Jiro Horikoshi has always dreamed about building beautiful aircraft. As he grows up, he endeavors to realize this dream, and becomes one of the greatest designers Japan has ever known. However, despite his love for aircraft and his desire to see his dream designs come true, there is a problem: the production of these machines is inexorably tied to war, and although he wishes to fill his vehicles with passengers, Jiro instead faces the reality that his machines will be filled with weapons.
(bwahaha I bet you thought this wasn't going to be a legit review- WRONG)
The Wind Rises is a relatively rare breed: an animated historical fiction. It manages to perfectly blend historical events with fictional storytelling to create a compelling narrative. While events such as the Great Kyoto Earthquake of 1921 actually happened, and Jiro Horikoshi was the actual designer of the (in)famous Mitsubishi A5M (the primary Japanese fighter planes in World War II), other elements are mixed in to add character to the story. Jiro may have been opposed to using his planes in the war, but he did not have a wife diagnosed with tuberculosis, and did not have a younger sister.
All of this was so seemlessly integrated that I wasn't sure which elements were historical and which elements were fiction. Aside from the inclusion of outside elements, the actual events and social issues present within are excellent, and I as a western viewer was especially entranced with the Japanese viewpoint of the war. Since the movie primarily takes place in between the two World Wars, it also explores an almost forgotten period of time and provides a unique and appreciated perspective on these decades.
Taking historical figure and making compelling character development is something that is always challenging, and Miyazaki remedied this by taking a simply approach to his characterization of Jiro: he took one fact, that Jiro had been against using his planes for war, and then artistically interpreted the character. In this way, Jiro was made into someone far more relatable than possible otherwise, as Miyazaki was able to create HIS character, instead of artificially chaining himself.
I really enjoy when a protagonist is faced with a harsh reality similar to Jiro's, one in which their greatest dream ironically brings about their greatest fear. The paradoxical nature of Jiro's desire to build planes yet not use them for war was a primary internal conflict of the story, and although such a hope is not really possible, it was interesting to explore how the conflict affected him mentally and added weight to the themes throughout the movie.
In a classic Miyazaki move, we are given a classic Miyazaki romance. I greatly enjoyed the relationship between Nahoko and Jiro, and it was an excellent means of establishing a deeper connection between myself and the protagonist. Although it is true that similar elements from past works were used, it was actually quite fitting (and satisfying) for the final Miyazaki movie to feature such a couple. Sometimes sweet and simple is the best way to go.
Characters in General
I think one of the most impressive elements of The Wind Rises is the way that every single character involved in the story line is developed proportional to the amount of screen time they have, and not just that but they are developed well.
Everyone from the German defector Castorp to Nahoko's father are three-dimensional characters, and in the English dub actors such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Jiro) manage to perfectly capture their roles on a level not very common to English-dubbed anime. One that I liked in particular was Jiro's superior Kurokawa, who seemed in the beginning to be set up as an antagonist for Jiro but was almost immediately shown to be a caring, if slightly abrasive, individual who will do anything for his friends.
One of the most fascinating aspects of The Wind Rises is its focus on the building on planes, something that Miyazaki has always been a huge fan of. This fact is made clear in the movie, as a great amount of detail is given to the viewers as the Japanese attempt to design planes on level with the Germans even though they are decades behind at first. Everything from the drafting to the field testing is seen throughout the film, and the plane animations are, as expected, quite beautiful.
Mixing in Fantasy
Throughout his life, Jiro dreams of his hero, an Italian aircraft designer named Giovanni Battista Caproni. I loved these segments, as they push for deeper symbolism, help characterize Jiro's psyche, and are the most 'Ghibi' moments in the entire film. The shift from a fantasy world dream land to Jiro's actual life is an interesting twist, as his real life is never what he wants it to be in the dream world. This world follows him until the very end, and the final scenes are quite touching.
The first time I watched The Wind Rises, I remember checking how much of the movie was left towards the end and being shocked to see that there were only ten minutes remaining. How could such a story be sufficiently ended in so little time? In answer, it can. The conflicts all found resolutions, and arguably satisfying ones, at that.
However, I can't help but think that it could have been handled better if the movie had given more time for a resolution, because although The Wind Rises wraps things up, it does it so impressively for such little time that I really would have liked to see what Miyazaki would have done with another ten minutes.
The Wind Rises is an instant classic. It clearly portrays Miyazaki's passion for both planes and film-making, and has all of the classic Ghibli elements that make up a compelling story. While the ending could have been better in my mind, I have no doubt that this movie would be able to find a home in any home's television.
I apologize for any issues in the writing of this review, I was slightly rushed in writing it and will likely fix any errors in the future.
You're reading Ani-TAY, the anime-focused portion of Kotaku's community-run blog, Talk Amongst Yourselves. Ani-TAY is a non-professional blog whose writers love everything anime related. Click here to check us out.