風立ちぬ (Kaze Tachinu) or The Wind Rises is a sweeping animated epic and swan song of the great Studio Ghibli co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki. From the protagonist’s beautifully animated ascent to the roof of his house to the organic, almost biological way engines burst to life, one can see from the get go that this is undeniably a Miyazaki feature. Couple the eye candy with longtime collaborator Joe Hisaishi‘s musical compositions that always evoke the right emotions at the right time, and one is treated to a veritable feast for the senses. We could stop right here and it would be just fine for most people. Let me, however, delve into a deeper analysis of an increasingly oft-overlooked yet essential element.
The story is a complex mix of different genres; one which Miyazaki himself admitted he also drew from a variety of sources. In that regard, I have a lot of admiration for this man. He is an animator first and is well aware of this. There is no pretense of mastery over the art of storytelling for him.
Having said that though, I still think Miyazaki-san could’ve and should’ve done better. For someone who came up with 風の谷のナウシカ (Kaze no Tani no Naushika) or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind way back in 1984 and もののけ姫 (Mononoke-hime) or Princess Mononoke in 1997, Miyazaki felt as old as he biologically is in The Wind Rises. I felt it tried to cover too much that it ended up spread out too thinly. Unlike the earlier two which tackled strong, almost singular and convergent values, The Wind Rises was a convolution of messages strewn all over the screen.
We get to see Miyazaki-san’s anti-war stance, which, it should be noted, took a full twenty six years after Isao Takahata went public with his with the much more straightforward 火垂るの墓 (Hotaru no haka) or Grave of the Fireflies; we see Miyazaki celebrate aviation, as it is one of his most enduring passions and is quite the influence over almost anything Studio Ghibli (the studio’s name itself was an Italian plane’s nickname); we also see an ode to creative eccentricity through the many sequences where answers are divined through dreams that somehow weave seamlessly into reality – sequences which, I think, are more of Miyazaki’s projections than actual processes employed by the historical Horikoshi himself; we see how Miyazaki nods to his Italian hero in aviation, to the author who wrote the novel upon which the film is based, and even to Thomas Mann and his Magic Mountain, which shares some parallels with the film’s plot; and we even see scenes which seemed designed to justify smoking or, at the very least, attempt to make us empathize with smokers.
In short, The Wind Rises could be anything to anyone. It can pass off as a tragic love story or a highly fictionalized biography of an engineering genius or a reflection on war and natural disasters, and what such events could do to anybody anywhere at any given time. How one of these The Wind Rises happens to be more of than it is the other, is completely up to the viewer.
But what it consistently was above all was how Miyazaki-san wanted these things to be if it was all up to him. Like how a love story should always be a romantic submission of a pure and willing girl to the values, principles and desires of her completely benevolent and able partner, or how genius should always manifest itself the way Miyazaki-san had always known it to: through dreams or dream-like states of being, obsessive focus verging on eccentricity and a severely regimented lifestyle among other traits and habits, or how war is always something negative and should never be an option.
The Wind Rises, then, is more about Miyazaki-san than about anything else. It is his personal fantasy, finally realized on the big screen for all to see. If one looks at it that way, it’s damn impressive and quite the fitting capstone. Without that kind of distinction though, it crumbles as a film compared to the excellence he managed to deliver before.
To sum it up then, I was kind of disappointed and, contrary to popular opinion, thought The Wind Rises wasn’t such a great swan song for someone like Hayao Miyazaki. I know he could’ve done better if he wasn’t so full of himself or so done with it all the time he made it. He could’ve given us the greatest lesson or the greatest story to bid farewell with. He can do that much, you know. Instead, he gave us something similar to Plato’s Republic: well-meant solutions that didn’t care to address their more negative impact on a society or an individual. Difference was Plato’s views were pioneering during his time, Miyazaki’s just being the stubborn old man he is today. What’s worse is there’s an overwhelming sense of a “take it or leave it” attitude permeating the film just because it was his last. Ugh. Didn’t expect such an illustrious, widely-respected career would end on such a sour, polarizing note. But yeah, his life, his choices.
It still was a great film though, as far as most go nowadays. So yeah, no real complaints here, just fanboy nitpicking. Do watch it if you can, before Disney comes up with more draconian terms for viewing/showing animated feature films. Now that’s a genuinely sad fact we all have to accept one of these days.
Director: Hayao Miyazaki | Producer: Toshio Suzuki | Writer: Hayao Miyazaki (manga & screenplay) | Cast: Hideaki Anno Miori Takimoto Mansai Nomura Mirai Shida Masahiko Nishimura Hidetoshi Nishijima | Music: Joe Hisaishi Suminobu Hamada (music engineer/mixer) | Art Direction: Yoji Takeshige | Sound: Koji Kasamatsu Eriko Kimura | Production: Studio Ghibli | Distribution: Toho Company (Japan) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (US) |Year: 2013 | Length: 126′ | Genre: Anime | Spoken Language: Japanese | Subtitles: English | Country: Japan