Review: Miyazaki's THE WIND RISES (KAZE TACHINU), A Stunning, Somber Work

Anticipation levels are always high with the release of a new Studio Ghibili movie, and even higher when the director and writer is the father of the company and man behind its best works, Miyazaki Hayao.

While Miyazaki's previous two works, Howl's Moving Castle and Ponyo contained fantastical elements and were based on story's for children, The Wind Rises (aka Kaze Tachinu) is a fictionalized biography of engineer Horikoshi Jiro, who designed the Zero fighter aircraft, which was devastatingly effective in the early days of World War Two. As a result of its 1920's/30's real world setting and overtones of the coming war it is stylistically reminiscent of Takahata Isao's Grave of the Fireflies, though it's not quite as harrowing as that masterpiece.

The film opens with Jiro as a young boy who dreams of flying, and we follow him as he moves away to study engineering and eventually enters the Mitsubishi Company getting the chance to fulfill his dream of designing planes.
 
It's hard to think of something original to say about the animation, it's as beautiful as Ghibili's work always is. The film is instantly recognizable as a Ghibili production, especially in the character design and attention to detail. Swirls of smoke and dancing shadows are some of the neat touches that bring these pictures to life. What is perhaps unique is the extensive use of long shots to capture a single character surrounded by a mass of green or a clear blue sky or a train hurtling through the countryside. A stunning sequence of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and panoramic shots of cramped and cluttered wooden towns, really give the film an epic quality and anchor it all so firmly in its time and place. The painted backgrounds in these sequences and throughout the movie are simply beautiful, especially when seen on a huge cinema screen.

Miyazaki has a well documented interest in aviation and it's visible all over his films, from the flying machines in his early hit Laputa (Castle In The Sky), to the sea-planes of Porco Rosso and the little boy with his pilot dreams in Kiki's Delivery Service. Having had so much practice it's no surprise that the flying sections in The Wind Rises are some of the most visually impressive, especially when reality is blurred as Jiro's mind slips into fantastical dreams of flying.

This film, despite all the visual similarities, is very different from Miyazaki's previous efforts. Basically the story is of a man in a company who works very hard. The film works best for the first hour, with Jiro as a boy and then a young man where fantasy and reality are mixed in his innocent dreams. We see as he soars through the air and is guided by conversations with his hero, Italian designer Caproni. Even in these sections the shadow of war is a dark cloud on the horizon. One of Jiro's dreams is interrupted by a squadron of shapeless black monsters attacking his aerial adventures and from this point on the military presence increases.

Despite the frequent flights into fantasy The Wind Rises is a film very much bound in reality, which may make it a struggle for younger audiences as the subject matter is fairly serious stuff and it gets quite wordy later on. It also features levels of smoking which would put Don Draper to shame. The film attempts to skirt the topic of the war with characters insisting their ambitions are only in designing beautiful planes, however there is no ambiguity in what these planes were used for. A touching romance helps lend the film a softer edge, although I couldn't shake the feeling that there was something off about a film on the life of the man who designed a plane for the Japanese Imperial Army, no matter how innocent the intent (Ghibili's or Jiro's).
 
The Wind Rises has the feel of a historical biography which could very easily have been made as a live-action feature. It's hugely impressive that such a film could be made on this scale, and Studio Ghibili is perhaps the only company who could, or would, even attempt it. With this being such a unique feature for them it will be interesting to see where the film eventually ends up on the list of the studio's best. This is an extremely interesting film and a bold move for the animation studio. The story itself could have been made in many different ways, but never would have looked as stunning as it does by Miyazaki's hand. 
Around the Internet:
  • cinesimonj

    "I couldn't shake the feeling that there was something off about a film on the life of the man who designed a plane for the Japanese Imperial Army, no matter how innocent the outcome"

    I wonder if the reviewer would have the same feeling about an film about an American airplane designer.

  • japanvictimofwar2?=_=

    The truth is that zero fighter was originally disigned for war.and I can't agree jiro as innocent dream chasing young man. wonder this film can give wrong historical concept to children;;

  • cinesimonj

    Oh for goodness sake. You have already forgotten what children are? And of course, Jiro was a psychic as a child, and KNEW his dreams were all about building a war machine.

  • Lia

    "I couldn't shake the feeling that there was something off about a film on the life of the man who designed a plane for the Japanese Imperial Army, no matter how innocent the outcome"

    This line ruined this article for me. I know it's the reviewer's opinion, but this should not be a factor that detracts from the experience of the movie, and definitely should not count against it.

  • Keshni Krisithika

    Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away were the best for me, nothing comes closer. Totoro was cute.

