The Wind Rises (2014)
Yeah, well, despite yesterday’s predictions it looks like I found something to while away the most blazingly warm sun drenched day of the year, I mean who wants to lounge around in the park when you can lurk in the darkness of a movie theatre? Like anyone with a pair of eyes and half a brain I admire the work of Hayao Miyazaki, the stupendous soaring sensei of post war film animation, one of the unparalleled geniuses of his particular form of storytelling whom has organically grown a huge and dedicated fan base in the West since the release of his breakthrough foreign territory film Spirited Away back in 2001. As I said I admire his work but I’m far from being a cult obsessed fan-boy, I only own copies of Spirited Away (a welcome birthday present) and my favourite of his works Princess Mononoke but in general I prefer my film material of a darker hue, more adult and less tween focused, although granted with Ghibli product you can always revel in the simple artisan beauty of the sheer craft of the animation and dedicated characterisation, of the lyrical beauty of his hidden worlds and mystical creatures, of the inquisitive elements and the simple joys of life. I could have caught The Wind Rises at the final press screening of TiFF last year but instead I opted to actually explore the city a little, a decision which illustrates my relative disinterest in the movie, but I figured with nothing else on the agenda and as an alleged film critic I should make the effort and see this cultural figures final film actually at the cinema, and since it was playing at my local Cineworld it wouldn’t much of an odyssey to sacrifice an afternoon for one last voyage on the whispering winds.
For his alleged final film (Miyazaki has announced his retirement before but those dreams of flying kept him coming back to the easel) Studio Ghibli has not shied away from potential controversy, targeting the biography of Jiro Horikoshi as a final swan-song, he being the instrumental designer of the Mitsubishi A5M and its successor the Mitsubishi A6M Zero aircraft which were both deployed to kamikaze carnage strewn by the Empire of Japan during World War II. Beginning with his early childhood and with his dreams swirling through the clouds Jiro (Hideaki Anno) becomes obsessed with the designs of Italian aeronautical engineer Caproni, declaring to his mother than one day he will also become a brilliant aircraft engineer. Years later and the newly graduated Jiro is hired by Mitsubishi to work on new plane designs, en route to his new life he meets and falls in love with Noako (Miori Takimoto) but is separated from her due to the indiscriminate vagaries of fate. His promising career moves from strength to strength, despatched to Germany he studies post World War I bomber designs, as his home country slowly starts to develop its own Imperial war machine….
It may be sacrilegious to say but I found this film something of a chore, a pleasant enough flight through a distanced vantage point of one mans life, but a little more turbulence in terms of excitement or event would have made this journey a far more engaging affair. Like any Ghibli film it has a few moments of stark, studious beauty – a calm wedding sequence between Jiro and his sickly wife, the ominously eerie aftermath of the shattering Kanto earthquake of 1923 which foreshadows the twin nuclear cataclysms which were to fall on Japan two decades later – but long stretches of this film were flat and unengaging, and I never truly felt a compassionate sense of Jiro’s obsession with the simple beauty of all things aeronautic. Rooting his final film in the real world denies the ability to open the door to his Lewis Carroll alternate worlds of Laputa – Castle In The Sky or Howls Moving Castle, so the enjoyment may well rest upon the fidelity to a real man’s real life, and even here the hand waving dismissal of Jiro’s involvement of the war effort is slightly disconcerting and distracting.
I do admire the simple beauty of the traditional ink moulded animation and pushing out of my comfort zone from a technical standpoint you’ve got to admire the tenacious old-fashioned craft, as single cell progressive movements are photographed against those mercurial matted backdrops. Whilst I’m sure that some of this film was executed in a computer like all Ghibli The Wind Rises has an ethereal aura of dedicated and carefully handcrafted loving technique, bereft of visual pollution or some redundant grasp for photorealistic dazzle which clutters much of contemporary American animation. I also like the languid pacing, the insistence on allowing scenes to breathe and evolve as characters wake up, yawn, and slowly search for the eye-glasses, rather than charging breathlessly through a narrative without pausing for breath. Maybe it was my mood as it’s obviously not a bad film, more a quiet aside which I just couldn’t connect with, I just didn’t feel any magic or vigour which is evident in the likes of Mononoke and Spirited Away but others have enjoyed it immensely so I’m guessing if you’re a fan of his previous work then this will be worth a jaunt. As far as our journey goes a few things are sneaking up on the radar, we have a few unusual BFI appointments in June but July holds some real treats, including a preview of one of the UK’s great maverick filmmakers new film and in conversation, alongside one of America’s counter-culture cinema icons – groovy. Until then I can only recommend The Wind Rises to Ghibli acolytes, a dream of flying which is a vaporous enough way to while away a Sunday afternoon;