potential ally to your enemies into the game? But regardless, how countries perceive themselves historically remains incredibly interesting.

    Still so happy Miyazaki changed his mind about retiring.

  • anna_k

    "Still, the film seems to shy away from taking any particular stance on the war..."

    Worth noting the complaints from Korean people about how the film portrays his work (e.g. http://www.theguardian.com/wor..., especially given that Japan is currently very much engaged in the project of re-writing WWII history, esp. re Korean "comfort women".

    I know Miyazaki's not an Abe supporter and has also had criticism from Japanese nationalists for this, which is a useful counterpoint, but this film (as with many of his others) is infused with a sense of wistful nostalgia that becomes more unsettling the more you actually know about that period.

    I love Miyazaki and don't think there's anything wrong with going to see this film, but I do think the actual facts of imperial Japan re Korea need to be flagged up.

  • Stephen Nein

    This was recently in Facebook response -

    Thomas Cleaver · Top Commenter · Los Angeles, California

    "It's not just the issue of "comfort women." The entire Japanese understanding of the Pacific War is "upside down and backwards." The official history of the war as taught in Japanese schools is essentially that Japan had the best interests of all Asians at heart and wanted to get rid of the white men's empires there, that they were opposed by a vicious United States that forced them to attack us, that they won every battle in the war but were somehow forced to retreat to the point where the ultimate victimization could happen when we dropped the two bombs on them. The kamikazes are taught as ultimate patriots for Japan. When I was in the Navy, I visited the battleship Mikawa at Yokosuka (Admiral Togo's flagship at the 1905 Battle of Tsushima Strait against the Russians) with a Japanese friend. Inside are models of the Japanese ships that fought the war. As I walked around, I was thinking to myself "...sunk at Midway... sunk in the Solomons... sunk at Rabaul... sunk at Philippine Sea... sunk at Leyte Gulf... " When we left, my friend was going on about the Imperial Navy as if none of that had happened. We sat down in a restaurant and over the next two hours i gave her a capsule history of the Pacific War from the Japanese invasion of Manchuria to V-J Day. To say she was shocked and amazed is an understatement.

    "Unlike Germany, which was forced to confront its militaristic past by the Occupation forces, Japan was not only not forced to do this, but the second tier of the war criminals who had run the war were installed (the ones whose signatures were not on the orders) as the new government by their Great American God, good old "Dugout Doug" MacArthur, since he was a dedicated anti-communist and believed if he didn't re-install the Japanese Right ('de-fanged" without a military), the alternative would be victory for the Japanese Socialists (he was right, the Japanese people were ready to have all the old guard overthrown after what they had experienced in the bombing).

    "So the end result is an unrepentant imperial Japanese government, and not just on the issue of comfort women but on the very meaning and history of the war from beginning to end, which is why the rest of Asia still doesn't trust them."

    February 27 at 11:33am


  • Yocean

    Few things. There are differences between what foreign countries believe that benefits by keeping Japan down claims in the Japanese history text books and what's actually in there. Have you read them yourself? Because history is very different depending in where you stand and get rewritten by the winners all the time. lets not forget Japan was the loser of the war. I grew up in Japan and read Japanese hit story text book and it clearly states the atrocity our army caused and Japan definitely was occupied by American force that, in actually, installed New Deal leaning socialist government. With. No. Army. Japan is one of few countries constitutionally prohibited from having an army ( though Abe is trying to bring it back for better or worse). A constitution written by the foreigners, by force if necessary.
    And as far as I remember, we do not forget what happened. If anything we are taught to be ashamed of our forefather and only recently that movement was born to recognize maybe the situation was not as black and white. Were all if our grandfathers evil monsters devoid of humanity? No. There are compounding reasons.

    Few things that I need to ask as far as "history" goes:

    - How many American knows that it was America armada that pointed canons at Edo, then Tokyo to force open the country? After that Japan got into a civil war then the winning side took the path of modernization to compete with West that were colonizing Asian countries right and left. It meant Japan felt compelled to focus on building wealth and military might, if it were not to follow China and many other countries' fate.

    - China was already broken up, destroyed and there were support from (I think England? Sorry if I got it wrong) to take Manchuria away from Russia, who, after the war, did take the land over again and killed many many many. And what is so different of Japan's imperial ambition from that of Western one? Oh, right, colonization was made illegal after West has pretty much divided up rest of the world. So they couldn't have some inferior yellow monkeys learning and getting better at their own games - even though they realized how useful Japan was and strengthened the country themselves. But once they became too powerful, had to be shut down before Japan could actually threaten western supremacy. So the punishment was made with cutting all imports. To an island country. Forced open and shut down with no way to go but expansion by force.

    - Do you know that Japanese culture holds strong distinction between public face and private face? So yes, that freeing the east from west thing was a front for military expansion. There was one more front Imperial Japan, keep in mind the country was usurped military and emperor was just a figurehead, put up: all people were equal under emperor. And these two fronts were sometime actually taken seriously by some individual (not by most. Human are cruel awful creature). That's why there were Japanese who helped Jewish people escape and some occupying Japanese general did actually put in contingent plan for the conquered lands (Taiwan for one seemed to have preferred Japanese occupation over the subsequent Chinese one). Oh and those formerly colonized countries? West try to take them back after WW2 but with little success. So whether it was intentional or not, the freeing East from West got achieved. Though I do agree Japan can't take credit in that.

