Recently on this site I reviewed Hayao Miyazaki's From Up on Poppy Hill, which I described as a superbly executed coming of age romance - a romance that happily manages to steer clear of the typical Amercianized banality of such genres to become something achingly beautiful.
As part of my continued mission to watch everything ever touched by Miyazaki, I was recently graced with being able to view his last film, The Wind Rises (PG-13, 2013). Having announced that he would retire from Studio Ghibli and from film-making in 2014, The Wind Rises thus represents Miyazaki's final and mature work - a legacy piece. Like From Up on Poppy Hill, achingly beautiful is an apt descriptor for The Wind Rises.
The Wind Rises is a historical fiction story loosely based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who invented the famous Japanese war plane used during World War II. I used the word "graced" when I think about my experience watching this film. It was utterly breathtaking, perhaps one of the best films I've ever seen in my life - and I don't just mean animation, but best films bar none. If Miyazaki was hoping to ride off into the sunset leaving a masterpiece behind, he was successful.
Two things before we start - first, don't be fooled by the fact that this is a cartoon. It's an adult movie; not because there is violence or gore, but because - well, it's simply an adult drama. I don't think kids would understand it. And second, yes it takes place in the World War II era and involves war planes but there is absolutely no combat and no bloodshed or violence. It is best described as an artistic-romantic drama.
"All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful."
This line is spoken by Jiro Horikoshi, protagonist of the film. Jiro is young man with a brilliant aptitude for everything to do with flight, but his shortsightedness makes it impossible for him to ever become a pilot. However, inspired by the Italian airplane designer Caproni (who appears in Jiro's dreams as a mentor throughout the film), Jiro becomes a plane engineer instead and goes on to be one of Japan's best.
Jiro's gift is unique; he is able to realize a union between spirit and flesh, between man and machine in his designs that make them exquisite. He sees man in flight as something profoundly beautiful, an exemplification of everything good about the human spirit. Flight as freedom, as the spirit soaring to its potential. It is for him a thing of beauty; Jiro approaches plane design the way we expect an artist to approach his masterpiece.
Unfortunately, Jiro lives in Japan in the years building up to World War II and he sees his beautiful dreams being increasingly co-opted by the military-industrial complex of imperial Japan. His most splendid creation, the Mitsubishi Zero, will end up being the plane used by Japan in World War II. As things become more turbulent, Jiro must find how to continue to find and pursue beauty in a hostile, ugly world.
This, on the surface, is what the movie is about. But then there is what the movie is "really" about. One film critic stated accurately that The Wind Rises is actually "a devastatingly honest lament for the corruption of beauty." Human artistic and intellectual potential corrupted by militarism; moral beauty corrupted by selfishness; natural beauty corrupted by physical sickness. Jiro has a unique insight to truly see and truly appreciate the beautiful things in life - and because he can truly appreciate the beautiful, he suffers more intensely when this beauty is marred. The film drives home the harsh difference between the beautiful ideal and the ugly reality and explores the impossibility of living in both.
The love story in this film is absolutely stirring - and heartbreaking.
But the wonderful thing about this film is that though Jiro suffers immensely, he is never jaded or bitter. He goes through hell, but he never loses sight of the beauty of life. This is a very wonderful quality about Miyazaki's work; his characters all have a sort of natural goodness that leads them in their difficulties. They are not Pollyanna's who never experience hurt or evil - by no means. But they are good people who remain steadfast in their goodness and use it to overcome. Jiro possesses this quality, such that even though the film ends in the nuclear holocaust that the war visited upon Japan, he is still able to recognize the beautiful and appreciate life for the good it does offer.
Visually this movie was stunning. Lots of bright blues and greens and excellent hand-drawn animation such as we have come to expect from Studio Ghibli. I am not an engineering type person, but the way they handled a lot of the technical stuff about the planes in this film made it very engaging. Please do not pass up this movie because you're "not into planes" or not interested in World War II. This film goes so much deeper than that. Trust me.
There are little things that in most films would be hum drum that Miyazaki is capable of making beautiful. Jiro and his fiance walking together in the rain with a broken umbrella. This single scene from The Wind Rises contains more depth and beauty than many entire movies. Miyazaki is a consummate story teller who knows how to connect with his audience. He knows romance, true romance. He knows beauty. He knows loss. He knows how to weave them all together with top-notch animation to make a perfect movie.
That's right, a perfect movie. Just thinking about this film makes me appreciate life more. It is gorgeously done and probably one of the best movies I have ever seen. The world has agreed; I don't put too much stake in industry accolades, but I was happy to see that this film won a multitude of awards.
I beg and implore you to watch this movie. It will stir your soul deeply.
Review by Boniface
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