Jiro Horikoshi was the Japanese aeronautical designer and engineer who came up with some of the most distinctive planes of World War Two, but what drove him to create his masterpieces and what did he sacrifice along the way?
To anyone who’s in any way in the know about animation, it’s a commonly held fact the Japanese maestro, Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki, is the most well respected and appreciated director of them all. After a stellar career of creating some of the most enjoyed animated films ever made, Miyazaki, at the sprightly age of seventy-three, has chosen to retire, but not before squeezing in one last film.
A life long enthusiast of aviation, he strived to put weird and wonderful flying machines into many of his films, from early works such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Laputa: Castle in the Sky, though the whimsical Kiki’s Delivery Service to his love letter to flying, Porco Rosso, which seemed to be his final word on the subject, but what better swansong than to indulge in this pre-occupation? And so we are delivered this oh so rare a thing, an animated bio-pic of an engineer, that concentrates on his life and loves before he even created those things for which he is most well known… In fact I’d say this film is pretty damn singular.
What’s unusual for a Miyazaki piece is that this film takes place more or less in reality. Typically, of the Studio Ghibli directors, Miyazaki tends to do the more fantastical films, but other than a number of spectacular dream sequences in which Jiro fantasises about the kind of planes he would like to build, The Wind Rises feels more like the work of Whispers of the Heart’s Yoshifumi Kondo than Miyazaki’s traditional output, and so, despite its obvious quality, it’s a bit of a let down.
As a man haunted not only by his failures but the very potential of future failure, Jiro Horikoshi’s life plays out as a series of low key triumphs and tragedies, often of his own making, which, though often touching, are executed in a slightly sketchy way, chronology-wise. Add to this the fact that engineering-centric drama doesn’t really have universal appeal and you’re left with a narrative that doesn’t hold a huge amount for a mainstream audience to sink its teeth into.
The animation, however, wraps you up in a wonderfully comfortable Hayao Miyazaki blanket. In a move that pays homage to his animation roots it’s almost entirely classically animated, 2D cell animation with very little in the way of CGI, with simple but beautiful backdrops and technical design and that iconic Miyazaki character design. In a time where these things are just about unheard of, a breath of fresh air doesn’t even come close to describing how this feels to watch.
I watched it in the original Japanese language, which was quite charming, but the American dub has quite the talented voice cast, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, Martin Short and William H. Macy, so I think it’s a case of pick your poison.
The Wind Rises is in no way on the top tier of Hayao Miyazaki’s work and possibly can only truly be recommended to purists and enthusiasts of Ghibli, classic animation and/or aviation history, but what this film represents on the larger scale is much more important than the sum of its parts; it is the final and dignified bow of an extraordinary writing/directing/cartooning talent that made it to the top of his game and stayed there through love of his various crafts and hard graft.
If per chance you are reading this and have not yet experienced any of the maestro’s brilliant offerings I highly recommend you go right back to his feature debut and watch them in order, which is as follows: Lupin III – The Castle of Cagliostro, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Laputa – Castle in the Sky, My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Deliver Service, Porco Rosso, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo on a Cliff By the Sea (A.K.A Ponyo)
Fanboy Confidential salutes and thanks you Mr. Hayao Miyazaki, for the memories and the entertainment.
B+ grade – for originality
B- grade – for storytelling
B+ grade – for animation
Overall grade – B