The master of modern animated cinema is bowing out then and The Wind Rises is to be Hayao Miyazaki’s farewell film. A fictionalised biography of Japanese aeronautical engineer, Jiro Horikoshi It’s a personal story which reflects Miyazaki’s own ambition and steadfast creative flair as much as anything else. The Wind Rises is a dreamily engrossing story of desire, determination and what it means to truly have one’s head in the clouds. To be certain, it’s not the great man’s masterpiece, but it is a stunningly realised, intensely beautiful and frustratingly problematic way to sign off on a breathtaking career.
The young Horikoshi is the quintessential dreamer, tantalised by visions of flight in a pre-war Japan still emerging from its traditional roots and on its way to becoming a world power. The first act of this farewell picture paints, with an otherworldly beauty, the vaulting ambition of a man with his feet on the ground but with his thoughts and desires approaching the stratospheric. Miyazaki happily tumbles into meandering, incredible visions of groundbreaking, pioneering invention; a stable of his previous work and cheerfully protruding from a film which is (funnily enough) more grounded and less surreal than one might expect. The boy designer meets his Italian idol, Giovanni Caproni and the two hold court, in-flight, on the wings of his latest and greatest piece of mechanical art. Caproni extols the beauty of the aircraft he designs, affirming to Horikoshi that although they may be put to evil use, they themselves contain immense beauty. Is Miyazaki allowing himself a mischievous reference to the dramatic splendour of his own creations?
The second half settles into a noticeably more sombre, domestic drama as Horikoshi becomes increasingly infatuated with a young woman, Naoko. Her terminal illness puts a dampener on their budding relationship and sees Miyazaki largely abandon the soaring, wondrous tone of the film’s opening hour in favour of a more muted and familiar beauty. Horikoshi has another love and obsession and their relationship is punctuated by moments of touching, and sincere sentiment. It’s not kitchen sink drama by any means, but Miyazaki has for the most part turned away from the fantasy and outlandishness that has been a feature of so much of his previous work.
It would be churlish, not to mention inaccurate, to think that Miyazaki doesn’t fully comprehend the consequences of his protagonist’s actions. Horikoshi is quintessential pacifist, his desire is to perfect his mechanical progeny, to create hybrid works of art and science that delight and surpass all others. He is reminded by Caproni that other men will corrupt the fruits of his labours but that his ground-breaking bloody-mindedness should be celebrated. And yet, it’s a film which can never come to terms with the crushing weight of history with inevitably looms large over the character. In its final throws Horikoshi pictures his creations as a thousand paper aeroplanes and laments that they will be used in a catastrophic conflict, but it’s arguably a lament exclusively aimed at Japanese loss of life; an embarrassed skirting around the difficult issues and no proper examination of the frightful mistakes and misdeeds of humanity.
So Hayao Miyazaki leaves with a contemplative distillation of the work of an unrivalled creative mind and architect of brilliance as well incomparable destruction. One of those things applies to the great man himself. As visually wonderful and as compassionate as you would expect, with slightly less of the untamed rowdiness than you might hope. A thoughtful sign-off that’s almost certainly more intriguing for not being perfect. Regardless of its awkward reflection on the work of the man who remains divisive; I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to see this.
Drama, Anime, Animation
9th May 2014 (UK)
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