I was very excited this week to finally see a Studio Ghibli film in the cinema. Usually I have to wait until they are released on DVD. But this week we were able to pop along to a showing of the studio’s latest international release, The Wind Rises. As previously documented, I am a fan of Studio Ghibli’s work. The Wind Rises was billed as studio founder Hiyao Miyazaki’s final film and was the highest grossing film in Japan for 2013.
The Wind Rises told the (heavily fictionalised) story of real-life aeronautical engineer, Jiro Horikoshi. The film told Jiro’s story from a young boy right through to the successful completion of his first plane as chief designer. We followed his progress alongside a backdrop of national and international turmoil.
Jiro is fascinated by planes, but frustrated by the idea that he will never be a pilot, due to poor eyesight. Famed Italian aeroplane designer Caproni comes to Jiro in a dream and suggests he design planes instead of flying them. A whole new world of possibility is opened up for Jiro and he immediately dedicates himself to his studies and his dream. He travels first to Tokyo University, then to Nagoya to work for Mitsubishi. Along the way he meets Naoko, first as young girl he rescues from a train following an earthquake, then later as an adult. The two fall in love and the struggles and sacrifices of his personal life are shown alongside his quest to realise his designs, against the backdrop of burgeoning international conflict.
The film held many traditional Ghibli hallmarks. Miyazaki always shows great respect for the power of nature and he tips his hat to her again when a devastating earthquake hits Tokyo as Jiro is on his way back to university. The depiction of the earthquake is terrifying and upsetting and reminds us (once again) that we cannot predict what will happen in life. Jiro’s dreams were full of the fantastical and the film moved along at its own gentle pace. Never watch a Ghibli film expecting it to zip along – one of the most enjoyable aspects for me is their tendency to let the story unfurl and not rush through the action. That being said, one of the only negative aspects of the film for me was the love story between Jiro and Naoko (who is invented for the story). It felt rushed and somehow incongruous to the rest of the film. I felt it distracted from Jiro’s personal tale and ended up sort of…going nowhere, leaving me to wonder why we’d wasted time on it. Was it to show the sacrifices Jiro made for his work?
Throughout the film there are references to Japan’s domestic turmoil. I for one was ignorant of the country’s personal history at the beginning of the last century and it was interesting to see how closely Jiro’s work and success was aligned to Japan’s domestic and economic troubles. The shadows of war are evident throughout; Japan paying Germany for access to their technology, the desire for bombers from the company that hired Jiro and his friends. There is a pervading sense that the engineers are removed from the reality of what they’re building. Jiro says repeatedly that he just wants to build beautiful aeroplanes. Yet, all of Jiro’s dreams of flight and planes are haunted by nightmarish visions of death and destruction; planes crashing to the ground, or burning up, with the engines emitting demonic noises. He is never free from the tension that comes with designing crafts that will later be used as doomed killing machines.
There is no real happy ending here. We witness the destruction and thirst for power that tarnishes the dreams and ideals Jiro has for his planes. He must make peace with himself between following his heart and accepting the violent fate that awaits his work. There seems to be a message here that artists, dreamers and forward thinkers will always find themselves at the mercy of those who wish to corrupt the purity of their work and that this is how the world works.
Studio Ghibli films are almost always about the dreamers in life; the unfettered thinkers who live beyond the realms of possibility and reality. Jiro is in the tradition of Shizuku from Whisper of the Heart, Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service, Howl in Howl’s Moving Castle or Pazu from Laputa: Castle in the Sky. His plans and visions are more than what others have seen and soar beyond what those around him can imagine. This sense that anything is possible is something I will always treasure about Ghibli films. This film is absolutely beautiful to look at and a quiet, reflective tale – highly recommended.