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Hayao Miyazaki’s Final Film: The Wind Rises (2014)

March 2, 2014

wind-rises-poster-656Hayao Miyazaki spent the better part of his career wowing critics and audiences alike with his phenomenal storytelling methods that marry fantasy with the brutal realities of life. In Princess Mononoke Miyazaki tells a daunting tale in which a forest’s finds itself affected by the interference of man and industrialism. This conflict causes an unbalance with the spirits and animals who live in the forest, resulting in the spirits manifesting evil tendencies intent on destroying surrounding villages in retaliation. Spirited Away’s journey begins when a little girl finds herself lost in the spirit world in an attempt to save her parents. There she becomes acquainted with the spirit of a polluted river and others cursed by indulgence whom she helps set free. For decades Miyazaki has been weaving impressive tales heavily rooted in Japanese culture and fantastical wonder, leading to his last and final film The Wind Rises.

Unfortunately, Miyazaki took a misstep in his storytelling process of The Wind Rises, creating an intriguing story albeit confusing and unfocused leading the overall product to an unfulfilling void. While Miyazaki’s method and phenomenal imagery is ever-present, the story told is banal and lackluster resulting in an underwhelming film by the end. The Wind Rises follows Jiro Horikoshi over a span of years into his adulthood. When we first meet Jiro, he’s a young dreamer obsessed with aircrafts and flight, but destined to never become a pilot due to his poor eyesight. While in a vivid dream, Jiro subconsciously links with his idol, Giovanni Caproni, an Italian aeronautical engineer whose own dream has melded with Jiro’s. Through their dreams, the two embark on a teacher-student relationship inspiring Jiro to become an aerospace engineer. As time passes, Jiro has become a successful and coveted engineer whose designs are nearly flawless. After surviving a shattering earthquake, Jiro must deal with his city’s poor economy and the reaping destruction that has put his city’s technological advancements years behind that of Germany during WWII. Jiro realizes he has a lot to learn about love, war, and living.

A master of animated visuals, Miyazaki reminds viewers of his fluent prowess in the arts throughout The Wind Rises. Miyazaki and his animation team heavily utilize hand drawn imagery in impressive, meticulous ways. The background of each scene showcases the painstaking detail Miyazaki is so famous for. Colors swirl together creating a trifecta spectrum in sunrises and sunsets. Clouds are captured in their bulbous extravagance through watercolors and brooding shades of grays and whites. Skies are kissed with tints of orange, luscious pinks, and ruby reds indicating the sun’s waning or rising position in the sky.

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Jiro’s passion for airplanes inexplicably introduces audiences to the complexities of engineering through layman’s terms and visuals in arguably one of the better aspects of The Wind Rises. Jiro can physically see his designs and calculations come to life. While he sits at tables with a protractor measuring numbers down to the T, the scenes explode with life showing how his process comes alive. Wind sweeps through the scenes breaking away the background and depicting how these numbers affect the tightness of a sprocket or the span of a wing of the aircraft Jiro envision. If his calculations are correct, his planes float with precision and ease, if not they are not, his planes explode and fall apart right before his eyes bringing him back to reality as the hair on his head calms with the head and his eyes soften as he comes to.

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Unfortunately, The Wind Rises has a great deal of potential that for Miyazaki seemed afraid to explore. During Jiro’s first dream meeting Caproni, he’s told by his idol that the problem with making planes is that they usually get used for war. The growing sentiment of WWII dawning on the country creates the assumption that Jiro’s struggle will arc at his passion for creating aircrafts against his ethics of what those planes will be for. Yet, that theme gets thrown by the wayside as Jiro continues to create plans for war happily finishing each product and assignment sent his way on time. Together with a small group of Japanese engineers, Jiro makes a trip to Germany where there the craftsmanship and style of German aircrafts is admired. Yet, the discussion of the horrors of war and what Jiro’s planes are built for is glossed over as if no big deal despite Miyazaki making sure we know what a great guy Jiro is. He’s shown to be brave, loyal, and selfless from the moment we meet him as an adolescent until the film’s final scenes. He helps save two women during an earthquake and donates to those he feels in need, yet we never see a moment where his character contemplates his place in war.

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Perhaps wishful thinking has led me to believe that if I rewatch The Wind Rises with Japanese voice actors and English subtitles then maybe, just maybe, the story will make more sense and the character motivation will have some semblance of logic. The Wind Rises suffers from its American dubbing that features voices from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Werner Herzog, John Krasinski, and Emily Blunt. While everyone is likable, none capture the passion or an understanding of the characters they portray. Levitt’s voice is flat and monotonous which makes listening to Jiro talk rather boring. Nevertheless, The Wind Rises is still enjoyable if for nothing else, its visuals. Miyazaki’s style is still greatly present, even if his heart and guts isn’t.

Wait to SEE IT until you can watch it in its original form.

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