Miyazaki on the Strength of the Human Spirit: The Wind Rises Review

GMS here.

Two amazing animated movies were released in the year of 2013.  Disney’s Frozen, a tale in which the relationship between two sisters is greater than that between a woman and a man, and Studio Ghibli’s The Wind Rises, acclaimed animator Hayao Miyazaki’s final masterpiece and a story where dreams and love must endure the times, fleeting and changing as the wind.

As of today, I can say that Frozen is no longer my favorite animated movie of 2013.

Now, before I get down to the nitty-gritty, let’s get the technical stuff out of the way first.  Yes, The Wind Rises was released in theaters in the U.S. on February 28th, 2014.  But, the Japanese release was on July 20th, 2013, making The Wind Rises a 2013 movie.  You wouldn’t base the release date of a movie made in America on the Japanese release date, even if you lived in Japan, right?  The Wind Rises is definitely a 2013 animated movie, and it is because of this that I am livid that Frozen won the Oscar for Best Animated Movie in the Academy Awards of 2014.  I’ll give the Frozen Fandom a minute to get the pitchforks ready, because I think The Wind Rises deserves the Oscar much more than Frozen.  Yes, Frozen is a really good animated movie, definitely Disney’s best in a long while.  I hate to say this, but all of the Disney movies, even the older ones, fail to impress me as much as the works of Hayao Miyazaki.  Great, now all the Disney fans are going to get their pitchforks ready.  Let me explain myself first.  Hayao Miyazaki is a freaking tank.  Let me repeat myself.  A.  TANK.  He is like a one-man animating machine.  He does most of his work on his own, or with a small team of animators.  Any use of computer animation in his films is pretty minimal when compared to the use of it in Disney’s recent films.  Compare the animation in Frozen to that of The Wind Rises.  Sure, Frozen’s animation is very detailed and beautiful, but in the end it is computer generated, and it looks a bit too perfect.  The animation in The Wind Rises is much more breathtaking because besides the fact that it is FREAKING BEAUTIFUL, you can tell that it was not computer generated.  There’s something to say about someone who can make a fully-animated feature in today’s times and have a minimal use of technology.  However, even compared to the Disney classics of yore, Miyazaki’s work impresses me much more because of his mastery of the craft of animation.  The pictures he can paint are simply breathtaking.  His style is definitely my favorite art style out of any artist I have yet come across.

And, before I continue, Miyazaki’s movies are NOT ANIME!!!!!!!!!!   His work is on a much higher plane, and to group him and his work with anime shows and movies, though those are awesome in their own right, is frankly insulting.  We cool?  OK, just wanted to make sure we were on the same page.

The Wind Rises is a fictionalized historical drama detailing the early life and career of real-life aircraft-designer Jiro Horikoshi, the man responsible for designing the Mitsubishi A5M and the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, used by the Japanese Military during World War II.  His idol, who he frequently visits in dream sequences, is Giovanni Battista Caproni, an Italian aircraft designer.  The historical backdrop of the early 20th Century  and the base of real people definitely made me interested in this film, being the history buff that I am.

Jiro and Caproni: their real life and animated personas. 

The story details Jiro’s life as he grows up with his dreams of becoming an airplane designer, his success as a genius in the field, and his falling in love, all with the backdrop of early 20th century and war looming over him.  The characters are all well developed and very likeable.  I find myself relating to Jiro quite a bit: he is kind and caring towards others; he is smart, yet he gets absorbed in his work quite a bit.  Caproni is a very majestic kind of a person, yet is very inspirational as well.  Jiro’s love Naoko is a very loving and devoted woman, caring about Jiro till the end.  Kayo, Jiro’s sister, is reminiscent of Mei from My Neighbor Totoro: she is very headstrong, yet is independent and cares very much for her brother’s wellbeing.  My favorite character is Jiro’s boss Kurokawa: he is a short man that loves to shout commands at his employees and use sarcasm a lot, and as a result adds some excellent comic relief to this otherwise emotional story.  Kurokawa was voiced by Martin Short in the English dub, an excellent choice, however the character is reminiscent of Wallace Shawn’s character in The Princess Bride.

This would have been so perfect!!!!!

