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Review: “The Wind Rises” Blu-ray – A Beautiful Mind

The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises Blu-ray Box ArtWhen he was young, Hayao Miyazaki would spend his childhood days in his father’s factory, a manufacturer of war plane parts. Fascinated by the intricate design of the flying machines, Miyazaki would carry his lifelong obsession with them for decades to come, tellingly incorporating flight prominently into his films. The Wind Rises feels like a long time coming. His signature calling cards are all there: ambiguously defined characters with complex morals, numerous wind and aircraft motifs, and visual subtlety to convey his messages. It’s easy to declare The Wind Rises as a self-portrait of the man, but Miyazaki has fervently denied such a claim. If it cannot be considered personal, then I’d argued it’s symbolic of the man’s legacy.

The Wind Rises is a loosely adapted biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, an aeronautical engineer known for his innovative, sleek Mitsubishi Zero fighter plane that dominated the skies during World War II. It’s an unconventional film in a number of ways, lest of all how utterly un-Miyazakian it feels at first glance. Gone are the whimsical fairy tale worlds, replaced with grounded early 20th century Japan. In place of his usually young, vibrant female protagonists is a man who shoulders solemn adult responsibilities. The tale isn’t about growing up and maturing from obstacles and life experiences, but what obstacles and life experiences can do to someone who dares to dream in the wake of bitter reality.

The film opens with a dream: a young Jiro climbs aboard a one-man airplane and soars over his humble hometown. Being nearsighted, he can’t pilot an airplane of his own, but his passion for the craft sets him on a different path after he reads the exploits of famed engineer Count Giovannia Battista Caproni (in another full circle moment, his company built the planes that are Studio Ghibli’s namesake.) With boosted confidence, Jiro meticulously studies and achieves his goal to create beautiful planes. As he grows older though, he encounters the brutal and ugly side of the industry, which constantly challenge his viewpoints and decisions. His naïve childhood days are far behind, left in the wake of a doomed economy and a looming war with no end in sight. Though his talents are acknowledged, it is used for militaristic purposes. The movie doesn’t spell it out, but Jiro silently criticizes it, reflected in his numerous dream sequences that either portray his craft as free-roaming vehicles or fallen by the taints of war. His desire is deceptively simple and prolongs a depression that’s amazingly subtle to see, no doubt due to Japan’s generally demure, traditional presence of respect and disdain for loud emotional outbursts (with the former especially visible in the film to emphasize the period piece setting).

The Wind Rises Blu-rayThe film is gentle, using scenes of melancholy and joy in sedated manners. The Wind Rises is less a solidified movie as it is a series of sequences that gradually progresses Jiro’s life. He eventually meets the love of his life, Naoko, and their romance encompasses the second half of the film. This segment is supposedly influenced by the works of Tatsuo Hori whom Jiro is partially based on. In spite of the changed genre, it effortlessly intertwines with the greater narrative as another facet of Jiro’s life. Naoko’s vigor and inner strength during times of distress gives Jiro renewed strength to face his own paradox. It is an adult film with adult ideals. Jiro is already grown, so his journey is significantly different from the Chihiros and the Kikis of their world.

In spite of the nontraditional aspects of The Wind Rises, digging below the surface reveals the movie to be one of the purest forms of a Miyazaki work yet. Jiro’s story is a different, sophisticated take on growing up, so to speak, but it has Miyazaki’s fingerprint all over it. Aside from the wind and airplane motifs, all of Jiro’s dreams capture the whimsy of an average Ghibli movie. His fantasies allow the animators to ramp up the fun and sprinkle the scene with as much energy as the film is allowed. Caproni plays a unique role here, serving as a benevolent Willy Wonka figure who guides Jiro through his subconscious. Because Jiro only knows of him through magazine articles, he is free to imagine Caproni as an exuberant magician.

The Wind Rises Blu-rayI think what’s amazing about The Wind Rises is how atypical Jiro’s journey is. Most of the driving conflicts are nonexistent, creating a remarkably mundane movie. Inspirational stories of a man who strives despite better odds are often force-fed and empowering, but here it’s a slow, gradual step that realistically phases through Jiro’s life. Unsurprisingly, it’s a morally gray film. In any other movie, Jiro would step down from his position creating planes for a war he opposes out of moral obligations, but in sticking through, The Wind Rises adds a complicated layer that truthfully captures the human soul. This is further played out when he and Naoto decides to live together instead of spending the latter’s last days apart in a hospital. Jiro is chided by his sister for such a selfish decision, but it’s one he and Naoto made regardless and their satisfaction is all that matters. Miyazaki noted the film was made with the idea that there are no “yes” and “no” buttons; indecisiveness and contradictions are very human qualities. Therein lies The Wind Rises’ greatest strength: its ability to carry an underdog story with quiet grace.

The Wind Rises gained a bit of controversy, drawing criticism as anti-war or romanticizing war, for tobacco usage, and intriguingly, from Korean protesters over the use of Korean (and Chinese) laborers in the actual manufacturing of Jiro’s airplanes (a scenario never presented in the film). I think the concerns are reasonable and have merits in discussion. The last one is something I, as a Korean, can certainly sympathize with even if I can’t necessarily relate to what they went through. But I don’t think The Wind Rises was created as a propaganda piece. It’s simply Miyazaki paying tribute to a fellow auteur with an equally passionate goal. It’s about contradiction and complexities of pursuing your dreams in light of hypocrisy, and there’s something inherently human about that pursuit.

The Wind RisesThe English dub is expertly delivered. I personally find a lot of dubs have a hard time grasping subtle emotional cues from Japanese cinema, frequently preferring to heart-on-sleeve straightforward expression of feelings. Emily Blunt’s Naoto conjures subdued whispers that echo grace, but weariness. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Jiro is perfectly stoic, but is able to conjure vivid reaction when necessary. Most amusing of all is hearing Hideaki Anno (of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame) as the lead in the Japanese soundtrack, a strange choice that makes sense when you realize Anno’s former works as a Ghibli alumni.

The Wind Rises comes in a Blu-ray/DVD set. Extras include a “Behind the Microphone” feature starring the English dub cast and director. It briefly hosts a series of montages between actors and dub writers as they express awe and praises for the movie. It isn’t particularly deep, but it’s presentable regardless. Other extras include a feature to watch the entire film from storyboards used during the production of the film, and commercials/TV spots from Japan. The last extra is the most extensive and layered: an 80-minute interview with Hayao Miyazaki, Hideaki Anno, and Yumi Matsutoya, the last of whom provides the theme song for the film. The interview yields a decent amount of information and the trio extensively talk about their experience with the movie and their professionals. Particularly fascinating is Miyazaki and Anno’s relationship to each other, Anno’s shyness and inexperience as an actor and how it compares to his directorial work, and a humorous running gag where everyone gently teases Miyazaki for crying over his own movie after he admits the reaction as embarrassingly pathetic.

It is poetic that The Wind Rises was created before Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement. Whether he sticks with it or not this time, it is appropriate his possible final film ends as a proficient magnum opus to his ideals and inspirations. It truly feels full circle.