Japanese animator extraordinaire and Venice favourite Hayao Miyazaki – who today announced his retirement from feature filmmaking – makes his final appearance in competition at said festival with The Wind Rises (2013), a straight biopic on the life of aviation engineer Jirô Horikoshi (Hideaki Anno), the designer of the Mitsubishi Zero fighter plane. Elements of fantasy still crop up from time to time, and despite the shift in genre the themes and concerns are in fact consistent with his other, more pantheistically exhilarating films such as Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. The film begins with Jirô as a boy, dreaming of flight and the famous Italian designer, the man they call Caproni.
Cursed by short-sightedness, Jirô quickly realises that he’ll never be the pilot he dreams of being, but in a vision his hero Caproni assures him of the worth in designing aircraft: “Airplanes are beautiful dreams”. However, even these early fantasies are haunted by scenes of catastrophic aerial bombardment and the violence and destruction which the invention will bring to the world – and Japan, in particular. Jirô grows up and moves to Tokyo where he meets a young girl Naoko (Miori Takimoto), saving her from the 1923 Tokyo earthquake and subsequent fires that ravaged the city. Unfortunately, the pair fall out of contact and Jirô follows his engineering dream, going on to work at Mitsubishi as a designer before gaining the respect of his anxious bosses as something of a hard-working genius-in-the-making.
Jirô subsequently travels to Europe and is witness to Hitler’s Germany, providing a brief foretaste of Japan’s near-future. The concern for the rise of fascism in his own country comes close to home, with Jirô having to hide to avoid arrest by the police having muttered several less than patriotic comments. In the meantime, he meets up once more with Naoko and they fall in love, but tragically she has tuberculosis from which she is trying to recover. Given the current move in Japan to revise the pacifist constitution, The Wind Rises is not only a period drama but a stern warning to a contemporary Japan that pushed by the same influences that led the country to war.
Throughout, Jirô’s friend Honjo (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is voicing sentiments of cultural inferiority and longing for German design, efficiency, wealth and tobacco. Jirô tries to stay our of it, lost in a world of his own dreams and calculations. “I’ve solved the weight problem,” he tells a late night seminar on the fighter plane’s design, “we just got rid of the guns.” As well as the political nightmare from which the world is trying to awake, Jirô’s devotion to following his dream also comes at great personal sacrifice. The Wind Rises is a stirringly personal epic, a compelling tribute to dreamers who can make drawings on paper come alive, and the way those dreams can be twisted.
The 70th Venice Film Festival takes place from 28 August to 7 September, 2013. For more of our Venice 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.