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New Release Review - The Wind Rises

The farewell feature from cult Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.

Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring (English dub): Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, Mandy Patinkin, Werner Herzog, Jennifer Grey, William H Macy




After five minutes of viewing the English language dub of Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, the show was interrupted and an usher informed us that this was “the wrong version”. The film restarted with the subtitled Japanese language version. The transition took some getting used to as the English dub seemed very apt and well-written. Now that I see the cast list for the English language version, I’m especially curious to see how it would have played at full length.
The Wind Rises is an adaptation of a short story, The Wind has Risen by Tatsuo Hori, and is a fictionalised version of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the engineer who designed Japan’s fighter aircraft, which defined the aerial war effort in WWII for them. The film frames the development of these craft as the culmination of a life of dreaming about flight on the part of Jiro and doesn’t shy away, right from the very first scene, from indicating the ominous implications of their invention. The human cost of greater-than-human forces is prominent throughout the film, often quite stunningly illustrated in motion.
This is a Studio Ghibli production but it’s not a kid’s movie. This is more like something Orson Welles might have dreamed up if he were a budding engineer, instead of a stage magician. There are a few recurrent motifs that Ghibli fans will notice: machines with features reminiscent of animals, like the aircraft that features in the wordless opening sequence. In this sequence we also catch a glimpse of the featureless blank-eyed shadow-people and morphing/pulsating forms, which indicate the presence of corruption in films such as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, both also directed by Hayao Miyazaki.  These fantastic motifs are few and far between in The Wind Rises however, confined to dreams and interior moments. This movie is grounded and naturalistic.
Following Jiro from a composed and focused young boy, a dreamer obsessed with flight, into young adulthood and professional maturity, the film takes its time to provide detail and the relatable texture of the day-to-day. Japan, as it was on the cusp of modernity, is presented with leisurely detail. One of the strengths of the film is what might put some film-goers off: it really does take its time. Some might find this self indulgent but The Wind Rises is an epic, without any of the overt flashiness or trumpeting hype that word usually inspires. It’s a ‘director’s grand statement’ sort of a movie. Clocking in at a little over two hours long, and following an irregular novelistic pacing and time structure, the film is best taken on its own terms. This isn’t as challenging as it sounds on paper. It unfurls quite naturally on those own terms: we see characters grow and mature plausibly, as people.
The fact that it is florid bright animation helps keep the film from being boring. As a live-action feature, this would be a tough story to make fully convincing. In trying to imagine it so, I found myself thinking “Martin Scorcese tried this with The Aviator.” The two films are comparable but different (you couldn’t have two more different lead characters, for one thing). Miyazaki’s film also has the advantage of great visual beauty provided by a team of skilled animators. Studio Ghibli fans are spoiled in this sense however, and it will be interesting to see where this fits in the canon, where in the top ten lists.
There are other challenges in the watching: for some, the protagonist may seem a little too perfect, too composed and orderly in his thinking. This seems to be a deliberate choice, as Jiro is well-drawn as a character but in much the same way such a person might seem a bit dry in real life, he won’t be every viewer’s cup of tea. His bosses even joke about his endless composure.
Lastly, the film has an old-fashioned romance running through it, quite touchingly rendered but maybe too old-fashioned for some. For others, it will be the centre-point of the entire affair.
8/10


Rúairí Conneely

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