    - Also, since we are talking of revisionist history, do you believe A- Bombs were necessary to end the war? I am not saying you do but there are many American being taught that in history class and i call huge bs on that. Millions of starving people, with all major cities burnt down (napalm was used in civilian area because according to American there were no non-combatant in Japan. Neat justification for dealing maximum damage to mostly wooden residencies), forced by military to stand down (yet there were many opposed) with, oh what weapon? Bamboo spears! Do you believe that would have caused any threat at all? A-Bombs were not necessary to make Japan surrender. There could have been numbers of other ways. That was a show of power against Russia. Just go to Hiroshima, see what those bombs did and try telling people there it was needed. Good luck having your soul intact.

    - Also, racism? Have you heard of it? There was a Life magazine cover during wartime where a daughter admire a souvenir from her father - a skull of those pesky yellow Asian bastards. Yeah, the disregard for human dignity against Asian went that deep. Notice there were Japanese internment camp but no German one? Even though Germany was also an enemy? If you think racist did not play any part in it, then your brain is quite white-washed too.

    One thing to keep in mind in examining history is that there are many perspectives and conflicting political interests. I had Chinese friends tell me even though we are friends I'm still an enemy just because I am Japanese, even though I am sure no one in my family had done anything to their family ( there were only one uncle who went to war but died really young. So I can't be completely sure, but the possibility is unlikely). By that logic, I should be hating myself all the time because I am also American (my dad is Caucasian from Arizona. Grandma I that side had a Japanese friend I'm high school and refused to see him as an enemy after he was sent away, even though her principle told her she must think he was different and evil. That's an education there, right?). I get that China is a big country and easiest way to unite people is to have a common enemy. But the lack of self-awareness in Chinese citizen on this (though I am sure it is changing and, yes, based on very justifiable facts) do scare me. If we were to move forward as people, we need to be able to understand each other's viewpoints. Otherwise we are just gonna keep on I heritages hate against each other (and do consider that white-washing and revisionist history through education could go both ways).

  • anna_k

    Um. I'm from a country that was colonised by a Western nation, and I don't think you get to use that as an excuse for what happened during Japanese colonisation.

    Your entire comment is "other countries did this terrible thing so it's not as bad that Japan did this terrible thing, and look how Japan was a victim!", which isn't a good argument and is in fact exactly the kind of mindset that feeds these nationalistic tendencies.

    I think that Western imperialism was terrible, the Allied forces committed plenty of war crimes (Churchill killing 3 million citizens of my country of origin kind of stings, you know), and US internment of Japanese people was wrong and deeply racist.

    I also think that none of the things you name as "compounding reasons" in any way explain or justify the treatment of the Korean and Chinese people that Japan colonised, the tiniest portion of which they begrudgingly apologised for (see "comfort women"), an apology they're now trying to peddle back through, for example, suing in the courts to have Korean monuments to those women taken down as offensive to Japanese people. Which is so rage-inducing, I can't even.

    I notice you don't mention Korean people, and am interested in whether you think they also lack this "self-awareness" that would enlighten them about the justification for Japanese denial of war crimes (j/k I am not even slightly interested; please stop.)

    I have German friends who get Nazi jokes from ignorant people, which is terrible, so stupid and often hurtful, but I've yet to see them try to use that as a reason to understand a "German viewpoint" on WWII, or their filmmakers use it to defend making nostalgic "Germany in the 40s" films. If that starts to happen, I'll be just as disturbed by Germany's approach as I am by Japan's.

  • Yocean

  • Haystacks

    I think it is also has to do with the fact that Miyazaki was born in 1941, and we see our childhood (if they were happy) through a haze of nostalgia. It makes it harder to see that time period with an adults' eyes.
    Nostalgia is incredibly dangerous because it re-writes history from the perspective of someone who was safe at the time of dangerous things. All storytelling suffers from the weakness of the narrator. If Japan was taking Germany's route about the war - making it a priority not to forget the horrors- this lapse would be fine. In the greater context of a government whitewashing it's history, it can become part of the lie.

  • BWeaves

    It's not that much different from Americans who long for the simpler time of the 1950's, and forget the discrimination, segregation, communist witch hunts, etc. Still, I agree with you, and that's what bothers me about this film.

  • Yocean

    Thank you for this beautiful piece. Well written and touching. Just one correction. We do not see the actual Zero till the end, which is his most famous creation but not the plane of his ideal. Kyushi (or Ninth Prototype) was the white plane that flies at the end. They got different forms.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    I remember seeing an Mitsubishi A5M in the trailer. Is that the one?

  • Yocean

    Yes. Yes it is.

  • BWeaves

    I want to see this film. I love Studio Ghibli's realistic films more than the fantasy ones. The subject matter is troubling, but every film needs some tension. I love what Hayao Miyazaki does with water and rain and wind.

    P.S. I just saw the movie. It is visually stunning. However, it is very long, and I was uncomfortable with the subject matter. But my, what gorgeous animation.

  • foolsage

    Fair enough. I rather love the flights of fancy that Studio Ghibli indulges in, and how they show a uniquely Japanese take on fairy tales. The bathhouse in "Spirited Away" and the corruption demons in "Princess Mononoke" are great examples. To each their own. :)

  • F'mal DeHyde

    What you said.

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