A little Japanese boy walks atop the wings of one of Giovanni Caproni’s impossible aircrafts. This dream would be the first of many. “The wind is rising! We must try to live!” A fitting way to start what seems to be master filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s final film. The Wind Rises is a sweeping, dream-like epic that chronicles the life of the infamous Jiro Horikoshi, chief engineer behind the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane used prominently throughout World War II. Though there is little discussion of the forced labor Mitsubishi employed at the time, Miyazaki deftly blurs the lines between a beautiful dream and terrifying reality. The Wind Rises is truly masterful.
The film traces through much of Japan’s grief-stricken early 20th century. From the devastating Kanto earthquake of 1923, through the tuberculosis epidemic that swept Japan, to the onset of World War II. The pulsating earth as the Kanto earthquake ravages Tokyo is breathtaking, leaving the horrifying sight of flames engulfing a people and a culture etched in the audience’s mind. The escape from this horrifying reality is the lush landscape of Jiro’s dreams. Beautiful, sweeping canvases of the imagination, on which Miyazaki traces Jiro’s progression from the Little Japanese Boy with an uncontainable passion, to the man who would invent tools of destruction.
In spite of what he created, at least according to this fictionalization of Jiro Horikoshi’s life, his single-minded compulsion for perfection, to carry out his dream, is absolutely stunning. We watch Jiro as a young boy, ambitious, with little time for a kid sister far more boisterous than himself. Translating an English aeronautics magazine word by word in his spare time, the seed is planted. He dreams of magnificent aircrafts alongside Caproni, and wakes with a feverish drive to create. As he grows older, he attends University, and takes a position working for Mitsubishi, where history would be made.
The subtle intricacies painted into Jiro’s mind – the curve of a fish bone, the aerodynamics of a paper plane – serve as his inspiration for his inevitable creations. There’s a tender delicacy to Jiro’s rendering. While the ramifications of his inventions are immeasurable, The Wind Rises is less about judgment and more about the process of creation. While it would be a colossal mistake to ignore the ramifications of Horikoshi’s legacy, this film doesn’t serve as a vehicle for condemnation. Rather, Miyazaki manages to showcase the wonderful mind of a dreamer, the limitlessness of the imagination, and the potentially devastating power of passion.
The film is peppered with conversations on the beauty of creation, and the nature of corruption. Jiro’s pseudo spiritual guide, Caproni, lectures the young engineer on the beautiful weightlessness of dreams, and the power of the imagination. He cautions Jiro against allowing his creations to become vehicles of death and destruction, as the war was approaching. Clearly, his warning was not heeded. The death tolls are never discussed, but rather subtle hints are dropped regarding the inevitable function of the A6M throughout its production. Lighten the load. Lessen the weaponry on board. Even blatantly stating that only the pilot need be present on the vessel. Miyazaki doesn’t ignore the damage Horikoshi’s done, but rather affords us the opportunity to see a man destined to make cataclysmic decisions in a new light.
From the perspective of creation, everything is done in wonder. A new dream fleshed out and brought to life is infectious. The depiction of Jiro is not as an innocent, however. He is not without scrutiny. Rather, Miyazaki portrays Jiro as a dreamer, seemingly not unlike himself. His dreams drove him to create. His fascination propelled him. And so his dreams became a reality with a tragic legacy.
The film, while predominantly a retelling of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, also factors in Tatsuo Hori’s 1937 novel The Wind Has Risen. Written about a young girl suffering with tuberculosis in a sanatorium, Hori’s life and work collectively informed the character of Naoko Satomi, Jiro’s wife. What emerges from this is a tender love story that punctuates Jiro’s creative process.
Further inspired by a quote from Horikoshi himself, it’s clear the film is not without its tragic irony. “All I wanted to do was make something beautiful.” Out of the beauty of dreams came the destruction of war.
The film’s opening scene sets the tone for Jiro’s life. As a young boy, he climbs the roof of his home, and takes flight in his personal aircraft that sits perched, waiting for him. Soaring through his neighbourhood, he steadily finds himself shrouded by dark, angry clouds. Menacing dirigibles pulsate like angry monsters, raining down from the sky in immeasurable numbers. Attached to them are lithe, violent, dark figures, angrily leering at Jiro, and the city that lay below them. He wakes up in his bed, shaken, but not dissuaded.
Miyazaki has created a masterpiece. A stunning film about love, passion, and the power of the imagination, it seems the perfect note to exit on. However, there are debates as to whether or not this will, in fact, be the master’s final film. His biggest concern is that he no longer has the energy to spend on the four years necessary to produce one of his films. At 73 years old, Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises shows no signs of a decline in his ability. It’s a stunning film; some may argue one of the best of his career. Subtly political, thematically rich, poignant and elegant, it’s captivating. Hopefully this isn’t the last of his dreams to be brought to life. But if it is, he ends his legacy on a brilliant note.