Words: Brody Rossiter
As with any celebrated director, it is their former cinematic glories which so often shape the reception of their latest offering. In the case of Hayao Miyazaki, the renowned seventy-three-year-old Japanese master responsible for such unforgettable pictures as My Neighbour Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away, those former glories have proven to be timeless and beloved examples of animated filmmaking. However, this is the last time that such a critique will play out for Miyazaki. The Wind Rises, a fictional biography of Jiro Horikoshi, a designer of airplanes utilised by the Empire of Japan during The Second World War, is his final and perhaps most accomplished work.
Though a wistful air of nativity flows through the narrative, The Wind Rises is ironically one of Miyazaki’s most grounded offerings, relaying a story which juxtaposes engineering triumph against the machines of war derived from such restless ingenuity. It is a mature tale of professional ambition, grand designs, unrequited love and controversial internal conflicts. The film seamlessly flows between dream sequences in which Jiro celebrates the magnificence and artistry of airplane design alongside his mentor, famed Italian aeronautical engineer, Giovanni Battista Caproni, and the struggles of a reality in which his talents and hunger for success lead to the creation of winged devices which he knows will eventually be used to perform acts of great destruction. Though trademark elements of Miyazaki wonderment are undoubtedly still present, it is this lament of lost beauty and sacrifice which rests beneath the pictures sleek shell, providing the engine which powers its deeply emotive journey alongside Jiro, and through a Japan facing its own battle between tradition and modernity.
The robust and colourful beauty of The Wind Rises’ typically Ghibli-esque art direction (vivid blocks of colour outlined with hard black lines in the foreground, placed atop lush painted backgrounds) is attractive as always, as is the flawless and naturalistic animation – especially prevalent during bustling crowd scenes. Both Japanese and English dubs are included, ensuring that purists will remain content while those looking for a more western experience can revel in the fantastic voice acting provided by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, and Stanley Tucci.
Even today, after years of incredible animated cinema, from the spellbinding to the ultra-violent, this boundless art-form is still yet to possess the respect and attention it deserves. Through his vivid and mystifying storytelling Hayao Miyazaki managed to awaken a love for his own professional beast of burden for over half-a-century in the hearts of lovers of storytelling around the world. The Wind Rises is elegant and romantic, grandiose and melancholic, and ultimately a film which can stand proudly beside Miyazaki’s enchanting body of work as both a new direction and a tragically lyrical testament to the fact that he soared from the beginning to this triumphant end.