Review of The Wind Rises (2013)

Moving picture, 126 minutes

Anno Hideaki (cast), Suzuki Toshio (producer), Miyazaki Hayao (writer-director).

Seen in 2014.

Horikoshi, a near-sighted boy from a poor country, grows up to engineer airplanes. He is guided by dreams, especially by an imagined version of Count “Gianni” Caproni (1886–1957). The dreamed Caproni compares the use of planes for killing to the horrors of building the pyramids: An evil necessary for such beauty.

When the adult Horikoshi’s first design for a fighter has failed, he is re-energized by love. The film leads up to his first successful design for the Imperial Japanese Navy: the Mitsubishi A5M fighter.

A biography of Horikoshi Jirō, where most of the man’s professional life is portrayed accurately and practically everything about his private life is a fiction that seems to have been inspired in part by “Searching for One’s Own Starting Point” (1990). Miyazaki, who based this on his own comics, has stated that the character of Horikoshi’s wife was lifted from The Wind Has Risen (1937) by Hori Tatsuo. The film is dedicated to both Horikoshi and Hori, while the title is from the ending of the poem “The Graveyard by the Sea” (1920) via Hori.

The film has good human sound effects, pioneered in “House-hunting” (2006). Good visuals too, particularly the luxurious crowd scenes. The dream sequences are dominated by dull grassy plains. The various disasters, including the great 1923 earthquake and fire, are rendered with fairly little emotionality. The untrained and inexperienced Anno Hideaki performs poorly in the lead role.

The love story is poorly conceived and executed, with the exception of some intimate shots laden with oxytocin. Nahoko is sketched only loosely, as a type. She is the wan victim of tuberculosis, a disease that makes her passive without impacting on her devotion or her yamato nadeshiko exterior. When the disease has her coughing up blood, he greets her saying she looks beautiful. This type might have been lifted straight from a Victorian novel or one of the countless moe games produced in the 15 years leading up to this film, an impression reinforced by the stereotypically fateful meeting of the two lovers at a young age and by Nahoko’s tragic death. Indeed, Horikoshi’s character in the earthquake is that of the stereotypical porn-game adaptation protagonist: unassuming and selfless, like Fujita Hiroyuki of To Heart (1999).

In another scene, Horikoshi tries to give some pastries to hungering children waiting for their parents, but in this case he is rebuffed. Miyazaki tried to hone in on a particular level of romanticism. He didn’t get it exactly right. The gender roles are a noted contrast against his previous productions. While the little sister is clownish in her constant negativity, Nahoko is supportive to the point of self-annihilation and beyond. In death, she exhorts Horikoshi to “live”, to choose his career over a detour to her sanatorium. Her role is very close to that of the amusingly wry Caproni mentor/father figure, who says basically the same thing: Get the job you want, enjoy it and ignore the consequences. This was Miyazaki’s attitude to the self-sacrifice of the people who piloted early aircraft. He wrote in “Sacrifices of the Sky” (1998) that they must have had an overriding personal passion for the job. “They just wanted to fly.”

At its heart, the film is a fantasy about constant encouragement toward egotism in one’s creative passion. I read this as a metaphor for Miyazaki’s devotedness to his career over his family life, as noted in “I Left Raising Our Children to My Wife” (1992). At the same time, Miyazaki is obviously and—in interviews—explicitly ambivalent about Horikoshi’s work as a voluntary bottleneck in the production of instruments of violence for an obviously unworthy regime. He opens “Sacrifices of the Sky” saying that “What we humans do is far too merciless”, and shows the same attidute here. His ambivalence gives the film its ambiguity, a trait it shares with a book it references, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain (1924), with Porco Rosso (1992), and with Morita Naruo’s “Kokkyōsenjō no heishi” (2000), a similarly romantic wartime story about the denial of a man’s love of flying.

References here: “Don’t mention the war!”, Ghibli movie titles, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2013), The Boy and the Heron (2023).

moving picture Ghibli animation Japanese production fiction