  • tellm

    Miyazaki-san is currently exposed to criticism from both right-left wing people and stupid media, but what he wanted to show is a story about a man who wanted to create a beautiful thing.

  • Neil Clingerman

    Miyazaki the father of the studio? He's a fine filmmaker, but I really feel he'd be nowhere near as brilliant if it wasn't for the trailblazing work of his mentor and co-founder of Studio Ghibli, Isao Takahata, who, consequently, also has a film coming out this year :)

  • Harry

    'While Miyazaki's previous two works ... were based on story's for children' should be 'stories', not 'story's'.

  • GrammarFreak

    But otherwise, great review. Can't wait to see it!

  • GrammarFreak

    "were based on story's for children" --> stories

  • CS

    I'm not suprised about the WW2 stuff. I've read so many Japanese books and seen so many Japanese films that are based in the 30s/40s era and it's always stunning they completely sidestep the issue and pretend like nothing was going on then.

    It doesn't stop me enjoying said works, but I do always raise an eyebrow.

  • Josh Leitzel

    Miyazaki intentionally avoided focusing on the war because he felt that there was already enough war and destruction that you could easily see in the world currently. He wanted to focus on the life of Jiro, his relationships and the use of his creations against his wishes. Not on WWII.

  • a Black Hood

    I want to own every Studio Ghibli film ever made.

  • Boss

    i do =)

  • a Black Hood

    Lucky.

  • Ninja_Toes

    That second to last paragraph is what I feared most for this film - that people would come into it with pre-conceived ideas and emotions about the war and let it colour the depiction of events relating directly to it. If the characters in the film come off idealistic and naïve about their designs then maybe that is actually authentic. Hindsight is wonderful, but if the film is an honest attempt to depict how these people likely felt, then I can go with it.

    As an example, I know some people who don't like Grave of the Fireflies because it paints "the bad guys" in a sympathetic light and ignores all of the nasty things the Imperial army did in the Pacific. They'd already made up their minds before the opening credits.
    I can't yet speak for the tone of this film, but I have faith in Miyazaki, so I have faith that this film will strike the right cord.

  • osamu

    Grave of the Fireflies is directed by Takahata but not by Hayao Miyazak. You may see this movie as patriotic but I just want you to know that he hates nationalism to the bottom of his soul. I hope some of his writings will be translated in English.

  • osamu

    Oh, I shouldn't have added this comment on your post. It looks like Im countering your comment. No, I agree with your comment NikMak.

  • Ninja_Toes

    No worries

  • loco_loco

    "The film works best for the first hour, with Jiro as a boy and then a
    young man where fantasy and reality are mixed in his innocent dreams."

    I wonder how the film works for the mid and last hour...

  • DeathDealer

    You do know his name is Hayao Miyazaki, and not the other way around. Regardless of how it is written or spoken in Japanese, you are writing in English, and therefore should adapt accordingly.

  • Unless someone has specifically adopted a westernized name for themselves Twitch has a policy of presenting names as they're used in their country of origin. If that's what their mother calls them, that's what we call them. We see it as a sign of respect.

  • b

    His name is Miyazaki Hayao. Reversing the names to fit Western conventions is an out-dated convention that's borderline racist.

  • King_Leer

    And it's borderline irresponsible to throw a loaded term like "racist" into a discussion of semantics. Such hyperbole is completely unnecessary.

  • DeathDealer

    If you think adapting a name for western context is racist, I think you better look up what the word means. I mean even the official website, http://www.studioghibli.net/ when writing in English adapts his name accordingly. I know it might sound very authentic and scholarly to say Miyazaki Hayao, but that's about as far as it goes.

  • adj

    Japanese people don't switch the names of Western celebrities around. I don't see the point, honestly; it just seems like an exercise in ethnocentrism. Is it really going to hurt anybody to encounter the naming customs of another culture?

  • Drithien

    It's not about "hurting anyone"; but about confusing people. It's unnecessary to do it. And who cares what some of the japanese people do when they speak? It's just a matter of clarity. When addressing a western audience it's better to do it in a way that they can understand things. Has nothing to do with ethnocentrism (English is not even my native language for me to care), and certainly not racism, that's just ridiculous.

    Reagrdless, nice review. I was going to watch the movie anyway, since it's from Ghibli Studios, but it's good to know it will be another good effort.

  • adj

    Miyazaki Hayao. Hayao Miyazaki. I wonder if these could possibly be the same person??? It's not like there are any contextual clues to help me. Oh my god I'm so confused!

  • Ard Vijn

    Jealous doesn't begin to describe how I feel. Great review, Christopher!

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