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.
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.