My love affair with Studio Ghibli films began around Christmas 2007, when a friend gave me 2 DVDs. One of them was a Japanese comedy bloodbath known as Versus, the other was Princess Mononoke. After Christmas, HMV was having their January sale. Every Studio Ghibli movie was being sold for £5 that month. So what happened? I was going to classes 5 days a week, and in between some classes I would buy a new Ghibli movie. This kept going on until, at the time, I had them all. (This was while Ponyo was still in production). Today, Ghibli movies are more or less the only films I pre-order when I see them coming to Blu-Ray, and the interest hasn’t died down.
In 2010, I saw Ponyo in my local cinema with english dubbing. It felt like a bucket list accomplishment, seeing a Hayao Miyazaki film in cinema, let alone a Ghibli film. But May 30th this year marked a true bucket list score-off. Seeing what is said to be Miyazaki’s last ever film, in its original Japanese with english subtitles, in the cinema. And even better, I saw it with the same person I watched Ponyo with.
As far as I can tell, The Wind Rises is the film that Hayao Miyazaki had always wanted to make (Since he had already made a manga of it before). It’s his first film to feature real people, and it’s a story about the life and work of Jiro Horikoshi, the Japanese engineer who designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero Fighter Plane that was eventually used in World War 2. Is everything in this film true? Not at all! Outside of his work in developing planes, little is known about Horikoshi’s personal life. This left Miyazaki with the ability to utilise creative license and produce a structured, exciting story that might otherwise have been boring for the kids in the audience (The film’s PG here in the UK). Miyazaki also borrows some character and plot elements from a novel called “The Wind Has Risen” by Hori Tatsuo (see a connection?). So what you have is a film that combines a vague autobiography with a novel by someone else, and romantically linking them. It is a fascinating demonstration of creative process! Proving that while there is nothing new under the sun (and everything was definitely done by 1969), there is still room and a future for the creative industry that takes old and recent ideas to make new 1s.
The Wind Rises is easily 1 of Miyazaki’s most realistic films. Keeping everything that is surrealism and fantasy-related within the realms of Jiro’s dreams, which feature the Italian engineer Giovanni Caproni, who subconsciously convinces the near-sighted Jiro that building aeroplanes is more exciting than flying them. And hence sets Jiro’s course towards his dream job. But the fact that it’s more realistic doesn’t take away from the excitement. Miyazaki decided to include a beautifully animated and amazing interpretation of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. To be honest with you – this was 1 of the most intimidating and scariest demonstrations of an earthquake in cinema. The choice of sound effects really brought out the sense of it being like a monster. Speaking of sound, this film was brilliant when it came to atmosphere. Does it ever feel like there’s a slight breeze in the cinema when you’re only wearing a short-sleeved shirt? This is 1 of few animated films that made me feel like I was actually there with our characters.
The choice of colours helped as well. The backgrounds are insanely beautiful and detailed. The animation is among the best that Ghibli have ever done, and the character designs are trademark Ghibli – consisting of rather basic shapes and designs, especially in the wardrobe and haircuts, and yet everything is within harmony.
The music is beautiful, featuring Miyazaki’s favourite composer to work with, Joe Hisaishi, who has done more or less every other Miyazaki movie. It also features a song called “Das gibts nur einmal, das kommt nicht wider”, which is played through an open window in Germany, where Jiro and his co-worker Hiro Konjo went on a research trip to study plane designs. I won’t say what happens there, you’ll just have to watch it. Lastly, it features the 1973 song “Hikōki-gumo” by Yumi Matsutoya (Known as Yumi Arai, before she got married in 1976), it’s the song that is played in the movie’s trailer, as well as the end credits. For me, there was something special about choosing it. Because there’s another song by Yumi, called “Message In Rouge”, which was used as the opening theme of another Miyazaki film named “Kiki’s Delivery Service”.
The characters are all great in their different ways. Jiro’s character, like Miyazaki, is a pacifist. He doesn’t make planes for war, he wants to make them for beauty. He also acknowledges the responsibility of this; that while his designs might be used for evil, it doesn’t stop him from wanting to make an excellent aeroplane for the good of the people. He even looks at passenger planes, which at the time were still in the infant stages. Easily 1 of my favourite characters is Kurokawa, 1 of Jiro’s bosses. He’s a very small man, that has to run everywhere while his co-workers all walk with big strides. To go along with this, he has quite an amusing and complicated personality. The movie’s humour is that of a great humanity. It is full of human mistakes, quirks, and things that you would add to a story, simply because you found them amusing in real life. Therefore bringing a whimsical, warm and even timeless feeling to the movie. All based on real, human interactions.
The story at times has an unusual pace, especially when it comes to the relationship between Jiro and Naoko (the girl on the poster). Other than that, it was a well structured story about 1 man’s struggle to make his dreams come true.
How would I rate The Wind Rises compared to other films by Studio Ghibli? I’d say it’s easily in their top tier. Is it better than Ponyo? Yes. Is it better than Castle In The Sky? Yes. Is it better than Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro or Princess Mononoke?…Good question. Overall, the whole experience was fantastic, and it was an excellent send-off for 1 of the greatest movie directors of all time.
Overall: ****3/4 out of 5