Two weekends before finals kicked in, A spirited me away from my endless highlighting and practice papers for a little celluloid relaxation. We wandered down to the Arts Picturehouse, a lovely little cinema in central Cambridge, to watch The Wind Rises, Studio Ghibli's latest offering.
Now I'm a bit of a Ghibli diehard, I'm afraid (I apologise that I'm about to namedrop many of the films in the œuvre that may not be familiar to you if you haven't seen any of them - I very much recommend watching them!) Having seen all the Ghibli films, I'm a huge fan of co-founder Hayao Miyazaki's work, especially Nausicäa, My Neighbour Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. Miyazaki , aged 73, has famously announced his retirement several times in the past decade, leaving and then returning to the fold to direct films like Ponyo, but it seems that The Wind Rises really is his parting shot. Adapted from his manga of the same name, the film is about the life and aspirations of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi fighter aircraft during World War Two. When I went to the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo in 2010 I learned all about Miyazaki's obsession with aviation, and so it seems appropriate that the focus of his last film should be one that melds everyday life with the vicissitudes of aeronautical engineering.
Surprisingly, Miyazaki doesn't actually spend any time exploring the ethical implications behind designing aircrafts destined for war that we might expect from a film like this. Instead, the emphasis is really just on how Jiro's life is dedicated to the pursuit of creating beautiful planes. I'll hold my hands up right now and admit that the aviation element was not what drew me to the film. Yet the rendering of the engineering and resultant machines was just beautiful. I was astounded that we managed to invent aircraft of that calibre almost seventy years ago! Before the film I was expecting The Wind Rises to be rather mundane and focused on the everyday, like in Only Yesterday or From Up On Poppy Hill, and the main romantic narrative thread does tick those boxes. This isn't to dismiss it as a boring romance though - though perhaps a little predictable, the main relationship made me well up with tears multiple times in spite of myself. (Though I was a little emotionally fragile from finals. That's my excuse anyway.)
Miyazaki being the director, the visual elements of the film are never banal. In parts The Wind Rises veers towards the fantastical atmosphere of Spirited Away or Howl's Moving Castle with the enchanting dreamscapes inhabited by the Italian aeronautical engineer Count Caproni, Jiro's imaginary childhood friend and inspiration. Even the scenes of real life are dreamlike in their beauty. Each frame seems to have been attended to with the utmost care. This is the case in most Ghibli movies, but here the designers seem to have pushed the boat out in favour of virtuosic, almost Impressionistic landscapes, mirroring Nahoko's penchant for painting plein-air. Though while nature can be beautiful and painterly, Miyazaki shows it can also be cruel in equal measures in his depiction of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. I particularly liked the way this was directed; the earthquake devastates Tokyo in an almost supernatural, surging movement, which leads to harried, dramatic scenes of fiery destruction reminiscent of Grave of the Fireflies. Indeed, I thought this visual alignment might be deliberate, seeing as the natural destruction foreshadows the events of World War Two in Japan.
The Wind Rises is not as astonishing either in terms of narrative or visuals as my all-time favourite, Spirited Away. But I liked it, because it simply isn't trying to be. Miyazaki is not going out with a bang but rather with a poetic wave. Yes, this account of Jiro's life may concentrate on the sentimental, idealised elements over the stark truth that his designs cost thousands of lives. But the focus here is on the unparalleled brilliance of Horikoshi's technical innovations. This is Miyazaki's ode to the aircraft, visible from the outset in his first Ghibli offering, the post-apocalyptic Nausicäa of the Valley of the Wind, and finally brought back to his native Japan, rooted in its turbulent history. In my opinion, this reprise of a much-loved theme, complete with the gorgeous scenery and heart-stoppingly beautiful Joe Hisaishi original soundtrack Studio Ghibli is known and loved for, makes The Wind Rises the perfect swansong for Miyazaki.
'Le vent se lève...Il faut tenter de vivre!' (The wind is rising...We must try to live!)
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