The musical score is wonderful.  Joe Hisaishi, long-time Ghibli composer, once again amazes me with his talent.  The music ranges from somber to some Japanese tones, to even some French tones.  Once again, I tip my hat off to you Joe, you amaze me!

The dub is something to talk about.  Generally, Miyazaki movies have had better subs than dubs, but the English dubs of many of his movies have been pretty good, save for a few (Ponyo and My Neighbor Totoro, I’m looking at you!).  That said, I think Touchstone Pictures did a great job of bringing this movie to the States, with an all star cast of voice actors!  Featuring the voice talents of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Mandy Patinkin, and Stanley Tucci, how could you go wrong?  Great job Touchstone!

Warning!  Spoilers follow, so read at your own risk! 

There’s something I really want to talk about above all: the themes.  There are many themes in The Wind Rises, yet they are all contained under the umbrella of one large theme, represented by the quote at the beginning of the film:

“The wind is rising! We must try to live!”

All of the events of Jiro’s life, his love, his dreams and aspirations, all of the rest of the themes of the movie center around this one quote.  As Jiro’s life went on, gusts of wind of many forms rose up to meet him, and he was forced to deal with them and try to live through them.  He wishes to work with aircrafts, yet he cannot fly them due to his impaired vision.  Instead, he meets that storm with the decision to become a designer.  The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the Japanese Depression, and the looming World War II all rise up to meet him.  There is murmuring constantly in his aircraft designing business about how poor of a country Japan is and how behind they are in terms of airplane design, yet Jiro remains undaunted in pursuing his dream of designing amazing aircraft.  He falls in love with Naoko, yet he finds out she has tuberculosis and must make the choice of whether he wants to still be with her, knowing her time on this earth is short.  His love is so strong for her that Jiro decides to marry her.  Even when her condition worsens, and she would be better off in a sanatorium, Jiro decides to have Naoko live with him, so that she can spend the numbered days she has together with him.

Jiro and Naoko’s romance is one of the most beautiful and poignant facets of The Wind Rises. 

Jiro wishes to design aircraft for the joy of flying them, yet the only way for him to design aircraft is to do it for the purpose of war.  His dream of designing aircraft is constantly tested by the reality of war and the circumstances in his life.  One of the other themes that falls under this umbrella is dreams, and though the realization of these dreams may be tested, we should still pursue those dreams.  Jiro is uncomfortable at the fact that he must design for war purposes, as in many of his dream sequences Caproni has reminded him to not use his art for war.  He even undergoes many dream sequences in which he sees his dream resulting in a failure.

Though he experiences failure and understands the possibility of failure, Jiro nevertheless pursues his dream

Many of the projects he works on result in failures, and this leaves Jiro constantly wondering whether it is all worth it.  With the reassurance of Naoko and her presence at home giving him strength, Jiro continues to pursue his dream.  This also speaks to the power of love: the love you share with another can strengthen your spirit and help you to face any wind that rises up to meet you.

I will end this review with two quotes to think about.  Bothe of these further emphasize this theme of meeting the challenges of life and living on.  The first is a quote to Jiro by Caproni:

“Do you prefer a world with pyramids or with no pyramids?”

I love this quote, as it brings the idea of humans pursuing a dream to the end despite the odds against them.  The pyramids are a triumph of man, and show that despite how grand a scale and how seemingly impossible something is to accomplish, you can do it if you believe in yourself and face head on any challenge, or wind, that arises.

The second is the tagline of The Wind Rises in Japan:

The large black characters read: “We must live!”

Once again, this is reiterating the idea of the strength of the human spirit, and that no matter what wind rises to challenge us, we must remain strong and meet it head on, lest it blow us away.  This theme makes sense when you think of all the hard times the Japanese had to endure.  The depression, the various wars, the nuclear bombs, all were gales that tried to scatter the Japanese to the winds.  Yet, they survived, thanks to the strength of the human spirit.  This is why I love The Wind Rises.  It is not just any anti-war tale, it isn’t just your average romance.  It speaks to the resilience of the human spirit, its dreams and aspirations, and its loves and relationships.  If we understand that we can overcome trials, that we must live, then we will have the strength to survive any tragedy that befalls us, the will to face any obstacle that threatens to put us down, and the resilience to meet any storm head on.