The Wind Rises: Miyazaki’s fond farewell to filmmaking

by Mark Burger

Acclaimed animator Hadao Miyazaki has vowed that his latest film, The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu) will be his last. If so, the master filmmaker has gone out on a suitably high-flying note.

The film, which earned an Oscar nomination as Best Animated Feature, depicts the history of Japanese aviation – and, to some extent, a history of early 20th-century Japan – as seen through the bespectacled eyes of aspiring aviation pioneer Jiro and interpreted in Miyazaki’s unique visual and storytelling sensibilities. Spectacle is carefully, winningly balanced with quieter, more subtle moments that again showcase the filmmaker’s distinctive mastery.

Paralleling Japan’s aviation history, there’s as much tragedy as triumph in Jiro’s romance with Nahoko, a girl he meets aboard a train that derails during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. Jiro will never be a pilot because he is nearsighted, and his relationship with Nahoko will be compromised by her worsening tuberculosis.

Indeed, the film ends with the introduction of what was then the pinnacle of the nation’s flight ambitions, the Japanese Zero, best known on these shores as the fighter plane used by Japan during the Second World War – including the attack on Pearl Harbor. The more powerful the plane onscreen, the more ominously it is rendered.

Jiro is hardly naïve to the fact that the military’s involvement will hasten development of the planes he designs and develops, thereby fulfilling his life-long dreams, but that it will ultimately bear a heavy cost. More than once, a character predicts out loud that “Japan will burn” – a prophecy that would of course come true.

(In an unusual marketing move, The Wind Rises is being released in its original Japanese with English subtitles and in an English-dubbed version featuring the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Stanley Tucci, Martin Short, Mandy Patinkin, Werner Herzog, Jennifer Grey, and real-life husband and wife John Krasinski and Emily Blunt.)