The Wind Rises: review, tribute and a look at the future for the Studio Ghibli team

the_wind_risesAS I SAT STARING at the end credits, a whole array of emotions began to strike: the overwhelming joy of seeing such a masterpiece and the emptiness knowing that this is a film to mark an exit.

Here is a film by a man who has proven time and time again his mastery of the art, and what a film to leave on. A lot of people who aren’t overly familiar with the movies of Ghibli may not have realised that Ghibli’s film production doesn’t operate the same as, let’s say, Disney or Pixar, because the production process is, or seems to be, controlled a lot more by the creative team than it is the executives. If you were to compare each Ghibli film with the director you’d soon see a pattern, that each director has their own style and has been allowed to express it, which I imagine is what lead Ghibli to be ranked (in my opinion) top of the league for animation.

This film marks the end of a career for Miyazaki who announced this film to be his last. He is a director who creates whole worlds, the most imaginative stories and brings them to life, a director known for the whimsical and a sense of wonder he adds to each movie. If you’re unaware of his films I humbly ask you to look into them, as he has created some of the most stunning and visually breathtaking films out there, like My Neighbour Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away, the first Japanese animated movie to win an Oscar. If you’re reading this and thinking that you don’t watch cartoons (you’d be wrong because it’s anime) or it seems too childish, don’t, because if you’re stuck in that mindset you are missing out on some of the most fantastical cinema ever made, beloved by people of all ages and backgrounds.

Yet, as his final movie was created and screened at cinemas, it became surprising to see a film that diverts away from his usual fantasy-like worlds and is more character focused, a character based on an actual person and set before and during World War 2. So, how does the film hold up? Well, it’s one of the most charming films I’ve ever seen. If this film was a person, he could walk into a bar in Glasgow and two sentences later everyone would be buying him drinks.

the-wind-rises-1The story centres on Jiro Horikoshi, the aircraft designer who modeled the Zero Fighter, the plane that many considered to be the most capable and manoeuvrable of its time.  The film is a ‘fictional biographical’ account of Jiro; growing up in the 1920s and seeing the rise of aviation, he dreams of designing them, and as he grows up his motivation is fully set upon achieving his dreams. After a brief time spent seeing him in his teenage years and really getting to know him as a character it jumps ahead to the 1930s where Jiro has a job designing aircraft, and even though he’s already working his dream job he becomes determined to make their planes better.

There are sequences when he’s designing sections, he starts to envision the plane in the air, each part of the plane, what could go wrong, what causes it to go wrong and which part has to be improved. It’s a perfect rendition of a designer’s mindset. This is also where Miyazaki gets to add elements of the fantastic, when Jiro is envisioning a plane or in the dream sequences, there are these huge aircraft of different designs which tells us how creative designers have to be in order to create such works, it’s really quite something when you see it. The dream scenes also gives a touching tribute to Jiro’s inspiration, Italian aeronautical engineer Giovanni Caproni. When World War 2 has reared its ugly head, a government official has tasked Jiro and the company he works for to design a craft that can be used effectively by the Navy’s aircraft carriers.

A mark of a great director is making something that is so important to the character, important to the audience as well. Yet as I sit writing and tell you that I have no knowledge or interest in aircraft design, it didn’t matter in the slightest. I was completely enthralled by this film, by wanting Jiro to achieve his design.

There’s also a romance in this story, which is perhaps the most realistic character romance for that time period I’ve seen. Not only is it realistic and they actually act like real people, and not only is it also really sweet without being sickening, but it’s also a great sub-plot for the film, because we learn so much more about the character. The romance brings up this moral dilemma in the third act where it becomes painfully aware that no option is the best, no morally correct answer is evident and they have to decide and live with their choice.

There’s been some backlash with this film. People have accused Miyazaki of glamourising the war, or siding with one side or the other. The Zero Fighter was used to commit acts of violence during the war, the topic of Japan’s involvement in World War 2 still remains heated in certain countries and if you look over the history you can begin to understand why. Despite Miyazaki including anti-war and pro-environment messages in his films before, I can only imagine that the people who made such accusations haven’t actually seen this film, because the entire movie makes no political argument for either side.

AJ201311190029MThe politics, the war and the violence really happens in the background of the story; our character Jiro just wants to make planes. The question is brought up to him: Is he still willing to continue despite knowing that his inventions will be used for war? That’s not the point to him. He continues with his work because that’s his passion and he couldn’t imagine doing anything else. The film ends shortly before history would have shown us the dark acts that the Zero Fighter caused, with only a slight glimpse of questionable regret Jiro may have, without the film being too bogged down by it, which really is for the best.

This film really is worth seeing, if you’re a fan of animation or good cinema please do check this out. If I had to nitpick I’d say that some of the pacing slows down a bit in the middle and a few scenes could have been left out, but it never stopped me from really enjoying it, however the biggest regret is that this film really should have won the Oscar over Frozen.

So, a question that some of you may be asking is what will become of Studio Ghibli now? Well luckily, Studio Ghibli has always had talented members other than Miyazaki on the production team. Isao Takahata who directs mostly character-focused films similar to The Wind Rises is still working hard. He did Only Yesterday and the infamously depressing Grave of the Fireflies and has released a new film which came out late last year in Japan called The Tale of Princess Kaguya, which has no official international release date yet but looks to be the end of 2014. Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who directed The Secret World of Arrietty, looks to be taking over a lot of the work left over from Miyazaki with two films announced that he’ll be directing, including a sequel to Porco Rosso.

Miyazaki’s son Goro will most likely be doing work in the future. He directed the very poorly received Tales from Earthsea, but also the very enjoyable From Up on Poppy Hill. Although his father Hayao created the script for From Up on Poppy Hill and rumors spread that he reportedly had to come in to lend assistance, so I’m not sure how much I can credit him for it, but if From Up on Poppy Hill was mostly down to Goro then he should have a promising future in the studio. I, and many of the fans will miss Miyazaki, but I have every confidence that Studio Ghibli will continue to produce some amazing work.

The Wind Rises is released in UK cinemas May 9th.
Screening at the Aberystwyth Art Centre 30th May – 4th June .