Anton: The Wind Rises is the work of a master. Like the protagonist Jiro’s aeronautic masterwork, the Mitsubishi A5M, the film’s seams are barely visible, the bolts holding everything together embedded not protruding, and the final product soars with a visible ease that conceals the intense labour and sacrifice required to construct such a work. Like the beautiful animated clouds that seem to endlessly drift across the sky throughout the film, the naturalness of the story, the humour, and the tender moments of drama make the total effect appear effortless, but a moment’s contemplation reveals the immense amount of work that must have gone into each detail — each cloud, each blade of grass bending in the wind.
About a man who wants to make beautiful planes, Jiro’s story is a fitting vehicle for Miyazaki to meditate on the labour, compromise, stubborn determination, and inspiration that are each a part of the creative process. Jiro is clearly naturally gifted, but more importantly he is dedicated, hard working, and a dreamer. His dreams, which take up a substantial portion of the film, inspire his designs, and they serve as both testing grounds and spaces for contemplation.
This is not to say that Jiro is entirely absent from the world; his love for his fiancee, who is suffering from tuberculosis, is as intense as his passion for planes, but the two loves are entwined. This leads to a beautiful closing moment when the wind no longer rises. The gentle power of that one shot panning across a wind flag to the mountains tells us so much about Jiro’s personal and creative lives, while it also reveals the careful precision behind Miyazaki’s fluent art.
Aren: The Wind Rises is easily Miyazaki’s most adult film, and it seems a perfect ending to his near-perfect career of over 30 years. While watching it I was struck by how similar it is to Madadayo (Not Yet), the final film of Akira Kurosawa. Just as that film used its main character as a figurative stand in for the director himself, allowing him to explore his creative processes and personal troubles over his long and storied career, The Wind Rises’ Jiro allows Miyazaki to do the same. Both films are tales about real people, set in the past, who had some formative influence on the directors’ lives.
There’s also something so sad about The Wind Rises, but also so beautiful. This can be said for most of Miyazaki’s films. They’re suffused with the sadness of reality. Remember Satsuke and Mei’s mother being ill from radiation poisoning in My Neighbor Totoro? Even Miyazaki’s happiest films are full of sadness.
In The Wind Rises, the happiest scene in the film is also the most moving. Jiro’s fiancé Naoko has escaped from the sanatorium where she is trying to cure her tuberculosis. Jiro meets her at the train station and together they head to his boss’ house to get married. Although they never explicitly discuss it, their reason is that Naoko may not live long, and they want to spend what little time they have as husband and wife.
During the marriage ceremony, Naoko comes out in a beautiful, traditional wedding gown. She is weak from walking in the heavy clothes and needs to be helped to her seat. Jiro has never seen anything more beautiful in his life, and more frail. Happiness begets loss. There are mirrors here of Jiro constructing his Zero Fighter. He knows that once he builds that beautiful plane, it will only be used for war, for death, just like he knows that once he is joined to Naoko for life, her life will shortly expire. But he doesn’t let that future sadness stop him. The beauty of the moment, the wind rising for the length of a breath, must be grasped onto. We must attempt to live.
Anders: I will also echo that this is a fantastic final film, and probably the best film I saw at the festival. Sometimes it can seem like I’m a Ghibli fanboy, uncritically loving everything that they put out, but really, no other studio is as consistent in putting out wonderful works, and the works of Miyazaki himself set the standard for the studio’s fare.
Jiro’s labour in creating his airplanes echoes many of the key preoccupations in Miyazaki’s films, which are the role of the artist in the world and the sacrifice that comes of pursuing that artistic vision. See the Miyazaki written Whisper of the Heart in particular for a younger person’s take on this idea. That is one of the ways in which Miyazaki’s films stand out against the world, in suggesting that sacrifice might not be a bad thing and that hard work can have rewards.
Despite, as Aren noted, being the most tonally mature film from Miyazaki (and the only one set in a real historical world with no fantasy element), it still has a place for dreams in an adult life. Some of the film’s most beautiful and poetic moments take place inside Jiro’s dreams, where he converses with the legendary Italian aircraft designer Caproni. At one point Caproni and Jiro lament the fact that their beautiful aircraft will inevitably be used for war. Caproni, however, asks Jiro, “Do you want to live in a world with or without pyramids?” The pyramids were amazing, but were also the product of slave labour and human suffering under the pharoahs. Likewise, the potential for abuse of the aircraft does not deter Jiro from realizing his vision.
The reason that The Wind Rises comes across as so mature is in the way that it eschews simplistic historicizing or presenting its characters with stark decisions. Good must be balanced against potential evil, whether in the creation of airplanes that are used as instruments of war, or in choosing to marry your beloved despite the fact that she is terminally ill. Rather, the mature life is one that is able to compromise. Rather than compromise resulting in a lesser life, compromise is necessary to the achievement of great things.
No doubt, Miyazaki has now earned a break after creating so many of the masterworks of animation and establishing a lasting legacy. But the compromise that we must all live with is allowing him to live his life, in exchange for the fact that this may be the last film we see from an absolute master of the cinematic medium.
Anton: 10 out of 10
Aren: 9 out of 10
Anders: 9 out of 10
The Wind Rises (2013, Japan)
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki; featuring the voices of Hideaki Anno, Miori Takimoto, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Masahiko Nishimura, Jun Kunimura, Shinobu Otake, and Mansai Nomura.
The Wind Rises played on Sept. 11 and plays again on Sept. 12 and 15 during the Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Special Presentations program.