Reviewer: Eternality Tan
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Stars: (Voices Of) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci
Released: 9th May 2014
Unless Hayao Miyazaki changes his mind, this is his final film. That day when he announced his retirement was a sad one. His swansong, The Wind Rises, is lovingly created. It is distinctively a work from the great master, yet it is also a quiet departure, both literally and cinematically.
He waves goodbye to us with this bittersweet love letter to dreams and memories; it is also his most realistic film to date, and by that I mean it is rooted in historical reality, a biography of sorts of a famous aeronautical engineer who lived the 1930s with a measure of nationalistic pride. His name is Jiro Horikoshi. And he designs beautiful planes.
We are in pre-war Japan, an economically poor and backward nation that would shortly ignite World War II. While there have been some controversy over the film’s portrayal of the Zero fighters that killed thousands during the war, I think it is unwarranted.
Jiro designs these war planes, and in a few scenes towards the end, we see these planes being tested, and how the Japanese soldiers are ecstatic about the speed and agility of their planes. But Jiro is not an evil person. He is like many of us: simply a dreamer.
He fulfils his ambition only to see his country careen to the edge of destruction. Japan invades others, and consequently implodes. But Jiro, and by extension, Miyazaki only feels guilt for his country’s shameful past.
The Wind Rises is not an apologia for Japan’s war efforts. It doesn’t take sides because the film is set years before the war. Miyazaki simply observes the situation of that time. He paints with his trademark artistry some wonderful imagery, particularly paying attention to the scenery of the towns and villages.
There is also a shot of the back of a train moving away into the dark blue night – I would like to think that is a homage to the final shot of Ozu’s Floating Weeds (1959). There are also some terrible scenes of destruction including a major earthquake that rocked the country then.
The film’s slow pacing doesn’t make it engrossing, and I must say viewing this requires some patience. Porco Rosso (1992) is probably the closest cousin to The Wind Rises, with both films centering on planes, period settings, and Miyazaki’s fascination with Italy (or Italians). Joe Hisaishi once again delivers an excellent score that is curiously a mix of Japanese and European sensibilities.
The Wind Rises doesn’t soar as high as expected, maybe because this is more of a personal passion project. But truth be told, Miyazaki has been at the peak of his powers for the last three decades. Soaring is not required.
Miyazaki’s swansong is about dreams and memories, and is lovingly created, though it isn’t as particularly engrossing as some of his best works.
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