The Wind Rises explores the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II. A story primarily driven by it metaphors to display it character passion more so than with actual words. Grounded in reality to illustrate Jiro has a career goal set in sight, but rather aimless when it comes to his personal life. This aimless drive translates to the free flowing pacing moving from year to year. It never specifies specifically what year scenes or an act takes place in its insistent to flow like the wind. Much like the usage of it wind plot device, the pacing only ever stops moving forward when an historical event becomes invasive. Intruding on Jiro’s passion alluding the negative implications of his creations. Jiro ponders the impact his creation has, but never explicitly told to the audience what those thoughts are. The film has an encouraging complexity that results in occupying this troubling space, with the idea that art has an inherent potency and power that, like anything that contains embedded energy, can be manipulated or misused by the hands of its beholder. Structuring it whole story where opposing views of Jiro’s creation and how Jiro sees his own work is understood. Sometimes in order in order to make a plane fly you need to compromise parts before it can soar. A work ethic that Jiro takes to heart even in his personal life.
In my book I have no problem giving this a perfect rating as a visual piece of art representing it subject in great metaphorical detail, but if I were to do so would be at the cost of hiding it weakness of any worthwhile characterization. It’s to care for the passion Jiro has for his crafts to create planes regardless the world general views towards him. However, Jiro himself is not an engaging character getting a facet of a man. Never feeling what Jiro feels when he falls in love, heartbroken by a failed test flight, and enthusiasm when viewing the possibilities to improve his plane designs. His romance transition from friends to lover is abrupt when brought into the picture. The film intention is to explore a man’s life who is defined by his for his crafts, even if it means undermining the bigger picture of the world he was involved in.
The art style mixes traditional hand drawn animation with impressionist-style backdrops that are gorgeously jaw-dropping. Many shots could be paused, framed, and hung up in an art museum, but the subtle animation only adds to their allure. Miyazaki has never cared much for “realistic” animation of human figures; they are abstracted into giant-eyed doll faces and stiff legs, as if trudging on stilts. The director expresses his true artistry in his landscapes: rural vistas rendered in the most delicate pastels, like the watercolors Naoko paints as Jiro courts her. In a hard land heading to war, Miyazaki makes sure the views are ravishing. The visual style sets a pleasant and whimsical tone that creates the impression that the film is a representation of the fantasy within the head of a dreamer.
The English dub voice acting is pleasant and natural, with Joseph Gordon-Leavitt as a hushed, contemplative lead who we see squirming in his tight spot and Emily Blunt doing admirably as love interest Naoko. Supporting cast includes John Krasinski pleasantly snarky designer Kiro Honjo, Martin Short is fantastic as Jiro’s tough-but-fair supervisor Kurokawa, and Stanley Tucci is excellent as Caproni. The most interesting stunt casting job in the English dub is famous German director Werner Herzog as dissident German engineer Castorp; given the themes of Herzog’s own films (uniquely talented people seeking impossible dreams) this feels brilliantly salient. In the original Japanese audio, the standout here is the very surprising male lead – Jiro is played by none other than director Hideaki Anno. Yes, the Hideaki Anno creator of “Neon Genesis Evangelion”. Talk about perfect casting when it comes to misunderstood artistic expressions. Anno’s nuanced, understated performance really works well for the role. Casting is otherwise, uniformly excellent; the only remotely questionable casting choice here would be the still-serviceable Stephen Alpert as Castorp, with a noticeable American rather than German accent.
The Wind Rises doesn’t give much attention the background events rather is exclusively focus on a man’s passion for his crafts and how the usage of art reflect different views. Gone is Miyazaki child like wonder replaced by a harsh reality no matter how appreciative or hated a piece of art is will never be able to see it in the same way as it creator. Many of Miyazaki fans will question why he would end a career filled with rich fantasy world end with a final most resembling reality, but in doing so would distract from how Miyazaki represented himself through The Wind Rises.
Historical Accuracy: Reality vs. Artistic Expression
It wasn’t easy nor necessary, but hey historical research is fun for me (sometimes). Much of the film material is derived from the autobiography “The Story of the Zero Fighter” which is 80% plane design ideas, measurements and stories surrounding Jiro’s career. There’s so much focus on the construction of the planes there’s a measly 20% left for autobiographical material. This is an obvious indicator of his unrivaled passion for the flying machines, something which is brought to the screen perfectly. The majority of the information about the challenges Jiro met while designing his planes; the adventures he pursued as part of his work (traveling the world, mentoring students) and the thrill of watching test flights seem like they’re taken straight from the book. Viewers may have only witnessed his travels to Germany, but he also visited England, France and America in the first five years of his career at Mitsubishi.
One crucial element Miyazaki left out when translating these ideas to film was the self-doubt Jiro experienced while he integrated himself into the company. Horikoshi distinctly recalls wondering why his employers would want an inexperienced guy in charge of creating their planes. The first ten minutes are fairly accurate to Jiro life, but rather unlikely he would stand up to a bully and get into a fist fight. Another early departure in accuracy is the 1923 Japanese Earthquake which Jiro never experience or even mentioned in his memoir. Instead of being inspired by Caproni the real life Jiro decided to pursue planes in University after talking to a friend of his brother, whom was a professor at the newly created Department of Aeronautics in Tokyo. Like most teens he had no idea what he wanted to do, and that was the tipping point. Sadly, there is no mention of Jiro’s brother besides this.
To sum it up, Hayao Miyazaki took liberty to heart when it came to telling Jiro Horikoshi life story. Unless you do your research (or read his autobiography) you won’t really learn much about the actual Jiro Horikoshi from this film, but you get an accurate portrayal of this man undying passions for his crafts. So did this affect my rating of the film? You’re joking right? If the worst thing I could say about a film is that it fabricate a piece of reality than what’s the point of me experiencing the medium if it’s integral to it creations.