Friday, 21 February 2014

The Wind Rises (風立ちぬ) (2013)

In the interwar years, a boy obsessed with airplanes grows up into an aviation designer wunderkind. His talent and his passion will be his triumph and his tragedy.

Even if Hayao Miyazaki rescinds his retirement notice (something he’s done 7 times already), The Wind Rises serves as a grand summation of the animator’s storytelling career and his love affair with the fancifulness of flight, the beauty and power of nature, the righteousness of pacifism and humanism, and the empire of imagination—themes that work their way into every feature film he’s directed.

The difference is that The Wind Rises isn’t a fantasy film but a fictional biography of a real life person who lived in this world—and it’s a world where the outcome of the contests between pacifism and bellicose destruction, nature and industrialisation, imagination and instrumentality aren’t as happy as your favourite Studio Ghibli films.

Yes, Jiro Horikoshi has a dream to build a flying machine of the future. Or one that will at least propel Japan from its feudal, backward, impoverished past to the future. Yet his dreams, which feature taking his aviation hero, Giovanni Caprioni, on whirlwind tours of the troposphere in machines that he will yet invent, are tinged with the ominous outlines of engine malfunction, impending war, and mass destruction. Even his one true love is suffering from a terminal illness even during their meet-cute.

In a children’s fantasy of the sort Hayao Miyazaki has been making for the past decades, the dreamer triumphs, the dream remains unsullied, the world comes to a new balance. In his final film though, Miyazaki gathers enough courage to acknowledge that we however live in this world, and asks if we would still stand firm in our dreams and values, put in the same personal struggle against greater forces, and ultimately accept even greater sacrifices than we’re prepared to make.

Miyazaki being Mizayaki argues that the world is truly this beautiful, dreams this meaningful, and the individual this important. But this being the world we’re in, Miyazaki’s paean to the better part of human nature is tinged with a regret and sadness that outdoes Hans Christian Andersen. Though set in the real world, the animation style manages to convey both the magical whimsy and monstrous horror of real life, where daydreams and nightmares alike structure every waking moment, inspire every sensation and thought. And that might make The Wind Rises the greatest film he’s ever made, despite its gloomy outlook and downer ending.

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