A celebration of craftsmanship and the creative process, legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki’s mooted swansong, The Wind Rises (2013), examines the delineation between truth and beauty, questioning whether you can separate cause and effect when it comes to the work of an artist. Unlike much of Ghibli’s oeuvre, The Wind Rises inhabits the adult world, presenting us with a highly fictionalised biopic about Japanese aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi. However, that’s not to say there isn’t magic to be found beneath the bolts and rivets. Renowned for being the chief engineer behind the Japanese A6M Zero fighter plane, Miyazaki focuses on the innovator in Jiro, rather than the traumatic legacy of his life’s work.
From schoolboy dreams of his hero, the renowned Italian plane designer Caproni, to his tenure as an engineer for Mitsubishi during the Second World War, The Wind Rises charts Jiro’s life whilst simultaneously mirroring Japan’s troubled history during the early stages on the 20th Asserting itself firmly within the subjectivity of its protagonist, Miyazaki’s enchanting biography is rendered upon a lush canvas of sharp lines and bright pastel shades. Those familiar with Studio Ghibli’s meticulous hand-drawn animation will appreciate the love and compassion painstakingly etched within every frame. Whilst the film’s fleeting moments of magical realism might be a questionable approach to encompassing Jiro’s guilt and sense of culpability, the flights of the imagination are almost all breathtakingly beautiful.
Miyazaki’s lifelong obsession with all things aeronautical has been perpetually apparent in his finest animated works (be it witches on broomsticks, flying pigs, or floating castles) and The Wind Rises is at its best when allowed to spread it wings and soar. Miyazaki’s restraint when it comes to the film’s rare dream sequences is to be commended, the lengthy focus on Jiro’s career progression does feel a little laboured. Thankfully once Jiro finally meets his fictional wife, Miyazaki’s charm, imagination and ability to evoke a powerful sense of pathos for his characters comes to the fore and allows the film to reach its emotional crescendo. Questions have been asked of Miyazaki’s decision to make such an unwaveringly romantic depiction of a man responsible for the creation of Japan’s most effective – and wantonly destructive – fighter planes.
Whilst the film is in no way a defence of Japan’s wartime conduct, by presenting an account of history, albeit a self-confessed fictionalised one, there is a responsibility to acknowledge this lack of authenticity when adopting such a rigid and universally consumed mode of inquiry. Vivid fantasy sequences with Caproni, and dreams of Tokyo in flames are infrequent and merely fill the margins of the frame, yet in presenting the myopic vision of an artist, and in doing so disregarding his own artistic responsibility, The Wind Rises is a fascinating look into the aesthetic judgement of art and whether an artist’s work should stand alone or be considered within the context of its creation. Miyazaki’s apparent farewell is a tender and emotional curtain-closer that’s both a fitting valediction and also one of Ghibli’s most poignant features to date.