I’m a late comer to Studio Ghibli films, but with each film I watch, the further I become baptized into the cult of Hayao Miyazaki. As wonderful as the output from animation studios in the US has been in recent memory, there is a unique quality to Studio Ghibli films that leaves me anticipating the next masterwork. The Wind Rises may be Miyazaki’s last feature film, but it is, in my humble opinion, his best. Just to note, this review is specifically about the English dub starting in theaters today.
The story is a fictionalized interpretation of the real events surrounding the development of the Mitsubishi A5M and the journey of it’s creator Jiro Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The Mitsubishi A5M and it’s successor, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, were used by the Japanese Empire during WWII. Although the film is set amidst the backdrop of war, the intricacies of battle are far removed from the main action. This is not a war film, it’s a film about passion, determination, and dreams. Jiro dreams of becoming a world-class engineer and designing the most beautiful planes he can imagine. He is inspired in his dreams (literally) by the great Italian engineer Giovanni Caproni (Stanley Tucci) and in life by his wife Naoko (Emily Blunt), who is suffering from tuberculosis. Jiro and his best friend Honjo (John Krasinski) work together, and after many failures, both reach the success they have yearned for. That success is bittersweet, as Jiro knows many of his beautiful creations will never return from the war, and will ultimately bring about the destruction of many lives.
The Wind Rises is a film aimed at a more adult audience, and its maturity and thoughtfulness are what make this film so delightful to watch. Jiro is one of the most acutely drawn characters I’ve come across and the voice casting of Joseph Gordon-Levitt for the English dub is nothing short of perfection. Jiro has a quiet resolve, and is a very contemplative character, with a large part of the film taking place within his dreams. The dream sequences are fantastical, yet grounded, and the animation work is some of the best I’ve seen from Studio Ghibli. For a film about passion, every frame is devoted to complimenting Jiro’s love for beauty in design, from the sinuous curves of the plane, to the glimmer of the metal plating as it dives through the air.
At the core of The Wind Rises is the battle between beauty and destruction and the acceptance that one does not exist without the other. The source of Jiro’s dreams will ultimately be the birth of others nightmares. But there is no demonization of Jiro and the other engineers who are feverishly working to provide Japan with the best planes the world has ever seen. For them, it’s the culmination of a life’s work. A beautiful plane built in war is also a beautiful plane in peace. Jiro takes comfort in his success and knowing that his work will influence the progression of engineering design. The winds will always be rising, and demand that we rise to meet it.
It’s hard to pinpoint what made me love this film above all of Miyazaki’s others. The Wind Rises possesses a straightforward narrative style that sets it apart from films like My Neighbor Totorro, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and Spirited Away. Some fantastical elements remain, but everything is grounded in a familiar reality which makes Jiro’s journey poignant and irresistible. I mean, who wouldn’t want a nightly pep-talk with their creative idol? If this is to be Miyazaki’s last, he has left us with a lasting treasure.
The Wind Rises opens today at the Ritz Five, UA KOP, and Regal Plymouth Meeting.