ANIME & MANGA - Review
12:00 - 22nd November 2014, by Andrew Osmond

The Wind Rises

The first news about Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, before we knew its name, was the fact that it would be an ‘autobiography.’ Naturally, fans were perplexed. Would Miyazaki really confine himself to reality? As it turned out, no. The Wind Rises still has lots of fantasy scenes, involving – surprise – wondrous, oversized aeroplanes, which people walk and climb over while gazing down upon gorgeous green landscapes. So far, so Miyazaki.

The main character in The Wind Rises is a real person, the Japanese plane designer Jiro Horikoshi, and the focus is on his career in the build-up to World War II. And yet except for his planes, pretty much everything about Jiro is made up for the film. Ostensibly Wind Rises is taken from Horikoshi’s memoir, Eagles of Mitsubishi, yet it’s very tempting to see it as Miyazaki’s own fantasy autobiography. The anime Jiro is a geek dreaming at a desk, but he’s cool and courageous in a terrible earthquake, looking like nothing so much as Ashitaka from Princess Mononoke. By turns dashing or self-deprecatingly Chaplinesque, Jiro is adored by pretty girls and adores them in turn, like Porco Rosso with a nine-to-five and shorn of his snout.

Like all Miyazaki’s films this century, the story is hard to process. We start with Jiro as a cute boy, dreaming of a flamboyant Italian designer-magician – Jiro’s hero – who proclaims the beauty of cursed dreams and builds superplanes which collapse like beautiful overloaded wedding cakes. Meanwhile, a Spielbergian shock-and-awe sequence dwarfs Mononoke. The adult Jiro is caught up in the historic Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, pulling a girl through hundreds of milling Tokyo extras under fire-blackened skies.

And then there’s the duller stuff. Jiro works, researches, travels on behalf of a company desperate to make Japanese planes credible in a world market, a search we know will lead to Pearl Harbour (not that that’s shown). There’s substance here, with political points made overtly or subtly, and excitement and foreboding in sights like a brutally massive, cutting-edge, Nazi Germany bomber. But this part of the film demands a huge switch in interest by the viewers, from screen-filling spectacle and a modestly charming hero to lessons in historic geo-politics.

In the second half, the earthquake strand is picked up again, many years later. A lush love story begins, with another ‘magician’ – a mysterious, overbearingly twinkly German, brilliantly animated – playing matchmaker at a mountain resort. Until this point in the film, Jiro is presented as a boyish, shortsighted geek, voiced in Japanese in the dry, guileless tones of world-famous otaku Hideaki Anno. Now Jiro becomes a passionate lover, borrowing some of his patriarchs’ magic. We even glimpse a honeymoon bed. There’s no analysis, no exploration of these adult emotions, but we feel them in the drawings.

The film ends back in dreams, even as dreadful historical reality blackens the skies again. Beyond the purity of the lovers’ invented fairy tale, the messages and judgements are left for our pondering… What to think, for example, about what happens to the world when an artist’s dreams become military reality. Or what happens to dreamers who cannot stop dreaming, even for love.

One of these things is not like the others… Of all Miyazaki’s films, Wind Rises is the most ambiguous, elliptical and the least accessible. But if you love the director, or fairy-tale treatments of real-life dreamers, it may absorb you and reward repeat viewing.
SCORE: 3.5/5
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