Review: The Wind Rises
While many critics have emphasized the thematic maturity of Hayao Miyazaki’s wartime drama The Wind Rises by noting the absence of Studio Ghibli’s trademark mythic creatures, the film can’t help but draw us back into the same state of reverie as his previous work. Seamlessly transitioning from the lush surfaces of the real world to an equally tactile, emotionally fraught realm of imagination, this new film—reportedly Miyazaki’s last—joins aesthetic ruminations with moments of gravity-defying fantasy, which often prove to be more compelling than the realist narrative surrounding it.
A fictionalized tribute to Jiro Horikoshi, the brilliant engineer responsible for many of Japan’s World War II fighter planes (including the Zero, which was used in the attack on Pearl Harbor), The Wind Rises paints a portrait of a man preternaturally attuned to the principles of beautiful design as they manifest in the world around him. Fascinated with flight since childhood, but prevented from becoming an aviator by his poor eyesight, Jiro decides to focus his talents on aeronautics. As Miyazaki introduces us to Jiro’s profession, he lingers lovingly over details of ingenuity and craftsmanship, finding lyricism in the most mundane nuts and bolts of machinery. In an early scene, the hero admires the curvature of a mackerel bone, and you can feel the wheels in his head spinning as he imagines applying it to his own designs.
As Japan plunges into a period of poverty, natural disasters, and war, the chasm between truth and beauty becomes ever wider. While a handful of characters serve as harbingers of the devastation facilitated by Jiro’s inventions, Miyazaki brings greater resonance to a series of dream sequences in which the hero finds comfort in the spirit of Italian aircraft manufacturer Caproni. In his conversations with this imagined mentor, the film reveals the question at the heart of its story: when the expression of one’s talent is dependent on a destructive system, how can an artist realize his full potential and stay true to his passions?
For the most part, Jiro answers this troubling question with his head in the clouds, keeping an all-too-convenient separation between his artistic ideals and the lethal industry he works in. Many great filmmakers have found ways to weave genuine drama out of blank, cipher-like protagonists, but such a feat requires the hand of an artist more contemplative than Miyazaki has ever pretended to be. Apart from its handcrafted visuals, which are as lovely and painstakingly precise as anything in the Ghibli canon, the film feels sapped of conflict and energy—a flaw that becomes even more apparent when Miyazaki tries to amp up the melodrama in the second hour with a doomed love story. Ultimately, The Wind Rises’s even-temperedness feels less like a principled aesthetic choice and more like a shrug in the face of history.