Dir. by Hayao Miyazaki - 2 hrs. 6 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
"The Wind Rises" is a real accomplishment in film, the kind of movie that probably shouldn't exist, and I can't think of anything like it (particularly in animation). I found it to be staggeringly beautiful and bittersweet, the type of thing that sticks with you for a while, even after the credits have rolled and the house lights come on.
The story of "The Wind Rises" follows Jiro Hirokoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) from his childhood obsession with airplanes, to adulthood, when he becomes a respected engineer, designing new planes and pushing the Japanese aviation industry forward. The backdrop to the story is the run-up to World War II, and at least from an American perspective, this is from the unusual viewpoint of Japanese engineers, at times trying to glean technical know-how from the Germans. While Jiro is struggling to get his ideas to work in the real world, he falls in love with a girl, Nahomo (Emily Blunt) at a mountain retreat.
One of the beautiful things about "The Wind Rises" is that it's tough to explain the story. I feel that a rough sketch of what's going on is sufficient; as a viewer, you're going to have to put enough trust in Director Hayao Miyazaki (who has also made films like "Spirited Away" and "Princess Mononoke") to know that what might sound militaristic or propagandistic doesn't come off that way. Instead, this is a film of great intimacy, and lets viewers inside the characters' heads in a real, detailed way. Jiro has dreams, and they frequently bleed between reality and imagination. But we are also admitted to his actual nighttime dreams, which are shared with Count Caproni (Stanley Tucci), a famous Italian plane designer. It might be more accurate to say that Jiro has been allowed to see Caproni's dreams, which fuel his own imagination. But there are other small, quiet moments that are more emotionally devastating than any of the explosions or chaos that also populate this film (and you'll recognize at least two of them, upon watching).
The actual animation in "The Wind Rises" is a blend of traditional and computer techniques, but it feels like it's been drawn by hand all the way through. Machines wobble and vibrate and appear to live, instead of being hunks of pixels that stay 100% on-model at all times. The characters move distinctly and interestingly, the backgrounds are detailed, fascinating, and drawn beautifully. One of the things that I immediately noticed about the direction of this film was the confident use of quiet, and even of silence. Sometimes it's a matter of knowing that it's better not to say anything at a particular moment, sometimes it's an invitation to take in one's surroundings. From frame one, "The Wind Rises" is filled with stunning drawings, and I can't count the number of times I stared up at the screen, in awe at how things were being depicted, and the skill with which it was done.
To balance the beauty (and yes, I keep coming back to that word for a reason), there is a healthy dose of bittersweet within the story. Part of the deal, when you decide to watch this movie, is that you're going to be asked to sympathize with people who were, at one point in history, the enemy to Americans. The work that Jiro is doing ends up being for fighter planes which would be used against the United States in World War II, although that's clearly never his intention. If you can divorce yourself from national loyalty, you can see the similarities that all people face. Jiro's aim is to make beautiful dreams (how he and Caproni refer to planes in their shared dreams), and he has the skill, but the only people who have the money to make his dreams reality is the government, who will use whatever he can come up with in order to kill. In one of the dreams, Caproni point blank asks him if he wants to live in a world with or without pyramids - meaning that in order to accomplish anything at all, one has to recognize that both the path there and what comes out of his inventions is completely out of one man's control. An individual has the choice to act or not act, but not acting isn't going to prevent bad things from happening. It's a sobering look, an assertion that there is nothing in the world that is purely good.
Even the romance portion of the film, which fulfills Jiro, and allows him to add something new and more refined to the world around him, is still in service to the march to war. The less I say about the relationship between Jiro and Nahomo is probably better; "The Wind Rises" is the rare film that needs to be experienced in order to understand it. That in itself is an accomplishment, in a film that's filled with things that don't add up to what we might think of as any of the words that we might use to describe it. Miyazaki is playing jazz here, and most everyone else is writing dog food jingles. In terms of animation, it's unusual to have adult main characters, to maintain a hand-drawn look (as opposed to CGI creations), to crack two hours long, to make a visually-sophisticated and accomplished movie that is emphatically not for children (not that children couldn't watch it, the emotionally difficult parts are largely implied). As a film, it's unhurried, has a complicated, long-term story, and dares to look at the sky instead of at one's shoes. As an experience, it's one of the finest films I've had experience of watching.
5 / 5 - Theatre