Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Jiro Horikoshi dreams of flying airplanes, but his poor eyesight means that he must forge a career designing them instead. However, even though all he wants to do is make something beautiful, he knows that all his creations are destined to be turned into killing machines.
Hayao Miyazaki’s final film is a beautiful, introspective look at the process of artistic creation and a fitting end to a stunning career. The story possesses Miyazaki’s signature pacing, moving slowly along as if in a dream and stopping to enjoy the small moments that bring wonder and beauty to life. Even though the film touches on the destructive powers of war and mourns the lost lives and the poverty created by the fighting, death and destruction do not have the final word. From utter ruin, the protagonist emerges at the end to contemplate his life’s work and to find comfort in its beauty, even if others put that work to poor use. It is difficult not to feel that Miyazaki, in turn, is looking back on his own creations and hoping to find worth in what he did. Bittersweet and poignant, The Wind Rises reminds viewers that life must be lived even in the face of insurmountable odds.
Upon its release, the film faced much controversy for, among other things, the positive depiction of a creator of fighter planes. However, that sort of complexity is exactly what makes this movie special. Jiro Horikoshi designed planes that were used in war, but does that make him inherently a bad person? If he wants only to be able to design planes, is it just his bad luck that he was born in a period of heavy militarization? Should Horikoshi have walked away from his dream, especially if he views the war as both harmful and futile? And can his planes be considered beautiful in and of themselves, even if they are used by others for death? There are no easy answers to these questions and the film does not attempt to answer them. Instead, it tries to depict the turbulent circumstances of life in which we all find ourselves swept up in, and shows that sometimes the best one can do is just to try to keep treading water. Perhaps you think Horikoshi was a victim of his time or perhaps you think he was wrong, but either way the film does its best to get you to understand and sympathize with him.
The underlying sense of futility and the constant reminders of death make The Wind Rises perhaps the saddest of Miyazaki’s films. Comic relief is kept to a minimum and even the sweetest moments are tinged with the specter of future decay. Everything in Japan, everything in Horikoshi’s life seems to be falling apart and yet, somehow, he keeps going and, more than that, keeps his inherent sense of decency. His best friend may be a constant pessimist and others may think that the only thing left to do is to save themselves, but Horikoshi keeps giving of himself in the belief that one small action really can make a difference. His courage is nothing short of inspiring.
Of course, because this is a Miyazaki film, the animation is gorgeous, the flights of fancy awe-inspiring, and the sense of wonder present even through the destruction. Miyazaki presents one man’s beautiful dream through the beauty of his own animation and, in doing so, invites the audiences to start making dreams of their own. Dreams that can offer just a little hint of beauty even in the roughest patches of life–enough beauty to make life worth living, even when everything else seems to be falling apart.