“The wind is rising… we must try to live!” These words by the French poet Paul Valéry set the stage for Hayao Miyazaki’s latest masterpiece, “The Wind Rises.”
A fictionalized account of real historical events, “The Wind Rises” follows the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the inventor of one of Japan’s deadliest World War II fighters. Jiro dreams of flying from a young age and is visited in his dreams by Giovanni Battista Caproni, an Italian aeronautical engineer who bears a strong resemblance to Howard Hughes. Both share the same passion for the beauty of airplanes and Caproni inspires Jiro to become an engineer like himself. After attending university, Jiro becomes a prodigy who begins work with an airplane manufacturer contracted by the Japanese military.
“The Wind Rises” takes place in an economically backward 1930s Japan on the brink of war. Much more political than his other works, the film sparked criticism from both the right and left in Japan, who questioned Miyazaki’s motives in glorifying “killing machines.”
Even so, Miyazaki’s Jiro is a sympathetic character, striving to realize his dreams in an imperfect world that would see his planes used for death and destruction. Although free of any of the strange creatures that inhabit “Spirited Away” or “Howl’s Moving Castle,” “The Wind Rises” has its share of dark themes. Caproni asks Jiro: “Do you prefer a world with pyramids, or with no pyramids?” The conflict that arises from twisting things of beauty, Caproni explains, does not make them any less beautiful. This is the main struggle that Miyazaki addresses.
As in any of his other films, Miyazaki’s animation is masterful. Each frame is a bright and vivid watercolor painting that leaps off the screen. This is especially true of the rural Japanese countryside of Jiro’s childhood.
The film has been released in the United States in both a dubbed English version and in Japanese with English subtitles. Joseph Gordon-Levitt voices Jiro in the English dubbed version of the film. “The Wind Rises” also features the vocal talents of Emily Blunt, Darren Criss and Elijah Wood.