Movie Review: The Wind Rises

Movie Review: The Wind Rises

I’m a late convert to anime films – I didn’t grow up with the likes of Evangelion and Dragonball Z and I still find fads like Pokémon too determined to separate kids from their pocket money to warrant any of my time. But the same genre also embraces stunningly beautiful titles from Japanese production house […]

By Mark HadleyThursday 27 Feb 2014MoviesReading Time: 4 minutes

I’m a late convert to anime films – I didn’t grow up with the likes of Evangelion and Dragonball Z and I still find fads like Pokémon too determined to separate kids from their pocket money to warrant any of my time. But the same genre also embraces stunningly beautiful titles from Japanese production house Studio Ghibli – and the latest, The Wind Rises will waft its way on to screens this week.

 Mark Hadley reviews 'The Wind Rises'.

The Wind Rises was to be the swan-song of Ghibli’s feature director Hayao Miyazaki, but the universally positive reception (20 major awards and climbing) seems to have reversed his decision. It’s the fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi, the man responsible for the development of some of Japan’s most famous aircraft. As a boy Jiro dreams of flight and engages in spirited imaginary conversations with Italian engineer Giovanni Battista Caproni. However because of his poor eyesight he realizes he will never be able to fly. Instead he allows Caproni’s advice to set the direction his life will take:

“Aeroplanes are beautiful dreams. Engineers turn dreams into reality.”

The film follows Jiro through Japan’s politically turbulent and poverty-stricken 1930s and 40s as he pursues this dream. During the course of his studies he rescues a young woman, Naoko, from the ravages of an earthquake. Years later fate will bring them together again on a hillside where the two begin a love story that culminates in marriage. But Naoko is suffering from tuberculosis and her life is as uncertain as the wind. Just as Jiro’s dreams begin to take flight his wife’s life takes a downward spiral, and he must come to terms with what really keeps his hopes aloft.

The Wind Rises is a delightful love story delicately told against the backdrop of national struggle and personal uncertainty. It’s hard not to like Jiro’s childlike wonder and simple-minded focus on creating beautiful aircraft, even though he skirts around their deadly significance. As Caproni advises him, “Do you prefer a world with pyramids or without pyramids?” But this is part of The Wind Rises’ philosophy. Its title is drawn from a Paul Valéry poem: “The wind is rising! We must try to live.” Difficult times draw from us the perseverance that can lead to great achievements. There is an English language version that is voiced by a host of A-grade actors – Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Elijah Wood, Stanley Tucci, William H. Macy – but it’s the film’s distinctly Eastern approach to life that will probably form the greatest barrier for Western audiences.

Japanese philosophy is significantly shaped by the idea of ‘the floating world’. Our existence is temporary and the fleeting pleasures and beauty we discover are to be appreciated precisely because they are passing away. Jiro tells his wife,

Hope 103.2 is proudly supported by

“Who has seen the wind? 

Neither me nor you.

But when the leaves hang trembling, 

The wind is passing through.”

So Jiro’s decision to continue to work on his latest design even though his wife is dying is a peculiarly Japanese one that Naoko also supports. The sadness of this world should be mourned but it cannot be avoided, and ‘the wind’ should not turn us from our chosen path. There is a Bible parallel that a Christian might recognize. Among others, Jesus’ brother John writes that we should not hold tightly to this life because, “… the world and its desires pass away.”   But what The Wind Rises lacks is the hope that allows Christians to endure.

Both Japanese Shinto and Buddhist beliefs offer little hope for the world to come. The former is an uncertain place of shadows; the latter an endless cycle of painful rebirth that only finishes with annihilation. It is no wonder that this film encourages the viewer to value beauty where it can be found and be thankful when it is lost. The Wind Rises contains none of the striving that a Western movie might include because we’re not meant to struggle against karma, only push on in the face of strengthening winds. In the letter above John advocates the same thankfulness and endurance but because God is in control and waiting for us at the end, promising that “… whoever does the will of God lives forever.”

I’ll continue to enjoy Studio Ghibli’s anime movies, and The Wind Rises is certainly one of the most beautiful and endearing yet. But it makes me sad, not because this world’s beauty is passing away, but because its characters’ hopes are passing with it.

 

Rating: PG
Distributor: Madman

Release Date: February 27