This past weekend, The Wind Rises (風立ちぬ), the newest film from acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki was released in theaters across Japan. But how does Studio Ghibli's latest film stack up against classics like Spirited Away, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and Princess Mononoke? Read on to find out!
[This review contains spoilers about the general nature and background of the film]
Set in first part of the twentieth century, The Wind Rises is a great look at Imperial Japan in the decades leading up to the Second World War through the eyes of airplane designer Jiro Horikoshi. It not only shows city and country life in Japan during this time but also shows major events like the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and its terrible aftermath. It is also a great look at the evolution of airplane design and all the little changes and inventions that took airplanes from the Wright Brothers’ original model to the fighter planes of World War II.
Unlike most Miyazaki films, The Wind Rises is set in the real world. Thus all supernatural elements of the film come in the form of dreams and daydreams. In these dreams, Jiro is able to interact with his inspiration on a personal level. Often this comes in the form of notable airplane designer Giovanni Battista Caproni—Jiro's childhood idol.
These scenes are the best part of the film; where he encounters fantastical airplane designs that could never work in the real world and is able to realize his ultimate creation, the Zero, in dream-form years before it is actually built.
If you've ever seen Miyazaki's previous work, Porco Rosso, you'll have some idea of how much he loves the planes of the 1920s and 1930s. But this film takes it to a whole new level. The Wind Rises is filled to the brim with planes of every shape and size and it is not ashamed to spend minutes at a time doing nothing but watching them fly in all their animated glory. If, however, that doesn't seem quite like your cup of tea, you may find parts of the movie more than a little boring.
The Wind Rises is based on two things: the real life of Jiro Horikoshi—the creator of the Zero aircraft, and the novel The Wind Has Risen—the fictional story of a girl suffering from tuberculosis. For the most part, this mixing of the real world and the fictional works well, with Jiro's personal life centering around falling in love with the aforementioned girl and his professional life exploring the evolution of airplanes in the early twentieth century. The ending of the film, however, is such a clichéd, bittersweet tragedy—such an over-the-top piece of narrative convenience—that much of the emotional impact is lost.
The sound design in The Wind Rises is generally top tier, except in one reoccurring area. Sometimes, things like the wind, an earthquake, and a train engine are clearly done by someone making noises into a microphone instead of being a traditional sound effect. Worse still, not only are these mouth-made sound effects discordant with the rest of the sound design—and thus serve to pull the viewer out of the movie—they are also inconsistent in their use. Sometimes the blowing wind is a normal effect; sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the sounds of a plane engine is a normal effect; sometimes it’s not. This makes the mouth-made effects stand out all the more.
Unlike many of Miyazaki's movies, this movie is not going to be remembered as a great family classic. Children will simply find little in this movie to hold their interest. The film is the story of a man’s life, his dreams, how he falls in love, and nothing more. There is little action, and the incredibly beautiful and more than a little crazy dream sequences are few and far between.
As far as Studio Ghibli movies go, The Wind Rises doesn't reach the excellence of films like Spirited Away, but neither is it a terrible film. It is a decent slice-of-life tale that succeeds or fails based on the beauty of the animation and how interested you are in the subject matter. If you enjoyed the aesthetics of Porco Rosso or enjoy historical fiction dramas, be sure to check out this one.
The Wind Rises was released in Japanese theaters on July 20, 2013. No official Western release date has been announced.
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