Hayao Miyazaki’s swan song, The Wind Rises, is a historical drama based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi A5M and later the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, used by the Japanese empire during World War II.
Fantastic visuals have always been Hayao Miyazaki’s specialty, and the opening does not disappoint as we see young Jiro experience the joy of airplanes in flight, even walking along a plane wing with his idol, Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Caproni. This is all a dream, but it already shows the audience the fun and freedom planes represent to our hero. Jiro laments that he will never be a pilot for his eyesight is poor, but resolves that he will design them instead.
The film then moves forward, and we see Jiro en route to university to begin his studies. Whilst on the train he meets Nahoko who catches his hat when a strong breeze lifts it. This simple act introduces a parallel thread for the theme of wind as not just representing freedom and ambition for Jiro, but also the beginnings of an innocent love. As always, Studio Ghibli excels at creating an entire mood without even needing words – one stand out scene for me in which Jiro and Nahoko play with paper airplanes beautifully captures the charming and playful nature of early courtship and summer love.
Alongside this we see the economic and political problems Japan was facing during Jiro’s lifetime. This makes it easier to root for Jiro, we want him to achieve this great technological success for Japan because we have been shown the children who wait for hours at the bus stop with no food, the realities of dieases such as tuberculosis and the threat of Nazi Germany beginning to creep in. The film also features the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which in reality caused thousands of deaths. Whilst Miyazaki shies away from depicting the blood and gore, we see the full extent of the destruction, even more incredibly witnessing Miyazaki’s depiction of an entire nation who do not cry, fret or worry about the resulting chaos, but simply get up and begin trying to put something back together out of the wreckage.
Although this film is full of these awe inspiring and whimsical moments that Miyazaki has become famous for, The Wind Rises can be considered one of his more mature works, with the economic and political state of Japan in the early to mid-twentieth century serving to ground the film. Whilst the film ends on a positive note, for me it was too abrupt, especially after quite an emotional build up. I also felt that whilst the focus was clearly going to be on Jiro and the realisation of his dream, it did mean that other characters and themes suffered, sometimes seeming more like props. However, this is as emotionally moving as Ghibli’s other works, and certainly presents the kind of spectacular visuals Hayao Miyazaki has become known for in the anime world.