Rating: 9.5 out of 10
I had been eagerly awaiting the new film, The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu) from the Japanese animated filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, since its trailer hit the internet last fall. I have always been a fan of Miyazaki’s brilliant and creative work from the charming My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service to the epic Princess Monokoe and the nightmarish wonder of Spirited Away, and many more inspired visions. My interest towards Miyazaki has been rekindled in the last few weeks with the Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. With the positive reception coming out about this film, I was expecting a good movie. Most movies that I first have low expectations of I end up loving and most movies I have high expectations of I end up experiencing quite the opposite.
Not only did this movie exceed my already high expectations, but it is now tucked comfortably between Gravity and Her. I believe it is the second best film of 2013. This was the kind of movie that when it ends makes you say “wow.” You almost don’t want it to end. This film is an absolute masterpiece and sadly it is Miyazaki’s last, seeing that Miyazaki announced on September 1, 2013 that he was retiring at the ripe age of 72 (now 73) and this would be his last feature film. At the theater I saw the film at when “Studio Ghibli” and Hayao Miyazaki’s name flashed on the screen, multiple people in the audience began cheering. So this film is not a sad occasion. It is in fact a phenomenal goodbye to Hayao Miyazaki as a filmmaker.
The film follows a much fictionalized version of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the engineer of the Mitsubishi Zero fighting planes used by the Japanese in World War II. The story starts with Jiro as a young boy who dreams of engineering planes and moves into his adult days working as an engineer.
The first thing to note about this film is its absolutely beautiful animation. What is so unique about the animation is its contrast. Jiro’s dreams are illustrated with Miyazaki’s trademark wildly imaginative animation depicting towering and gracefully gliding airplanes. Jiro’s idol, an Italian aeronautic engineer named Caproni, with a flamboyant mustache and suit fit right at home with these visuals. The film truly feels like a dream in these sequences. The look of Japan in the 1920′s, 30′s and 40′s are equally spellbinding and detailed down to a brick on a house. The animation goes from dreamy to realistic and at times even mixes the two together to create something equally joyous and melancholy. Miyazaki makes many unique animation choices such as how he portrays the Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and kamikaze attacks.
In a world where CGI has been taking over the animation industry for years, hand-drawn animation is becoming less popular year after year. Sadly, Miyazaki’s retirement will only make this form of animation die much more quickly. Everything is so full of detail and power. The traditional drawing style only makes it seem more authentic. There were multiple scenes when I reached to get popcorn and got so wrapped in the tapestry the film was weaving that I would look down at my hand 5 minutes later forgetting I went to get popcorn. This movie also proves that an animated film does not need stupid pop-culture references to be good but can stand on its own using a good story. I keep using the word beautiful because simply there is no other word to describe it. Even the scenes that depict the failure of Jiro’s planes and its wreckage, the effects of tuberculosis on a character and the aftermath of the earthquake are powerful and bittersweet; tragic but beautiful.
One thing to note about this film and all of Miyazaki’s films generally is how racially ambiguous Miyazaki’s characters are animated. When characters are in crowds or at far distances their nationality is clearer but when Miyazaki’s characters are front and center, their race is not what is important. This film features Japanese, German, and Italian characters that really do not look all too different than each other. Although many people claim to not see things in a black and white sort of way, Miyazaki shows his disregard for defining race by establishing the ethnic background of a character through setting.
In addition to that, Miyazaki has made a very human film. Japanese culture by tradition is a very honorable and strict society. In the time of World War II it was even stricter. But Miyazaki shows the softer side of this culture. One interesting scene shows when Jiro is reunited with his lover Naoko and they lose their composure and run to embrace each other. It proves that even in the strictest of societies, love abides. Leading to my next point, a great feature of the film unlike Miyazaki’s previous feature, Ponyo, which in my opinion had great visuals but lacked a developed story, is that not only is the animation fantastic but the story and screenplay are just as good.
The script for this film is surprisingly strong and the story is compelling. I’ve noticed about Hayao Miyazaki that he really understands human behavior. Miyazaki is not exactly famous for his screenplays, but he should be; All of his characters–man, woman, child or bathhouse witch–are all very strong. I saw the film in Japanese with subtitles, as I read I could not help noticing how strong the writing was. All of the dialogue sounds like actual conversations that people would have and are not stilted in the slightest. This really makes the romance that appears between Jiro and Naoko so genuine and believable. In addition, conversations between Jiro and his younger sister reminded me of the relationship between me and my sister. This says a lot considering this film takes place pre-World War II in Japan. Also, when it wants to, this film can be very funny. It can be very sad when it wants to as well.
