REVIEW: The Wind Rises (2013)

Jiro, a youth with his head in the clouds, decides that he will spend his life making airplanes.


By Raymond Arcega
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The Wind Rises

Original Title: 風立ぬ
Year: 2013
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Genres: Animation, Historical, Romantic Drama, Slice of Life
Director: Miyazaki Hayao

The Wind Rises is a semi-biographical piece, with a fantastical twist, of real life aviation engineer Horikoshi Jiro, who created many Japanese fighter planes in World War II. The film is directed by Miyazaki Hayao, who is known for creating some of the most powerful theatrical animated films in recent history, from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind to Princess Mononoke.

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That being said, an easy assumption one can have when they are about to partake in this film is that they are in for another Miyazaki epic. However, this film is definitely the opposite, focusing more on a story that is more slice of life.

The story follows Horikoshi Jiro (Anno Hideaki), a young boy living in a countryside town who has his head in the clouds. Often dreaming about airplanes, one day he is presented with an English-language aviation magazine from a friend. After reading it intensively one night, he has a dream in which he meets Caproni – an Italian plane designer. After an eye-opening conversation with his newly found friend, Jiro decides from that point on his dream is to make planes, not fly them.

Fast forward some years later, Jiro is sat on a train in between cars. A gust of wind makes his hat fly off his head. But, as fate would have it, it’s caught by a girl standing in the next car over; a girl named Satomi Naoko (Takimoto Miori), traveling back home with her mother.

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We then witness the years of Jiro’s life as he lives through the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, landing a job at an airplane company, meeting and working with German engineers, and his relationship with Naoko.

For the fans who are expecting, more than anything else, an epic man vs. nature battle similar to the ones found in Mononoke, or to be swept into a fantasy world as that in Spirited Away, you might be a bit disappointed. However, The Wind Rises proves that it can still pack a punch with its superb animation, beautiful music, and story that can whisk you off into a world of its own. Don’t be surprised if you’re taken in even by Jiro when he goes off into his whimsical world of daydreaming.

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The one thing that is noticeably different in The Wind Rises, as compared to Studio Ghibli’s other films, is the age of the main characters. Usually, children or teenagers take the center stage, as reflected by the film’s opening scenes. As if representing the more mature theme that the film decides to take on, the main characters Jiro and Naoko grow up into young adults. The change is fitting, as this is a film that can be appreciated more by adults than by children.

With the change of the lead characters’ ages, the film explores themes not previously done before in a Ghibli film – namely romance. And we’re not talking hinted romance, or companionship so close that it looks like romance will one day bloom, but actual full-on, “I love you and will you marry me” romance. It makes the film not only more melodramatic, but ultimately grounds the character of Jiro, who for most of the film has his head in the clouds. Whether the romantic angle works for the film or not is definitely up to the viewer, as it is portrayed in a very old fashioned sense that some younger viewers might come to detest.

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More tropes of Miyazaki’s that is made central to the theme of The Wind Rises are airplanes and flight. In nearly all of Miyazaki’s directed films, there are scenes which feature the characters flying through the sky. Miyazaki is also known for his love of airplanes, as those were the first things he started to draw upon learning how to. And so, we are given a treat to many fantastical airplane designs that are sure to take one’s breath away.

With airplanes at its center, the film does something interesting and different compared to other films that use war as the background. World War II is the backdrop in Jiro’s adult years, however the way the war was treated was that it was almost non-existent. Rather shifting the focus to WWII, making it the center of attention of the story, the film doesn’t lose sight of what started Jiro’s journey: his love for airplanes. Throughout the story Jiro has stated that his dream was to create beautiful airplanes; perhaps a representation of the “something beautiful out of something ugly” theme.

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Being a historical film, many tidbits were handled with great care, particularly the way Japan looked in the 1920s and the way people spoke. Linguistic fans would have a ball listening to the differences in the usage of words as portrayed in the film with the way they are used now.

But of course, the film isn’t without some shortcomings. Anno Hideaki, acclaimed anime director of Neon Genesis Evangelion, did his best as his role of Jiro, but ultimately it felt like his performance was a bit lacking. The director does have a few films under his belt in which he worked as an actor, but no role as major as the one in this film. Also, the film skips around a lot throughout Jiro’s life, from his childhood to adulthood, but doesn’t handle the portrayal of the passage of time as well as it should have. One would have to really pay attention to the scenery changes and the mentioning of historical events to really understand how much time has passed from scene to scene.

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Also, the character of Naoko seems to be weaker than the typical female heroine that Miyazaki usually creates. Whether this is because of an effort to capture realistically the women of the time, or because the focus was mainly on the male character this time around, it was a bit of a letdown to see Naoko as a successor to strong female characters such as San, Kiki, Satsuki, and even Nausicaä (you can’t get any stronger than Nausicaä).

But getting past those shortcomings, what one can expect from The Wind Rises is Miyazaki telling a more mature, more serious story – one very different from the fantasies and epics he is very well known for. Themes of childhood dreams, adulthood, and romance overshadow all themes of fantasy, war, and good vs. evil. Whether it will be well received with fans who expect the traditional Miyazaki film is left to be seen, but one things for sure: it’s very hard to deny that when Miyazaki wants to tell a particular story, he has the power to make people listen.


Watch this film…

…you appreciate the kind of animated films that Studio Ghibli can pump out, and especially if you haven’t been satisfied with some of their previous releases.


About the Author

Raymond Arcega

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