After what seemed like an eternity, Hayao Miyazaki’s final film, The Wind Rises, finally made its way to US theaters en masse this past weekend.
Based on real-life events, The Wind Rises is Miyazaki’s version of a biopic. While not an exhaustive, beginning-to-end account, it follows the life of Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese aeronautical engineer who was responsible for designing many of the planes used by Japan during World War II.
Unlike Miyazaki’s previous works, this particular film is void of any fantasy elements, barring the occasional dream sequence. But as is the case with many of his movies, his fascination with flight is obvious, and in this film, plays an integral role throughout.
In a world full of naysayers, cynics and bitterness, Hayao Miyazaki, in a style uniquely his own, perfectly encapsulates the best aspects of humanity. He focuses on pure, childlike innocence, fascination, hope, joy and love. When you watch his films, you understand that he wants to believe the best in people, which can be an incredibly hard thing to do.
The 73-year-old filmmaker has been heavily criticized by people on both ends of the political spectrum for his decision to focus his movie around a figure so heavily involved in such a controversial period in history. Many in Asia have labeled the film “a celebration of Japanese military aggression” because of its focus on a man who “built killing machines,” while a loud minority in Japan have blasted Miyazaki and his final picture for being “traitorous” and “anti-Japanese” because of the film’s pacifist message.
In an interview with Cut Magazine in 2011, Miyazaki said, “My wife and my staff would ask me, ‘Why make a story about a man who made weapons of war?’ And I thought they were right. But one day, I heard that Horikoshi had once murmured, ‘All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful.’ And then I knew I’d found my subject.”
And that’s really what this movie is all about — a boy-turned-man, fixated on a goal, chasing his childhood dreams — not politics, bureaucracy, ideologies or warfare. It is equal parts silly, serious and sad. And while Miyazaki and his famed animation house, Studio Ghibli, are known for their kid-friendly films, The Wind Rises will fly right over the heads of any children watching. It’s not necessarily inappropriate for kids, but the subject matter — and all that it references — is simply of a nature kids aren’t intellectually prepared for. From a kid’s perspective, the film is probably beautiful but boring.
From an adult point of view (I guess I’m an adult, right?), or at least my point of view, The Wind Rises is wonderful, and a fitting end to an illustrious career — a career solidifying Hayao Miyazaki as my single favorite filmmaker of all time. Back in September, I chronicled my journey to discovering him.
I admit, I get a little teary-eyed when I think that he’s told his last story, but I can’t be too upset, because as fans of his work, we’ve been provided an embarrassment of riches. And it’s because of Miyazaki’s relentless effort as an illustrator and storyteller that we have so many wonderful films that we can go back to, time and time again. In this way, Miyazaki and his fervor remind me of Jiro.
Often, Jiro gets lost in thought while poring over his work. He is so passionate about what he’s pursuing, and in turn, does not get distracted. He is focused and driven by his dreams. It reminds me of just how much I wish I were the same. I wish I had something I were that passionate about. That said, it seems it must have been easier for people to become absorbed in their work when they didn’t have countless distractions literally at their fingertips. But I had no trouble immersing myself in the movie. It was engrossing.
And a major reason for that is the always-gorgeous animation of Studio Ghibli. It is one of the last true purveyors of hand-drawn animation. Not even Disney — who for decades was renowned the world over for its beautiful hand-drawn animation — is a proponent of the style any longer. They basically shut down their hand-drawn animation studio just last year.
As much as I love computer-generated animation and the newer use of digital ink and paint, I’ll always love traditional hand-drawn animation the most. There’s an organic feel to hand-drawn cartoons that can’t be replicated with the use of computers and digital tools. As gorgeous and clean as Ghibli’s work is, it’s the minor, nuanced imperfections in cel animation that give it the look of having been crafted by hand — it’s because it literally was.
The beauty of each and every painstakingly detailed frame is not lost on this viewer. The environments, whether forest, city or sky, are truly a marvel to observe. The characters, with their distinct Ghibli style, are always so full of personality and life. I have to believe the studio’s dedication to the tried-and-true approach to animation is largely responsible.
Often times, many newer cartoons look too perfect and sometimes almost sterile. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it takes away the sense that a human being poured themselves into developing the heart and soul of the animation.
For a short time, Studio Ghibli had its own computer animation division, but it was short-lived. With Miyazaki stepping back, I only hope Ghibli continues with the guiding principles he and Isao Takahata laid out decades ago. With Hayao’s son, Gorō Miyazaki, taking an integral role within the company, I believe these foundations are not apt to change.
But in addition to a wonderful script and beautiful animation, The Wind Rises also features fantastic voice work by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski and Emily Blunt (Krasinski’s real-life wife), among others. Disney has distributed most of Ghibli’s American releases in recent years, and they’ve consistently done a stellar job of adapting the script and casting voice actors.
And of course, no Studio Ghibli film would be complete without the final, delicate touch of a score composed by the legendary Joe Hisaishi (okay, there are a few Ghibli films he didn’t work on, but only a few), and The Wind Rises is no exception. As always, Hisaishi perfectly sets the tone with his atmospheric and nuanced compositions. His music is just as important to the film as any other aspect.
I’m not sure I ever do a great job of articulating my thoughts on a movie, at least to someone who’s yet to see it, because I never want to give anything away. My hope is that I can convey the general premise of the film, its tone, and my feelings towards the film while leaving all the best for you to discover when you watch it yourself.
The best way I know to put it, is to say, if you like good movies, I have to think you’ll like The Wind Rises.