The Wind Rises (2013) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Wind Rises (2013)

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Jiro Horikoshi was a Japanese engineer responsible for many aviation designs leading up to and during World War II.  Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises is a fictional reimagining of the years prior to his great engineering successes.

Two as one in the sky

One of the greatest pleasures in watching a Hayao Miyazaki film is the moments of silence where a character is concentrating on a great task.  He typically animates these scenes with tiny movements - muscles tensing with anticipation, sweat slowly forming on someone's brow, or hair standing almost entirely on end in anxious worry.  I'm thinking of when Prince Ashitaka raises his bow and carefully lines up a shot in Princess Mononoke, or Chihiro examines the creatures of Spirited Away.

Solely using this metric The Wind Rises should be a fantastic film.  Jiro (Hideaki Anno) is a studious dreamer, so when he is not lost in his work his mind wanders the contours of his imagination for inspiration.  There are long minutes where we watch Jiro at work measuring and performing calculations to perfect his aviation designs.  The little details of Miyazaki's earlier films are present as Jiro's hand tenses slightly as he writes or his eyes narrow slightly while working through a problem.

Jiro's childhood is filled with inventive animation that shows his dreams playing with his body and perception of the world.

Jiro's childhood is filled with inventive animation that shows his dreams playing with his body and perception of the world.

But there's a difference between the way The Wind Rises approaches these moments and how Miyazaki approached them in the past.  Ashitaka and Chihiro need to learn about their environment and measure their responses carefully to ensure their survival.  Jiro has no stakes this dire, and watching him steady his hands or gaze at his work is nothing more with little impact on the Jiro's development as a character.  The Wind Rises is gorgeous, but stiff, and Jiro has so little development that he's practically inert despite the gorgeous view along his journey.

Disappointments aside, this is still a Miyazaki film and when it's working the magic of his creation comes out effortlessly.  The best moments of The Wind Rises occur during the first act or so of the film when young Jiro develops an interest in planes and survives the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923.  Miyazaki delights in taking us into young Jiro's imagination where structurally impossible aircraft fill the skies and Jiro's burgeoning creations fill his face with curiosity.  It's a wonderful glimpse of a young genius at work as he's guided by flamboyant Italian fantasy guide and Miyazaki utilizes different languages and musical styles to portray Jiro's shifting dreamscape.

As good as these early moments are, the adolescent sequence when Jiro survives the earthquake is top-shelf Miyazaki.  He animates the land as uncertain and liquid when the earthquake strikes and through Jiro's determination and resolve his imaginary and real-world experiences blend together.  It's a literal burning of his idealism and replaced with a dangerous land that rivals anything he could imagine.  Miyazaki's films often skirt the division between the adolescent and the adult, and this sequence fits in brilliantly with those moments.

But it cannot be understated just how much of a slog the rest of the film is.  Jiro's journey is mostly conflict free so Miyazaki fills the time between his escapist fantasies with far too many moments of Jiro just talking with his coworkers or working at the board.  There's another tension pulling at the sides of the film as World War II looms in the future, but aside from a late-film revelation about how his designs were used for violence Miyazaki largely ignores the real-world impact of his planes.  There's little reason to introduce these historical dimensions and The Wind Rises would have been better off sticking to the fantastic elements of Jiro's life and not introducing this cold reality to it.

Miyazaki dips less frequently into the fantastic as The Wind Rises goes on, but when he gives us a window into the aging Jiro's imagination the results are stupendous.

Miyazaki dips less often into the fantastic as The Wind Rises goes on, but when he gives us a window into the aging Jiro's imagination the results are powerful.

It also does not help that Jiro's story is bland.  He is a nice man who always does the right thing and faces little adversity, so much of the film is relegated watching this nice but boring man do his harmless research.  Jiro's world is shaken a bit with frequent interruptions by his love interest Nahoko (Miori Takimoto) and Miyazaki does get one stunning sequence out of this relationship as the two flirt with Jiro's latest paper airplane design.  But Nahoko is defined less by her courtship with Jiro and more by her illness, putting her in a reductive role that has little impact on Jiro's life.

Miyazaki's post-The Wind Rises career has been subject of a lot of speculation and The Wind Rises may be his last film.  If so, his last work shares many similarities with forebears like Akira Kurosawa, whose Madadayo was also a semi-autobiographical film using a historical figure within the director's style.  Both are humble films and if nobility were a substitute for quality The Wind Rises would be one of Miyazaki's best.  But The Wind Rises rolls ahead on too many limp notes to achieve the final transcendence it aims for.

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Tail - The Wind RisesThe Wind Rises (2013)

Screenplay written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
Starring Hideaki Anno, Miori Takimoto, and Hidetoshi Nishijima.

Posted by Andrew

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