The Wind Rises (2013) is the latest and, so it would seem, last feature from veteran Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki. Following the life of celebrated Japanese aviation engineer Jirô Horikoshi, the film diverts a little from traditional Miyazaki fare. Don’t expect to be disappointed, however; Miyazaki’s swansong is every bit as masterful as Spirited Away (2001) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), tempered only by a bittersweet sadness which runs throughout. Following Horikoshi from his youth right through to Japan’s entry into the Second World War, The Wind Rises emphasises the steadfast nature of the engineer, proving that it’s only through personal sacrifice that we can achieve our dreams.
Everything about Horikoshi’s life seems fleeting, as if all of his experiences and relationships are merely ephemeral. Horikoshi asks himself, “Who has seen the wind? Neither I nor you. But when the leaves hang trembling, the wind is passing through”. Like the wind, which only marks itself through the destruction it leaves behind, so many of Horikoshi’s noteworthy experiences are followed by wreckage elsewhere. Despite finally realising the aeroplane of his dreams, it becomes clear that this innovation will be used for warfare and ruination. In the creation of one dream, so many others are thus eradicated. If The Wind Rises can occasionally feel overly placid, the velocity and brutal speeds of the aeroplanes offset by pastel hues and dusty skylines do, in turn, offer a pleasing sense of gentleness.
The narrative takes its time but, in doing so, is remarkably detailed. Plot points which initially appear to divert from the real subject matter only remind us of the sacrifices Horikoshi had to make in order to mark himself in history. Through innovation, comes personal loss. Much like the story and, indeed, Horikoshi’s character, Miyazaki regular Joe Hisaishi’s score is minimal and understated, undercut with a barely perceptible sadness. Whilst his instrumental choices are varied, ranging from traditional orchestral instruments to accordions and Spanish guitar, the melodic line remains consistent. There’s perhaps no one better suited to working alongside Miyazaki than Hisaishi; within his bittersweet melodies is matched the director’s individual take on the world and, through this, his enduring genius.
Unlike many of Miyazaki’s previous works, The Wind Rises is a film rooted far more firmly in realism. Although it does have its fair share of fantastical dream sequences and magical flying machines (often involving Jirô’s inspiration, the magnificent Giovanni Battista Caproni), it’s very clear that they’re just that – dreams; things to which Horikoshi has no tangible access. And yet, in this sadness can be found something more meaningful. For the first time, it seems as if Miyazaki has hung up his wizard’s cloak and presented himself as just a man. Although reality defies the dream, it can also lead us to greater things and reveal the wild, untamed wonder inherent in the world around us.