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The Wind Rises

March 1, 2014

There’s something intrinsically beautiful about hand drawn animation, especially when it’s done by a superb studio, and that is what hit me in the first few seconds of Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises.

Animation is one of those things that often gets swept under the rug of ‘Kid’s Stuff’ in the United States, despite countless successful attempts to prove otherwise, and so I rarely get to sit down and watch a good adult oriented animated film in theaters. In fact, as I was waiting for the movie to start I noticed there were several children in the audience who were probably too young to watch a biopic about the man who designed the Mitsubishi Zero. Make no mistake, while Miyazaki does take some liberties with history and injects his standard array of whimsy into this film, it is a biopic aimed at an older audience.

The film follows Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the English dub) from boyhood when he decides to become an aeronautical engineer through adulthood till he designs the Mitsubishi A5M (the Zero’s direct predecessor). At its core, it tells the story of what actually inspires Jiro in his designs rather than how he actualizes them or the inherent drama of building a plane in the early 20th century. The movie opens on a dream sequence, and it regularly follows Jiro into his dreams and imagination to show us what he sees when he’s doing all of these calculations. It’s truly a delight for anyone who’s ever built anything with their own hands, let alone people who have studied something like aeronautical engineering.

All of this is, of course, supported by the animation. I’m not a very big animation buff, and I’ve found that it’s often hard to understand, let alone explain, the intricacies of making drawings come to life.* What makes The Wind Rises (and most Studio Ghibli films) so impressive, is the care that’s taken in depicting things like character’s chests rising and falling, or the way a pencil looks when it is pressed against paper. It doesn’t necessarily look precisely realistic (Miyazaki has always had a flair for exaggeration without getting cartoonish), but everything moves with a realistic fluidity rather than the simple and stilted movements of lesser animating studios.

The animation is why this movie is able to succeed. A lot of the plot and emotional core doesn’t rest in the dialogue, but in the physical expressiveness of the characters, and the competency of Miyazaki’s direction. Like any good film, nothing is wasted on screen and Miyazaki uses the camera to set an emotional tone. He lets things linger when they need to, and he makes shots busy when you’re supposed to feel lost and scared. No matter what else one can say about it, The Wind Rises is certainly a triumph of animation and direction.

Since I watched the English dub (since I am most certainly history’s greatest monster), I feel there’s not much to say about the voice acting. Personally I’ve always found that when you use American actors you’re rolling the dice. Some people really take to the recording booth while others don’t. I hate to say it but I wasn’t particularly impressed with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance, and few other members of the cast were on screen enough to get a strong impression of. The only true standout was, unsurprisingly, Martin Short who does a wonderful job as Jiro’s boss and lesser mentor. He really sells it, and I actually heard shades of the Kooky Boss trope that is common in Japan in his voice.

I obviously can’t end this review without at least touching upon the controversy that has surrounded the film. To say that the Japanese public, and other nations such as South Korea, feel uneasy about The Wind Rises is a drastic understatement. I too felt uncomfortable watching a movie that was about a man who designed war machines, especially since the film doesn’t seem to take a strong stance on the war in either direction.

Of course, in some ways it’s better to portray the actual complexities of war. Throughout the film, the fact that the progress of aeronautical engineering is tied to war is touched upon, but no one truly ever condemns it. From the get go, the film’s opinion is simply ‘this is the way things are’, and that continues to be reinforced throughout. Since the film is fictionalized, and I don’t have Horikoshi’s memoir in front of me, I can’t say how he actually felt about building warplanes (with forced labor in many cases) and so commenting on it makes me feel somewhat out of my depth.

Still, the realities of why and how these planes were built lingered in my mind during the movie, as well as after I left the theater. Perhaps, we can just be happy that the film provides a springboard for important discussions on history and historicity.

No matter what its politics though The Wind Rises is a beautiful animated film and a worthwhile biopic of an important historical figure who is from an entire class of historical figures that are easy to forget about. I would suggest going to see it, though if you’re a fan of Miyazaki’s work I have a sneaking suspicion you already have.



*: I felt like this random post on imgur actually helps convey the underlying complexity of animation, and the way some studios cut corners.


From → Movies

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