It gets across what was intended and is well executed. This movie made me FEEL. It has great character development that made them likeable and interesting. 2013 was a great year in film for me because it had many movies such as About Time, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, and Fruitvale Station, which all were emotionally successful films. Although a bit slow at points which is my only criticism of the film at all, the story flows reasonably well and is fascinating. One unique thing that film does is emphasize how poor Japan was prior to World War II, a fact not known to many Americans. By presenting this in the film, it enlightens the audience. Another aspect of this film’s story that I liked was that when it encountered clichés such as its many dream sequences including Jiro’s idol as his dream guide, it takes the tired tropes and makes something new. These moments are very obvious in the film. This is one of those films that you think you know what is going to happen, but you are dead-wrong.
A majority of those who were Japanese and even contributed to the Second World War were innocent people, and this is a known fact. It is one thing to hear it and another to see it. Jiro is a character who wants to make something beautiful, and what he ultimately makes is a killing machine. Irony like this is a theme throughout the movie. The way that it is presented is very thought provoking. Another similar theme that is not actually stated but is implied heavily throughout the film is how people really feel about what is happening in their country. One scene in particular stands out when Jiro is talking to a German man at a hotel in the countryside one evening and the German man says, “The Nazis are a bunch of hoodlums,” when Jiro mentions Hitler. This one of the film’s many powerful scenes. Although there is a dubbed version with an all-star cast, the fact that this film is animated and foreign may perturb many and they will not see it. This is a huge shame. It has some very unique and fascinating insights on war, human relationships and history. It is both realistic fantastically whimsical and very entertaining.
This movie is a movie that I think Americans should watch because it shows an interesting Japanese view before and during the war. Although they are very different films, this film reminded me a bit of Letters from Iwo Jima in the way that it has a realistic and emotionally complex story to tell through a Japanese view point. The difference is that Miyazaki as a Japanese man who grew up in post war Japan. I feel he is very familiar with his material.
Another powerful aspect of this movie is its musical score and its sound generally. Part of what I have always loved about Hayao Miyazaki is that his music and his scores are very nostalgic to me seeing as they are a memorable part of my childhood, and I grew up with his movies. The score of this film soars along with Jiro in a sporadically played an Italian-esque melody with classical piano rhythms among others. Eclectic is certainly one word to describe this film. The soundtrack complements the film perfectly and is infectious. I bought it immediately after seeing the film. Now, moving from the score to the sound effects in this film, the film’s sound editing and mixing is phenomenal. Every footstep, every animal that groans, and every swishes of an airplane literally has its own sound. Much like The LEGO Movie, this film also employs the use of human voices as sound effects. Many of the sounds in a scene when Jiro is on a train and when the Kanto Earthquake is taking place are made using human voices. In both this film and The LEGO Movie as opposed to coming across as hokey or cheap, this really enhances the film and gives it a personal touch.
If you are wondering whether to see it in subtitles or dubbed, you would not go wrong either way. I myself personally wanted to see the film that Miyazaki made in Japanese and did not want to constantly be guessing which actor did which voice and distract myself from the film’s true meaning. But the dubbed version features a stellar cast including Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jiro, Emily Blunt as Naoko, Stanley Tucci as Caproni, and Mandy Patinkin, Elijah Wood, John Krasinski, Werner Herzog, and William H. Macy to name a few. In addition, Miyazaki has given the dubbed version his stamp of approval. Some theaters will give the option of seeing this film dubbed or subtitled and some will only offer dubbed. If you are seeing this just as a movie on a Saturday night, see the dubbed version and if you are film buff who is watching for the sake of Miyazaki, see the subtitled version.
Hayao Miyazaki’s genius is proved once again in this surprisingly intelligent, beautiful, charming masterpiece with an excellent attention for detail. It will surely become a classic instantly. It is very hard to compare to his other films seeing as its tone is completely different but that makes it stand out even more as his last film ever made. My synopsis of this story was scarce because the story is one of the film’s best assets, and revealing too much will make the film have less of an impact. In conclusion, this film is a near perfect must-see film and a great swan song for Miyazaki. It will be enjoyed by both fans and non-fans of Miyazaki.
The Wind Rises is now playing in select theaters and will open for wider release on February 28th. Rated PG-13.