20 February 2014

Review: The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises, if you believe director and animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, is to be the last film of his career. If that is the case, he will be leaving us with the most divisive work of his filmography.

Based loosely on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, The Wind Rises follows Jiro from his dreams of flying machines as a small boy to the man who created the Zero fighter. The film begins in a dream of Jiro's, the boy flying a plane in the sky with nary a care. Jiro's pleasant flight is ended quickly as German zeppelins infiltrate his dreams dropping bombs over the idyllic Japanese countryside.

Jiro's talents as an engineering student will be the only way for him to realize his dreams of flight. Inspired by Italian aero-designer Giovanni Caproni, Jiro aims to create some of the most innovative work known to mankind. Miyazaki's film chronicles Jiro's life starting from his childhood, to the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, through the Great Depression, and Japan's entrance into World War II.

Designing the Zero Fighter Plane was the sole devotion of Jiro's life -- he thinks of nothing else and does nothing else. Even in dreams he thinks only of his next project and simultaneously converses with Giovanni Caproni. Set about creating his masterpiece many scenes feature Jiro doing nothing more than humming and fiddling about with his slide rule. As such he is a blank canvas, any personality present is brought there by the viewer.

The Wind Rises is a beautiful looking film and the story of Jiro Horikoshi is an interesting one, but unfortunately Hayao Miyazaki's efforts ultimately fall short. Gorgeous animation and fanciful sound design aside, when it comes to actualizing Jiro's story onscreen, The Wind Rises risks alienating viewers with its depiction of events during the Second World War.

Jiro and Caproni discuss war and the cost is has on their dreams and ambitions, but they glide right over the cost of human life. Caproni chooses to overlook these details and compares their planes to the pyramids, saying he would rather live in a world with the Egyptian pyramids than without. Jiro aligns himself with this line of ideology, but he never questions whether the slaves who died making those pyramids might wonder if that creation was worth all of their lives.

With Jiro's moral dilemmas soothed, he doggedly pursues designing the next level machine for Mitsubishi. Director Miyazaki never mentions that the Zero Fighter itself was built by Chinese and Korean slave labor, a bit of information which colors that debate between Jiro and Caproni significantly. This incongruity with history, along with many others in the film, is hard to ignore and makes 'Wind' even harder to enjoy.

The depiction of Nazi bombs being dropped over Japan suggests that Jiro's country was a victim of Nazi Germany when, in reality, the two countries were allies. Many times The Wind Rises lays the groundwork, presenting Japan as defending the homeland when the reality is far different. That may not be Miyazaki's intention, but viewers might come to that conclusion given that Jiro never mourns the victims, only the planes. Even in an ill-advised bit of fictional romance, Jiro seems to exist more as a passer-by than a person concerned with Nahoko's ultimate care.

In trying to keep from angering his fellow countrymen, Miyazaki may have made Jiro's internal conflict as subtle as possible, but it feels like it just isn't there. What cements that feeling is that when Jiro visits his Zeroes in a field of wreckage, he laments not human life, but that more of his planes didn't return to him.

Hayao Miyazaki has been very vocal about the negative effects of ignoring the atrocities of WWII, but sadly, the point of view he means to focus The Wind Rises on fails to get that point home. Unfortunately the exceptional beauty of Miyazaki's hand-drawn work of is overshadowed by the circumstances. Miyazaki may have found a man of similar passion in Jiro Horikoshi, but in capturing that passion, he opened the door for many more interpretations than he intended.

The Wind Rises is a complex film and one sure to arouse many different feelings. I may not have liked it, but I highly recommend that you give it a shot and decide for yourself.