Synopsis: Hayao Miyazaki’s final movie for Studio Ghibli is The Wind Rises, which features Jiro Horikoshi. Jiro has dreamed of flight since he was younger and took that passion into a career in aeronautical engineering where he would develop the Mitsubishi A5M and the Mitsubishi A6M ‘Zero’ used in World War II. This film goes into details about his life and his influences.
Art: Not as wild as previous Miyazaki works, but fitting given the story.
Jiro: His dreams bring forth much tragedy.
Side characters: Their perspective covers Jiro’s blind spots.
Hayao Miyazaki’s Swan Song: An excellent finish to a wonderful career.
Wind Rises Review
The Wind Rises takes the complexities and contradictions of the human condition and lays it bare for all to see. The story centers on Jiro Horikoshi, a dreamer and idealist seeking to create beautiful airplanes. But these lofty ambitions are tainted by their use in war to slaughter countless people. It is this personal conflict in which Jiro’s story is told, yielding a powerful finale to Hayao Miyazaki’s career.
The tragedy that unfolds is borne by a single-minded passion that borders on the obsessive. In it, we see a man possessed by the desire to steer Japanese aviation to greater heights. His head is constantly in the clouds where, in dreams, he meets and talks to his idol, the Italian Count and aviation pioneer Giovanni Caproni. The Count serves as a source of inspiration, but also a voice that alerts Jiro of what he’s in for should he pursue his dream to the end. The film does an excellent job in framing this dilemma when Caproni compares the beautiful and ugly sides of Jiro’s dream to the Pyramids.
Nevertheless, Jiro’s passion drives him forward, earning him the admiration of his superiors, but leaving him seemingly apathetic to events around him. That his focus so supersedes everything else elicits much admiration and consternation, but in the end, it makes him very human.
Jiro’s seeming unawareness is counterbalanced by an excellent supporting cast. Of those, John Krasinski’s performance as Kiro Honjo is one of the film’s brightest spots. Honjo, an engineer and Jiro’s friend, serves as the voice of cynicism throughout the film, verbalizing the misgivings in the audience’s mind. Stanley Tucci, as the showy Count Caproni, also does an excellent job in his role as Jiro’s spiritual guide, showing him not only what’s possible, but also the pains his conscience will have to endure.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the film is the relationship between Jiro and his wife Naoko. The courtship plays out in a manner typical of that in the Taisho era, but it adds a symbolic layer to the duality of Jiro’s dreams. In the film, we see her, beautiful and understanding, but also fragile and delicate. And the closer Jiro is to designing Japan’s aerial war machine, the closer the two experience tragedy. Her parting words near the end of the film nail the moral underpinnings of Jiro’s pursuits, making for a wonderful, bittersweet finale.
The landscapes, comparatively speaking, are tame for a Miyazaki film. They feature none of the flourishes of Ponyo‘s underwater sceneries, the fantastic workings of the titular castle in Howl’s Moving Castle, nor the evocative locales in Spirited Away. Instead, one notable scene sees the ground roiling about violently in Miyazaki’s depiction of the Great Kantō Earthquake in 1923. And then there’s Miyazaki’s love for aviation, which comes to life in the elaborate, ribboned constructions of Count Caproni’s aircraft and the practical and deadly designs of Jiro’s planes. The use of color is also fitting as the browns and grays of ash and rubble paint the extent of the destructive results of both the earthquake and Japan’s military incursions.
In looking at Hayao Miyazaki’s filmography, we find works that have ranged from the whimsical to the fantastic, but all touch deeply upon humanity’s capacity to soar to great heights as well as the frailties that lay them low. The Wind Rises is a culmination of all these elements. It leaves us with a profound sense of loss as we keenly feel the tragedy that Jiro bears. But it also instills a sense of sorrow as we bid farewell to a master of his craft.