The Wind Rises: The Engineer’s Dream – A Review

The Wind Rises, animation for adults

The Wind Rises, animation for adults

I am a thorough and complete sucker for Studio Ghibli’s stuff.  As far as I’m concerned, the quality of their output is more or less consistent with utter perfection[1].  I’ve practically watched it all, from Laputa all the way through to Grave of the Fireflies[2].

So, when Miyazaki Hayao, Ghibli’s founder and (in my humble opinion) the best animation director, producer and writer in all of history, announced that he was making his final film forever and everest (no seriously guys, I’m totally retiring this time, no takesies backsies, really, this is for real my final film), I simply had to watch it.  Not that I’m actually convinced the film really is his final one, of course, the Senior Mr Miyazaki has had so many retirement and comeback films that I’m almost convinced that he’ll rise up from the grave like a zombie just to make a few more after his death.  Besides, Miyazaki’s retirement and comeback films are among his best and greatest works[3].

Final film or not, I was very pleasantly surprised when Madman Entertainment announced that The Wind Rises was to be released in Australian theatres subbed and not dubbed.  And, like the Ghibli loving anime fan I am, I went to see it with my friends at the Dendy.

Life is but a dream

Life is but a dream

The Wind Rises is covers the heavily fictionalised biography of famed aircraft designer, Horikoshi Jiro, as mashed up with the story from Hori Tatsuo’s famous work about living with tuberculosis, The Wind has Risen.  The story is loosely told as a series of important events in Jiro’s life, starting from childhood, with each segment connected to the others by a tangled web of beautiful dreams.  The movie begins with a dream, as the child Jiro both fantasises about flying and realises the reality of his inability to do so due to myopia.  It ends with a dream, as the adult Jiro considers the things he has done with his life and the future paths he still has ahead of him.

As expected of a film by the Senior Mr Miyazaki, The Wind Rises contains many of his favourite things – vintage planes, flying scenes, strong female characters, romance, anti-war sentiments and Anno Hideaki[4].  The animation certainly lives up to its studio’s name.  Scenery is drawn or painted with the utmost precision and no detail is left out during reality scenes – every face is unique, the backgrounds are never still with sunlight moving.  The animation in dreams, however, take on a slightly more blurry and unrealistic quality.  There’s a fantastic sequence in one of the dreams where the Jiro finds himself standing on the wing of one of Gianni Caproni’s aircraft, which happens to be so full of people that the plane itself starts doing ridiculous things – its metal sides bulging out and people hanging out of every conceivable window, gun port, access hatch and doorway.  The scene is both ridiculous and yet touching and poignant.

I must, at this point, make a mention of the fantastic sound work that went into this film.  Not only are the sound effects very suitable for what happens in the film, but I was extremely surprised to note that every sound was created by a human throat!  It was certainly an interesting directorial choice on Miyazaki’s part.

Mummy Warning:  The Wind Rises is definitely not a film for children unless you are willing to discuss issues of war, death and disaster.

The movie contains intense scenes depicting the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and its aftermath and also has a particularly gory depiction of a lung hemorrhage that, while partially censored, still makes it abundantly clear that the victim of said hemorrhage is not dripping, but vomiting copious amounts of blood from the nose and mouth.  Definitely not something you’d want to show the kids.

Beauty in the moonlight

Beauty in the moonlight

The themes present in the film are definitely adult as well.  A large part of the film is dedicated to the bittersweet romance between Jiro and his fiancee and later wife, Satomi Naoko, as she slowly slips towards an inevitable death from tuberculosis.

There is also a certain amount of controversy surrounding the film’s anti-war themes, particularly since Miyazaki seems to go out of his way to condemn Japan’s denial of its crimes in World War II and the attitudes of victimisation that the Japanese people take in regards to the war.  The film itself makes overt references to the Kempentai (Japanese Secret Police) and pretty much references every axis sin in the lead up to WWII.  Personally, I think that these controversial and adult themes serve to strengthen the movie instead of diminish it.

That's some beast of steel and wood!

That’s some beast of steel and wood!

By the by, I highly recommend watching this movie with an engineer if you have one in your group.  Engineers will LOVE this movie.  Miyazaki makes full use of the aeroplane blueprints gifted to him by Caproni’s grandson.  Planes are animated in exquisite detail, with cutaways showing the framework inside the wings and the various moving parts within.  Technical drawings spring to life off the blueprints as the characters imagine their form and function[5].

I love this movie.  It’s challenging in its melancholy nature, yet sweet and hopeful in its own way.  I would certainly view it again and am definitely going to buy a copy for my personal collection and not just because it’s made by Ghibli.  It’s definitely worth watching on the big screen, especially with surround sound.

A Becky Lee Rates The Wind Rises: One high-quality engineering slide rule with ALL THE electrical and mechnical units.  And two engineers to fight over it.  And all the manly tears.

The Wind Rises is showing in select theatres across Australia and is slated for theatrical release in Singapore on the 20th of March 2014.  For more information on where it is expected to screen, check out the website at http://www.madman.com.au/catalogue/view/21953/the-wind-rises.


[1]Tales of Earthsea and Ponyo notwithstanding.  *Braces herself for incoming fancannon fire*

[2]That being said, you’d never get me watching Grave of the Fireflies twice.  It’s too depressing.

[3]As of last checking, Mr Miyazaki announced his unretirement on New Years Day 2014.

[4]Rumoured to be one of Miyazaki’s best friends and the director of the insanely popular Neon Genesis Evangelion, and possibly the most insane anime director of all time.  OF ALL TIME.

[5]There’s a scene of a slide rule that is pretty much guaranteed to make any engineer worth his/her salt squee with joy.

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2 thoughts on “The Wind Rises: The Engineer’s Dream – A Review

  1. This a jewel of a movie. Miyazaki is at the peak of animation genius in this personal project. You can see all the themes which are intrinsic to him floating on the surface of the scenes and that’s why it gets a little more dramatic to the end. Overall, The Wind Rises seems like a nice farewell from one of the greatest storytellers of our time.

    • Well, it is a fantastic movie, though I’m not entirely sure that Miyazaki is making a real farewell. I heard he’s coming back to work on a TV series this time, which should be really interesting.

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