Jun 26, 2015

[Movies] The Wind Rises / Kaze Tachinu (2013)

For many people, it's easy to automatically equate Hayao Miyazaki with Studio Ghibli. The man was instrumental in founding the animation studio after all, but over the years not all of their films have been ones that he directed. In the same way that Pixar has its own group of directors working on their different movie projects, so does Studio Ghibli.

But The Wind Rises represents the very last movie that Hayao Miyazaki directed for Studio Ghibli. It wasn't immediately clear what this movie would be about given the very first Japanese trailer, but naturally a lot of us Studio Ghibli fans were pretty excited to see what was going to come out of this production. And in that one trailer alone, the visuals were as stunning as ever.

It took me and Tobie quite a while before finally finding the time to watch the movie for ourselves. We ended up with a copy of the movie in the original Japanese with English subtitles as opposed to an English-dubbed version of the movie. And admittedly it's always nicer to watch these movies in this manner even though we don't always have the time to really sit down and focus on a movie in this manner.

Synopsis: The Wind Rises / Kaze Tachinu is a Japanese animated historical drama movie written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and animated by Studio Ghibli. The story is a fictionalized biographical tale of Jiro Horikoshi as based on the manga created by Miyazaki as well. This was all loosely based on the short story "The Wind Has Risen" by Tatsuo Hori.

In 1918, we meet a young Jiro Horikoshi dreams of flying but his myopia (near-sightedness) prevents him from pursuing this career. In a dream, he meets Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Battista Caproni (Nomura Mansai / Stanley Tucci), who tells him that building planes is even better than flying them. Thus Jiro sets out to become an aircraft designer instead. Five years later, Jiro (Hideaki Anno / Joseph-Gordon-Levitt) is off to the Tokyo Imperial University and meets Naoko (Miori Takimoto / Emily Blunt) on the train. However during this train ride, they are caught in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and Jiro ends helping Naoko and her maid  in the aftermath.

Forward again to 1927 and Jiro has graduated together with his friend Kiro Honjo (Hidetoshi Nishimura / John Krasinski) and they begin to work at Mitsubishi trying to design a fighter plane. You would think that this would be the fulfillment of Jiro's dream, but they're also held back by Japan's lack of technological know-how in the area. Without access to better engines and more modern construction materials, they may never design a plane that has the capability to stand up to foreign fighters. And of course there's the side quirk of Naoko once again entering Jiro's life, thus changing things even further.

Jiro's dreams play a key part in how this story is told and probably touches the most on themes of magical realism that we associate more with Miyazaki's other movies. They're not terribly abstract in terms of visuals and narrative flow, but they are still quite beautiful and moderately disturbing at times, depending on the setting of the dream itself. This was used as an interesting narrative device in depicting Jiro's potential motivations and thoughts throughout his life as he'd advance further and further in his dreams of beautiful planes.

But at the same time, this movie follows the Studio Ghibli pattern of paying close attention to the details of "mundane" life. Just look back at how the animators depicted the change in things as the sky darkens and rain begins to fall. Look back at how the fires consume a house or how people do their best to avoid danger after an earthquake. There's a lot about the movie that celebrates the little things and that's always a big part of what makes these movies so beautiful.

The narrative felt a bit more complex, only because it seemed to be flowing in two major directions. First you have Jiro and his career aspirations to become a great aircraft engineer and help bring Japan in step with other nations when it comes to aviation design. But then you also have Jiro and Naoko and their budding romance and how he tries to balance that with his focus on his work. These are both parts of his life and I get how this becomes part of the movie's conflict, but at the same time it didn't seem quite as smooth or fluid at times and they seemed to be moving in different directions without necessarily being in conflict with one another.

The movie had some rather jarring bits that had a lot of emotional impact that felt a wee bit out of scale with the rest of the movie. This is best seen in the earthquake scene that seemed to be almost supernatural in terms of its impact and yet it was still trying to depict an actual event. The almost cartoonish jumping of hills to represent the shock wave made for quite the interesting visual that was also quite chilling. I almost thought it was depicting an atomic bomb or something.

So on the whole, The Wind Rises was quite beautiful and at times poignant although a little confusing in its messaging. It had a key story to tell but seemed to jump around to weird parts of Jiro's life at times, thus damaging the narrative further. Thus the movie gets a good 4 beautiful scenes of planes in flight out of a possible 5.


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