By Alexis Agliano Sanborn (Shimane-ken, 2009-11) for JQ magazine. Alexis is a graduate of Harvard University’s Regional Studies—East Asia (RSEA) program, and currently works as an executive assistant at Asia Society in New York City.
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, The Wind Rises is like no Studio Ghibli movie I have ever seen. No. Wait. It’s like every Ghibli movie I have ever seen. You want fantasy? You got it. You want airships à la Castle in the Sky or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind? You got it. You want deliciously portrayed food? You want nostalgic scenery from bygone days of Tokyo or picturesque European towns? You got that, too. The Wind Rises is a combination of everything that makes Ghibli as we know it today. It also adds several new elements which make this film dynamic and, some say, controversial.
One of the most differentiating factors is that The Wind Rises is the only full-length feature to focus on an actual historical figure—Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Mitsubishi A5M, a fighter aircraft of World War II. Granted, Miyazaki used his artistic license to embellish the narrative—but he does that only to make things more beautiful and fantastical. (And that’s why we love Miyazaki, right?)
Watching The Wind Rises, you feel repeatedly—and indeed the entire plot more or less focuses on—Japan’s desperation to achieve modernity according to “Western standards.” But modernization was not a smooth road, and Miyazaki makes that message clear. Despite the beautiful veneer, the crux of this film lies in the frustration of a country and its people. Economic deflation, poverty, and limited resources repeatedly arise as roadblocks. (This may explain part of the reason for its amazing popularity in Japan. Frustrations, impatience and desperation exist within every generation.) Yet, as Jiro is reminded, even with setbacks and disappointments, one must live on and progress despite it all.
Historical events are interwoven with the fun of period costumes, esoteric allusions and stylistic backdrops that so many have come to expect when it comes to Miyazaki. The film is absolutely beautiful and unlike other works, the protagonist is quite the globetrotter, which means the audience gets to enjoy scenes from international locales. From 1930s Germany, Nagoya, remote alpine resorts, Tokyo neighborhoods immediately following the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and more, you get a sense of the world during this period. For these shots alone, this movie is worth watching.
Some have claimed that The Wind Rises is too nationalistic. While the film is set during a controversial period of history (Japan’s overseas expansion, the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, heightening tensions with the U.S. and Britain), the themes throughout are the pursuit of beauty, knowledge, love and fulfilling one’s dreams. There is no avoiding the fact that 1930s Japan was a country out to prove itself—and at that time the powers that be felt the way to success was through militarization and colonization. Nevertheless, individual achievements cannot be overlooked simply because they were born during a particular, and now controversial, period of history. The Wind Rises reminds us that people are subject to the times, and that oftentimes there are few roads to travel.
While somewhat long and a little helter-skelter, The Wind Rises is engaging and inspiring. While certainly not Spirited Away, we must remember that this movie is one primarily aimed at adults, and as such there are different kinds of things you take away from the film. So, here are the top four reasons you should go see this movie:
- It’s full of historical goodies that will make you want to go home and Wikipedia for hours.
- It makes you think. Think about the struggle of man and of a country and what that means.
- Stylistically, it seems to combine elements from several movies, which make it fun to try to catch allusions.
- It’s Hayao Miyazaki’s final film—and he wouldn’t have made something terrible for his last. So have faith! And see the movie!
The Wind Rises will be one of those movies you may end up thinking about days later. It stays with you somehow and makes you want to contextualize the actions into a larger narrative. Like so many of Miyazaki’s works, it reminds us that war is not the answer, though it may seem the only one. Rather, the truest thing in life is the human connection.
To qualify for consideration in next year’s Academy Awards, The Wind Rises is now playing at Sunshine Cinema in New York City and The Landmark in Los Angeles through Nov. 14. It will receive an English-dubbed North American wide release on Feb. 28. For more information, visit http://thewindrisesmovie.tumblr.com.