Imagine a sweet, delicate film, about the inventor of the cruelest killing machines of the 20th century. Can you do it? What if we added that Hayao Miyazaki, who gave us films like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, was behind it? Did it become easier to imagine? Because that is what The Wind Rises, Miyazaki’s swan song, is. Nominated for an Oscar for Best Animation Film (lost to Disney’s Frozen), this may well be the most accessible and down to earth film from Studio Ghibli, but it is still full of poetry and beautiful imagery which will not disappoint the usual fans, while welcoming new ones.
Based on Miyazaki’s own graphic novel, The Wind Rises tells us the story of Jirô Horikoshi from his childhood to the success of his plane design for the Zero bomber. It is not strictly a biopic, as there are many fiction elements, but it is a beautiful historical portrait of events such as the Tokyo earthquake, Japan’s poverty before the 2nd World War, the tuberculosis epidemic and, of course, the development of military armory and the tense relations between Japan, Germany and the Soviet Union.
But The Wind Rises does not try to be a History lesson. All that matters is its main protagonist, Jiro, and after spending two hours following his journey, we do get very well acquainted with him and his passion for aircraft. To see a film about building war planes by Miyazaki, a self-proclaimed pacifist, may seem strange at first, but when we see Jiro’s eyes light up when he gets to see the German all-metal airplane, we understand why. After all, Jiro is politically innocent as only one who lives above the ground can be. The war gives him the strange chance to make his dreams come true at a time when Japan is economically broke, but that does not mean he wants war to happen. We just have to agree with his imaginary mentor, the Italian aircraft designer Caproni – “Airplanes are beautiful, cursed dreams, waiting for the sky to swallow them up”. And Jiro soon realises how cursed other dreams can be, when his terrestrial love, Nahoko, falls sick with tuberculosis.
There is a beauty and a truth to traditional animation, particularly Japanese style, that no CGI can capture that well. The Wind Rises is a film for grown-ups, and shows once more that the time when animation was only child’s play – if there was ever such a time – is definitely gone. Stunning palette, more than human characters, and a dreamy soundtrack by Joe Hisaishi (who also composed the soundtracks for other Miyazaki’s films), makes the latest Studio Ghibli film a definite watch.
The Wind Rises will be in UK cinemas on the 9th May.