The Wind Rises

Review by Willard Manus

The great animator Hayao Miyazaki--better known as "the Walt Disney of Japan"--recently announced that his new feature, THE WIND RISES, would be his last. Retiring at the age of eighty, Miyazaki is bowing out at the top of his form. THE WIND RISES was not only a huge box-office success in Japan, earning in excess of $100 million, but will undoubtedly win over audiences in the USA when it is released nationally in February.

THE WIND RISES tells the compelling story of a young man, Jiro Horikoshi, whose love of flying inspires him to become an aeronautical engineer. Following in the footsteps of his hero, Caproni, the Italian designer of pioneering and fantastical aircraft, Jiro goes to work in 1927 for the Mitsubishi Company. His assignment is to design planes that can compete with those coming out of the West. Problem is, Japan is a poor country, one that still makes planes out of canvas and wood, powered by undersized engines.
Additionally, the main purchaser of Japanese-made aircraft is the military. It saddens Jiro to think that his idealistic designs will be put to warlike uses, that his beautiful airliners will be turned into lethal bombers. Jiro's moral dilemma is powerfully dramatized by Miyazaki (who wrote, drew and directed THE WIND RISES). In the end, Jiro must compromise himself in order to keep his job, but he knows that he has made a tragic mistake. As Caproni tells him (in one of several brilliantly imagined conversations), life will ultimately turn our dreams into nightmares.

The scope and sweep of THE WIND RISES is vast and breath-taking; Miyazaki's story deals not only with Jiro's life but the history of Japan in the middle of the 20th century. That includes the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the Great Depression, the tuberculosis epidemic, and the country's tragic plunge into war. All of those major events are re-created with stunning visual flair and verisimilitude. Miyazaki packs an astonishing amount of detail into every frame, alternating vast longshots with telling closeups, creating a filmic tapestry of memorable proportions.

The horrific events in THE WIND RISES are balanced by the film's personal touches as embodied by Jiro's love affair with Nahoko, a beautiful but doomed young girl, and by his friendship with his stalwart colleague, Honjo. The high-spirited, flamboyantly-moustachioed Caproni is another colorful presence, always ready with a quip, a sage bit of advice.

The title of Miyazaki's film comes from a poem by Paul Valery: "The wind is rising. We must try to live." That sentiment sums up Jiro's struggle as a human being: how to go on living in a world bent on death and destruction.