Whenever discussing animation, the name that always springs to mind is Ghibli and man behind it all, Hayao Miyazaki. Over the past many decades, he has created masterful films for audiences across the globe. Beginning his film directorial career with Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, Miyazaki has consistently given us meaningful and groundbreaking work and his latest effort The Wind Rises, due to release in the US on February 21st, is a similarly a masterpiece, but of a far more personal quality.
Rises is adapted from Miyazaki’s own comic with the same title which, in turn, is loosely based on the short story The Wind Has Risen by Tatsuo Hori. Depicting the life of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the featured Mitsubishi A5M and it’s famed descendant, the A6M known as The Zero, Rises is a near-perfect portrayal of life in the Japanese Empire in the years leading up to and during WWII and despite the fictionalization of Jiro’s life, it serves as Miyazaki’s most grounded film and is all the better for it. The below paragraphs contain mild spoilers. I don’t feel knowing the below information would hinder or detract from the experience, but nevertheless, consider yourselves warned.
Swapping between fantastical dream sequences and reality, Rises introduces Jiro’s dream of making beautiful airplanes and his devotion to discovering how to make the machines in his world real. This serves as a stark contrast to his other work, where the fantastic was almost exclusively a part of the conscious world and dreams served little narrative consequence. The importance of only splitting the outlandish vs. realistic depictions is that it frames every scene to Jiro himself. Unlike previous endeavors, Rises only follows its protagonist, appropriately adjusting each scene to fit with Jiro’s own vision within it. This is best exemplified by early scenes where his trademark glasses are the only way the scene will shift from blurry to focused. Considerations such as this are riddled throughout Rises, exemplifying how gifted Miyazaki is at blending the visual with the narrative.
Rises is easily the most visually remarkable of Miyazaki’s to date, in the context of his previous work. I recall hearing an interview with him before his latest thematic release Ponyo where he discussed the stylization of the water in the film and how he wanted to show how alive it was. Though Ponyo is not my preferred Ghibli film, the animated water was dynamic and begged for characterization. Miyazaki has never skimped on the quality and mindfulness of the animation, both in the world and how the characters move. The best example of this for me is in his 2001 release Spirited Away where the protagonist Chihiro is putting her shoes back on to leave the bathhouse and pauses to tap the floor with her toe, to make the fit more comfortable. This degree of animated awareness has only matured over time into a delicate and thorough concoction in Rises. The characters interact with weight and humble grace in every scene from the detail of their hand gestures to the effect of clothes buffeted along their bodies by the ever-present winds. Following in step with the fantastical concepts only appears in the imagination, the nuanced stylized animation we’ve come to expect from Miyazaki’s other works is exclusively seen in his dreams. Smoke billows from starting engines like gaseous pudding, forming after the rapid motion of the propellors; vibrant contrast of the rolling green grass hills and endless light blue skies gives credence to the scale of imagination, and the impossible airships with ever-expanding fuselages putter mere feet above the ground.
It’s no secret that I find sound design one of the most important aspects to movie-making. It may be one of the reasons I find animation so appealing as every sound has the potential for purpose, a notion that Rises utilizes in a deeply fascinating approach to creating the necessary sounds for their world. Every noise associated with flying (airplane, wind, motors, tools) was done by a voice actor. A chorus of throaty hums rumbled as bombers soared, raucous repeated lip flapping emulated the noise of spinning propellors and simple “oohs” and “aahs” were combined to simulate the sounds of wind interacting with the rest of the world. Furthermore, what made these noises so important was the moments of pure subjective silence, again reminding us that we are hearing everything as Jiro would. Even though the sounds used definitely wouldn’t be the what you would hear in real life, these carried intensely emotive power that conveyed not only the description but the emotional context. It’s a remarkable inclusion that at first, I’ll admit, seems a little silly but, for me, became one of the most important aspects of Rises narrative design. I was fortunate enough to see it in the original Japanese audio with English subtitles, so I can’t speak on how the English-language release will handle the sound effects.
Do you prefer a world with pyramids, or with no pyramids?
The historical period that Rises aims to depict isn’t exactly a pleasant one. The Japanese Empire is hemorrhaging funds, leaving a wildly poor populace in an unstable economy and with a second World War impending, they throw their lot in with Nazi Germany. The need to go into each aspect of the time is cleverly circumvented by focusing exclusively on Jiro, though a couple of setting changes allow us a glimpse at other players in the aeronautical engineering world of the time. One of my biggest worries was that Rises would make no effort to discuss the moral quandary of making a beautiful object that was being used, funded, and developed as a tool of war. Thankfully, that concept is actively present and in my opinion, as well handled as possible without straying from the facts. Rises doesn’t try to cover up the sorted past of Japan’s Empire, but comfortably describes it through Jiro’s eyes: a necessary participant needed to make his dreams possible.
I can’t help but feel that Rises is Miyazaki’s most personal film to date. Maybe it’s the intimate scope on the characters, maybe it’s the subject matter and how that’s presented, or maybe that the fantastical inclusions to Jiro’s life are proxies for pieces of Miyazaki’s own experiences – but that’s just idle speculation. What I do know is that I could feel his intent unlike ever before though the screen. Throughout Rises, Jiro’s trials and tribulations unfold, buoyed by inhuman pacing, making a little over 2 hours feel ethereal. Miyazaki’s message is from the final stanza of Paul Valéry’s poem Le Cimetière Marin, featured in the film and genesis for the title of Hori’s original story: “Le vent se lève! . . . il faut tenter de vivre!”
Or loosely translated in the movie to: “The wind is rising! We must try to live!”
The Wind Rises receives a 10 out of 10.