Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hayao Miyazaki Rides the Wind

There's a scene near the end of the The Wind Rises where a school of Japanese Zero fighter jets soar through blue skies as their main creator and engineer looks on in wonder. The moment feels triumphant and we cheer for the story's main character, Jiro Horikoshi, who designed these magnificent machines against all odds.  

After you leave the theatre it might occur to you at some point that, "hey wait, those planes were heading off to drop bombs and kill innocent people." Such is the ethical and political conundrum Hayao Miyazaki's new film puts you in. The director appears to show little interest in tussling with these issues; he could be accused of dodging a big question if favour of telling a story the way he sees fit.

Miyazaki is a master of visual storytelling and rarely during the film are you left pondering big ethical questions about war and personal responsibility. Instead, you are swept away by his lush animated imagery and emoting characters. The film is visual splendour, which fans of Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away) have come to expect.

The Wind Rises, which the 73-year-old Miyazaki says will be his last, follows the biographical story of Horikoshi, a pedantic and grounded airplane engineer whose head is always in the sky. The film shows pre-war Japan and Horikoshi's life from before the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 to when those WW2 fighter jets head off to destinations unknown.

Horikoshi, who is too near-sighted to be a pilot, is often visited in dreams by an Italian plane designer named Caproni, who urges him to follow his artistic instincts. Caproni also serves as a springboard for Horikoshi's conscious near the end of the film when he finally ponders aloud the ethical implications of his innovation. This is as close as the film gets to opening that Pandora's box of questions about complicity.

Much of the film, however, is spent detailing the love affair between Horikoshi and Nahoko, who he first meets in a moment of heroism during the earthquake. Their love is rekindled when Horikoshi retreats to a mountain resort after a failed plane prototype costs lives. Despite her poor health, they marry anyways, but this puts their romantic lives in precarious circumstances like a plane experiencing engine failure.

Miyazaki's film is very emotional and as I said you are swept out of the poignant realism of what these planes are ultimately used for. Clearly the director is dealing with issues of letting go and making peace with one's artistic creation. As I mentioned earlier, he claims this is his last film. If true, his career will end in the highest of altitudes.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

The Wind Rises takes you on a beautiful journey and leaves you breathless. Stunning illustration mirrors the internal quests for beauty and enchantment that the main characters ardently pursue. This is a film that embodies the purity of mind and spirit that characterizes both Jiro and Nahoko, their work (design, art) and their love for each other. As your review mentions, Jiro's singular vision is seldom marred by the deadly implications of its realization. The film seldom leaves the lofty stratosphere of the pure-minded visionary. As the fire of Tokyo perhaps foreshadows, the film's dreamy beauty is haunted by the nightmarish spectre of destruction. Can Jiro's masterful airplanes ever be viewed as beautiful in themselves, as reflections of a flawless dream, or are Jiro and his creation complicit in the war and death they ultimately abet?