Originally published in The Aerial 2 April 2014 Edition.
|The Wind Rises is a beautiful yet simple tale from the famed animated film director Hayao Miyazaki. This film has a large focus on subtlety, which could have easily come across as boring but instead is a bitter sweet swan song for its long established director.
The film follows successful plane designer Jiro Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the fictional counterpart to Tatsuo Hori, during the years leading up to World War 2. During this tale he also falls in love with Nahoko Satomi (Emily Blunt).
The voice acting overall was pretty good: Blunt’s performance was solid and in my opinion John Krasinski, who voiced Jiro’s lifetime pal Honjo, gave the best performance. As for Levitt, I think he was perfectly casted for the soft spoken and somewhat naive Jiro, but I did think Levitt lacked an emotional dynamism. The other supporting voice actors mostly did well, although some of the German accents sounded ridiculous. I did not see the film in Japanese, but you could expect for it to be on par or better than the English dub.
The animation in this film is seamless when characters are front and center, but some of the background animations were extremely distracting. Many characters in the background would lack certain facial features, which is usually acceptable if they are far away enough, but many times it just felt lazy. There is one shot showing civilians walk across the burned rubble of Tokyo after a devastating earthquake which has some of the most stilted animation I have seen from Ghibli, and it appears as if a third of the frames were not put in. Although this nitpicking, it is something you would not expect to see from Miyazaki.
On the other hand, the hand drawn settings and backgrounds are jaw droppingly fantastic. All the backgrounds use impressionism perfectly, and the clouds in the film have so much detail and such a liveliness about them. I was also very happy to see a minimal use of CGI in the film, and when it was used it was not out of place.
Many aspects of the film take inspiration from early 1900s western Europe, such as the impressionistic backgrounds. The music is some of my favorite from Japanese film, and features a French aesthetic and the orchestral score is always accompanied by a heart wrenching accordion. Even the pacing and structure of the film has a very European style.
However, the pacing is probably the hardest selling point for the film. The pacing, while not bad, is very slow. After the fantastic first 45 minutes, the film takes a large thematic shift and begins resembling Martin Scorsese's The Aviator. Many viewers may just get bored; I got bored a few times, but it never lasted for more than a few minutes. The film eventually hits its stride, and maintains it for the remainder of the film.
Like many other Studio Ghibli films, this one has a romantic subplot, though it not as integral as many of their other films. In The Wind Rises, Jiro falls in love with Nahoko, but Nahoko doesn’t appear in most of the film. However, the romance between the two is heart warming, and not overplayed in any way. In many ways their romance is unorthodox and, well, strange but it is so believable and serious. Their romance carries both a childlike innocence, but also a strong understanding, although barely spoken, of the world around them.
The translation is excellent. I only had one moment where I found myself off put by it, but it was due to a cultural reference that did have a western equivalent. This is only a small gripe though as the other parts of the translation are flawless.
As for the film, it is somewhat hard to give it a whole hearted recommendation. If you a are a diehard Miyazaki fan, this is a no brainer. If you are the type who loves historical dramas, you will love this film. However, if you are not part of the installed fan base or have only seen Spirited Away and have a vague grasp of Studio Ghibli films, this may not be the film you are looking for. It lacks the surreal backdrop and epic tale for a grounded, yet altogether sad, character story.
It is also noteworthy how surprisingly rewatchable the film is. The film is packed full of cool historical touches, great interaction between characters, smart motivations, and chunks of moral ambiguity all of which you cannot fully grasp in the first viewing. Jiro and Honjo's friendship reveals the strengths and weaknesses, and Jiro’s relationship with his dreams reveals both the mental state of Jiro, which is always enigmatic to the viewer, as well as how people and lifelong goals and aspirations are both a blessing and curse. Even the the epigraph that inspired the title of the film is mysterious in how it fully relates to the characters and their actions in the film: “The wind is rising! We must try to live!”
The film seems like a fantastic idea for Miyazaki’s final film, and the scope of the film is massive and ambitious. However, to me it felt like the film was missing a final 45 minute act. It ends at point earlier you than might expect. It is just speculation, but to me it seemed like Miyazaki wanted a three hour long film but- idue to either the lack of prolonged funding, Miyazaki’s inability to quickly produce a film, or a combinaton of both- was unable to. It could as just be an artistic choice, but if it is I do not believe it was successful.
The film overall is a success and is worthy addition to the Studio Ghibli library. If you ever know someone who thinks Japanese animation is bad, childish, or trivial, show them this film.