Inspiration can be a difficult thing to depict on film. Not just because of its ethereal nature, but because it comes to every individual in a totally unique way. In Hayao Miyazaki’s fictionalized biography The Wind Rises, we follow Japanese aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi as he achieves his childhood goal of creating flying machines and meets love of...read more
Inspiration can be a difficult thing to depict on film. Not just because of its ethereal nature, but because it comes to every individual in a totally unique way. In Hayao Miyazaki’s fictionalized biography The Wind Rises, we follow Japanese aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi as he achieves his childhood goal of creating flying machines and meets love of his life. It’s a gorgeous, imaginative testament to the power of dreams (both literally and figuratively), as well as a thematically rich meditation on the internal conflict an artist experiences when a beautiful creation is used for something other than what it was intended for.
Inspired by both the classic Japanese novel Kaze Tachinu and the life of Mitsubishi A5M Zero designer Jiro Horikoshi, The Wind Rises introduces us to Jiro (voice of Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in his formative years as his lifelong love affair with airplanes is beginning to blossom. While learning English so he can read all of the latest aviation journals, Jiro starts having dreams in which his hero, Italian aeronautical genius Giovanni Battista Caproni, encourages him to pursue his passion. Later, the young engineer leaves home to study in Tokyo, though the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 devastates central Honshu one day as he’s returning to the city by train. It’s during that fateful ride that Jiro meets Naoko (Emily Blunt), a young woman who breaks her leg in the crash that results from the quake. After helping her reach her family, Jiro hastily races back to the university and tries to save the library collection from going up in flames.
Some time later, Jiro is hired to help design a fighter plane for a prominent airplane manufacturer. But the project fails, and the engineer is sent to Germany to study the sturdy, all-metal designs of Hugo Junkers. When a subsequent promotion leads to another disheartening failure, Jiro retreats to a summer resort in Nagano, where he once again crosses paths with Naoko. The pair soon decide to marry, though Naoko is stricken with tuberculosis -- the same affliction that claimed her mother. As Jiro goes to work designing a plane for a Navy competition, Naoko attempts to recover in a secluded sanatorium; however, she is unable to remain separated from her love for long, and quickly returns to Jiro. Despite her rapidly deteriorating health, Naoko inspires her loving husband as he strives to complete his work on the A5M.
Prior to the release of The Wind Rises, many Miyazaki fans were disheartened to hear him announce that the picture would be his last as a director. Others, convinced that the celebrated filmmaker has become something of a serial retiree since making the same announcement with the release of 1997’s Princess Mononoke, remain less convinced. Whatever the case may be, if The Wind Rises is indeed Miyazaki’s cinematic send-off, it would be both a fitting and respectable one. The virtual antithesis of Miyazaki’s last directorial effort -- 2008’s delightful yet uncharacteristically simple Ponyo -- this beautifully detailed biography is a mature drama that deals with subject matter that, were it not for the dazzling traditional animation, would put most viewers under 12 to sleep. Even then, the prevailing themes of love and loss, as well as the historical nature of the movie, may prove tedious for younger fans, yet others who have grown with the director’s work over the years will likely find it as affecting as anything in Miyazaki’s consistently strong filmography.
And though even the most dedicated of Miyazaki fans may have initially lamented his decision to turn away from fantasy in what might be his final feature, the director still manages to inject the fantastical into the story courtesy of the dreams in which Jiro calls on the wisdom of his spiritual mentor Caproni. These scenes, with their philosophical approach to the nature of creation and inspiration, aren’t merely window dressing: They drive the story as much as they reveal Jiro’s true character. An engineer with the soul of an artist, his gentle benevolence stands in stark (yet not ironic) contrast to the fact that his beautiful designs would ultimately be used for something as terrible as the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Likewise, the love affair between Jiro and Naoko earns our sympathy not just due to its melodramatic nature, but because our understanding of the history between these two people makes us want to see them together. Supporting characters, such as Jiro’s best friend Honjo (John Krasinski), their temperamental yet kindhearted boss Kurokawa (Martin Short), Caproni (Stanley Tucci), Jiro’s younger sister Kayo (Mae Whitman), and mysterious German Castorp (Werner Herzog), also serve the story well, and once again offer testament to the strengths of scrupulous dubbing.
In an early dream sequence, the Italian master Caproni confides in his young admirer Jiro that any great artist only has ten years of creativity. If that is indeed true, then Miyazaki is something more than a great artist since he’s given us more than three decades of magic and wonder. Later, Caproni exclaims that, “Airplanes are beautiful dreams, and engineers turn dreams into reality!” Miyazaki no doubt knows a thing or two about that magical process, and, if we’re really lucky, maybe he’ll keep sharing his dreams with us.
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