Studio Ghibli #18: The Wind Rises (2013)

The Wind Rises was one of the first Ghibli films I saw on the big screen, I’ll be honest I can’t remember if I saw it when it first released in 2013 or if I caught it at a re-showing in the following years but it was a beautiful film to catch in the theatre and one of those immensely satisfying experiences where you know that you’ve just witnessed a masterpiece as soon as the credits roll….that was after I wiped away the tears first.

But ever since watching it I always had the desire to rewatch it, but never had the conviction to sit down and do it, there was no real reason for it but I often found myself in the mood for Kiki’s Delivery Service or Nausicaä instead when I wanted my Miyazaki fix, and when introducing people to Ghibli films for the first time, I don’t think anyone would suggest The Wind Rises as a starting point, despite it’s quality. And the reason that I say this is that to me, The Wind Rises feels like Miyazaki’s swan song. At the time of the film’s release, Miyazaki soon afterwards announced his retirement, which he has subsequently renegaded on but still, it feels like Miyazaki put his all into The Wind Rises because he expected it to be his last. All of the themes that he’s tackled throughout his career, from environmentalism, the meaning of family, his anti-war stance and of course, his love of planes, are all featured heavily in this movie. 

The story of The Wind Rises is an odd mash-up of things, it’s a fictionalised biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, the chief engineer of many of the Japanese fighter planes used in World War 2, someone whom I’m sure Miyazaki admired very much due to his love of aviation, but the film is also partially based on The Wind has Risen a novel by Tatsuo Hori, which was its own fictionalised account on the creation of the Japanese fighter planes. While this seems like it would confuse the subject matter, it honestly liberates the film as it never concerns itself with being historically accurate, allowing it to revel in Miyazaki’s signature whimsical style through Jiro’s dream sequences. 

The film follows Jiro’s life from childhood through to adulthood and the completion of his first successful fighter plane. Throughout his life we see Jiro struggle with achieving his dreams, from the very beginning we see Jiro having to accept the fact that he’ll never be a pilot due to his poor eyesight, which begins a lifetime of Jiro having shared dreams with Giovanni Caproni, an Italian aviation engineer who provides insight and inspiration to Jiro at key moments in his life and career. But as the film progresses we see the very driven and methodic Jiro fall in love with Naoko Satomi, a woman that Jiro first meets during the Great Kanto Earthquake when she was a child but with whom he reconnects with in later life at a resort in Karuizawa. When they reunite years later Jiro first sees her as she paints the clouds while on top of a hill, she represents the antithesis to Jiro’s career at this point; his whole life has been focused on the science of the sky, how to best make an aeroplane fly but in this moment Naoko reminds Jiro of the beauty of aviation. 

The film’s themes are primarily concerned with beauty and destruction, with Hayao tackling some heavy philosophical musings that I think certainly reflect his own career and family life. Caproni often reminds Jiro that while they share a love of the beauty of aircrafts they are doomed to be used for violence and destruction. The struggle between the two, is something that Caproni struggles with throughout the film whereas for Jiro it only really comes to a head at the very end of the film, but there’s a wonderful line half-way through where Caproni asks Jiro if he would live in a world with or without the pyramids. Miyazaki is asking us as the audience whether art, in any form, is worth the struggles, heartache and pain that come with it. Not only is the anime industry known for its bad working conditions and heavy workload, but Miyazaki famously has a fractured relationship with his Son due to him being absent for most of Goro’s childhood due to work. While The Wind Rises frames this question in the context of the War, there is a clear and present self-reflection from Hayao going on. What’s even more interesting is that Hideaki Anno plays Jiro, and Anno, who is an incredible director in his own right (and you can guarantee that I’ll be writing about End of Evangelion for this column at some point), was Hayao’s apprentice early on in his career. This adds another interesting layer to this theme as Anno has a history of depression, most notably he suffered a 4-year long battle with the illness following his work on Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, which informed a lot of the psychological elements of Neon Genesis Evangelion. So by placing Anno into this role, I think Hayao is reflecting on the younger generation of animators, in the same way that Caproni influences Jiro, perhaps Hayao feels regret for inspiring others to follow the same career path. 

All of these themes come to a tragic head at the end of the film. While I don’t want to spoil it here, what I will say is that the final test flight is the climax of these themes, and it leads to an incredibly powerful ending that leaves me in tears every time I watch the film. Ultimately, despite the sadness, it’s still a somewhat optimistic ending, possibly giving an insight into Hayao’s own answer to the Pyramid question. And in this ending Hayao manages to culminate his career’s long established hatred of War, while also reflecting on his own personal legacy and family. 

I don’t think any Ghibli film will ever be able to knock Nausicaä off as my favourite of their filmography, but The Wind Rises comes very close, and to be honest I would consider this to be Hayao’s magnum opus, even if I personally prefer Nausicaä. Not only is the animation some of the most stunning ever produced from the studio, especially it’s aviation animation which allows you to feel the movement and vibrations of the planes, but also the lavish backgrounds and locations which are all beautifully detailed and create a vibrant world in which we follow Jiro through. Joe Hisashi, as usual, is on top form, adding so much to the film through his gorgeous music, while the songs in this might not be as iconic as some of Hisashi’s previous Ghibli songs, the music in The Wind Rises adds a presence that is undeniably felt in such a powerful way. For me all of these aspects, themes and emotions come together wonderfully and much like the first time I watched this film I knew on rewatch that this film was undoubtedly a masterpiece…once I wiped away the tears again.

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