Hello Asia! Film Review: The Wind Rises (Japan, 2013)

The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu) is the much heralded and final offering from legendary Japanese animated feature film director of Studio Ghibli fame – Hayao Miyazaki. In true Miyazaki style, it is loosely based on historical events steeped deeply in fantasy and adventure. Although this film is a highly fictionalised biography, it pays tribute to the real life Jiro Horikoshi – the chief engineer of many Japanese fighter planes during World War II.

Originally released in Japan in July 2013, The Wind Rises was the highest-grossing film in Japan that year and received critical acclaim from film critics. However, it also received criticism in the political realm, stemming from the deep-seated cultural discomfort associated with Japanese historical wartime issues, including involvement with the Axis alliance. Although it is not necessary for one to have an understanding of Japanese history and the subsequent aftermath of World War II prior to seeing this film, it is much more enjoyable if you have some basic knowledge under your belt.

Miyazaki’s imagined interpretation of Jiro (voiced by Hideaki Anno of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame) is one of pacifism. Rather than portraying him as the designer of brutal killing machines, he is characterised as a gentle young man who is almost oblivious to the war happening around him. During one evening, Jiro dreams of meeting the real-life Giovanni Battista Caproni (voiced by Nomura Mansai), an Italian aeronautical engineer. Caproni asks Jiro – “would you rather live in a world with pyramids or without?” – which inspires Jiro to realise his own dream of building planes. Jiro’s innocence throughout the film then manifests in his level of focus on this private objective. During the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, he meets a young girl named Naoko Satomi (voiced by Miori Takimoto) and as their love blossoms, so does his career. However, this story is not without heartbreak. As the war progresses, Jiro must evade arrest by Japanese authorities whilst Naoko slowly succumbs to tuberculosis. His relationship with Naoko is interpreted as somewhat akin to his relationship with planes – both of which must come to an end.

The Wind Rises may not be on par with the phantasmagorical aspects of Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle or My Neighbour Totoro, but it remains visually stunning. As with all Miyazaki films, real-life scenes are translated meticulously into animated landscapes. Anime pilgrims will rejoice in recognising the familiar backdrops of Ueno and Nagoya despite the reversal of decades. The film also pays homage to Japanese technology and design – contrasting the different interiors of living spaces and forms of transport, as well as the ever-changing environment progressing from the mid 1920s to the 1930s.

The Wind Rises is a thought-provoking film and Miyazaki’s final masterpiece before retiring from Studio Ghibli. As such, it appears to encompass the message of Miyazaki himself having realised a life-long dream amid a tumultuous and changing world. The nostalgia of days gone by will leave much of the older audience longing for the excitement of a less-complex world just discovering flight. For the younger audience, it is a sweet story that tugs on the heartstrings.

Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Running Time: 126 minutes (w/English Subtitles)
Rating: PG

The Wind Rises, is in selected Australian cinemas now.

ACT – Dendy Canberra
NSW – Dendy Newtown & Event George Street
QLD – Dendy Portside
SA – Palace Nova Eastend
TAS – State Cinema
VIC – Cameo Belgrave, Cinema Nova & Classic Elsternwick
WA – Luna Leederville

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