Review: The Wind Rises (2013)

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The Wind Rises is an animated mashup of the true story of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Japanese Zero fighter plane, and The Wind Has Risen, a 1937 Japanese novel by Hori Tatsuo.  The film is a beautiful demonstration of modern animation techniques but in the end, the scattershot script makes it stumble.

The story follows the life of a fictional version of Jiro Horikoshi as he strives to become a successful aviation engineer.  Along the way, he falls for a girl with tuberculosis and has some fanciful dreams about an Italian aircraft designer.  He has some doubts about creating war machines, especially in collaboration with the Nazis, but in the end he does it anyway and achieves considerable success.

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Sadly, very little of Jiro Horikoshi’s real life is in this story.  Even the basic details of his family life are changed.  While I recognize the appeal of inserting a girl straight out of the TB ward from The Wind Has Risen into his life story, it significantly minimizes the man’s very real struggles.  Both stories fight for focus and, in the end, I found satisfaction in neither.

Writer-director Hayao Miyazaki is a masterful storyteller who, at 74 years of age,  is in the twilight of his career.  In fact, he’s stated that this is to be his final feature film.  I find it an absolute tragedy that he spent his last five years as a director working on this.  It isn’t awful–the Miyazaki charm is intact–but it feels forced and it never quite tugged at my heartstrings the way other Miyazaki films have.  Maybe it’s my fault for actually reading a bit about Horikoshi prior to seeing the film.  I’m a bit of an aviation buff and I wanted to know a little about his contributions to the field.  After seeing the film, I had to wonder why Miyazaki didn’t just create his own fictional character instead of saddling himself with a handful of facts in this otherwise fictional tale.

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Some Western critics have voiced their issues with the revisionist history of the piece, but the real Horikoshi wrote diary entries wherein he revealed his fears that Japan’s participation in WWII would doom the country.  It’s one of the sentiments that could be more clearly stated in the film, but I think Miyazaki, being aware of his country’s tendency toward revisionism, tried to walk a thin line.

The clear standout here is Studio Ghibli.  The animation is among the best ever produced by the studio despite the occasional CGI-assist.  Yes, the voice actors are all very good and the music soars when soaring is required, but it’s the beautiful and poignant Miyazaki visuals that keep the picture afloat.

For those who love the work of Miyazaki, there is much here to love.  Just don’t expect too much from the story.  Marginally recommended.