On the one scorching Scottish summers day, of the year probably, I sat alone in my local cinema screen, anticipating the experience of Hayao Miyazaki’s farewell Studio Ghibli film. As a second audience member entered the dark empty room, we glanced a look of understanding and approval; we had both made a fine and wise choice on how to spend this sunny afternoon.
The darkness began to unfold into a bright other world. A recognisable world full of imagination familiar to any Ghibli fan. However, The Wind Rises departs from Miyazaki’s distinctive style of magic and mythical creatures, providing audiences with something slightly more mature.
Based on a true story, the 72 year old visionary director portrays the life of Jiro Horikoshi, an aspiring engineer fascinated by the creation of airplanes. We embark upon a journey spanning from Jiro’s innocent childhood dreams, through the hardships of his life, and to the end reality of his accomplishments as a renowned airplane designer during WW2. Although the inspiring beauty within Jiro’s dreams and passion is unmistakable, Miyazaki’s use of juxtaposition allows the exploration of serious ethical issues. Supporting our protagonist dreams and success is fundamentally supporting the creation of machines that aided the Nazi Regime and caused many deaths.
We see this moral contrast within Jiro’s dreams. The endless blue skies and vivid colours prove Miyazaki’s escapism into imagination and fantasy is still definitely present, but we also see the opposite in Jiro’s nightmares. He foreshadows the future with flames and death, and cannot dismiss his guilt of what his magnificent designs will eventually be used for.
On the one hand we have a gentle and enchanting story, accompanied by a delicate soundtrack and adorable characters. On the other hand we explore issues of poverty, the economy, natural disasters, death and war. Although more of a war-time drama than Miyazaki’s fantastical classics like ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ and ‘Spirited Away’, the adult protagonist and serious themes aren’t just for adults and in fact could be a great beacon in enticing children to analyse aspects of history and humanity. Seeing Miyazaki’s delightful animations swiftly changing from happy faces to distress and panic really exerts feelings of empathy, and proves animation can be a very powerful device.
Life lessons of never giving up on your dreams, the importance of family and love, and the kindness of strangers are further simple philosophical themes that are lightly, but faultlessly expressed. Jiro is quite a simple protagonist, and may even seem slightly dulland lacking in personality. However, it is his morals of life that make him our hero.
Auteurist’s believe that the style of a director should be individual and identifiable, and Miyazaki definitely exudes this quality. The impressive visuals and attention to detail within The Wind Rises is standard within Studio Ghibli productions, as is the lyricism present within its narrative. Only they could make the labour of industrial technology beautiful and romantic. The consistent visual style invites us into Japanese culture through its unique aesthetics of Japanese homes and architecture. We observe the characters sitting on traditional Japanese floor mats eating food and conversing. These low shots render an intimate atmosphere. The customs and mise-en-scene designs are standard within Japan, but provide an intriguing quality to audiences not accustom with the Japanese way of life, and the fine details of these drawings are truly mesmerising.
Miyazaki cleverly inserts the concept of retiring into his retirement film, and leaves us fuelled with one last dose of inspiration, an element unceasingly sustained within his animations. In the beginning a simple gust of wind introduces Jiro to his true love, and later, brings them back together again. The wind also provides the inspiring quote that sums up the film’s philosophical nature very nicely. Given to us through fellow retiring artist Caproni, perhaps this allows us to pretend it’s Miyazaki speaking to us himself: ’The wind rises! We must attempt to live!’ The original words of French Poet and philosopher Paul Valery, and now the epic farewell to a genius director. Now we must attempt to live without the prospect of more beautiful and magical Miyazaki films.