As tot-friendly as Ponyo or Totoro might seem, Miyazaki’s animation has never really been for kids. This applies to The Wind Rises more than to any other work by the Japanese master. Following some 15 films set in fantastical worlds, Wind strives for the realism of a fussily researched epic.
The film is replete with grown-up historical references, from a breathtaking rendition of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 to the subtle depiction of Japan’s patriotism and militarisation before WWII; and literary ones, such as the eponymous Paul Valery quotation (“The wind is rising! We must try to live!”) and an impersonation of Thomas’ Mann’s Hans Castorp (The Magic Mountain) as a German expat warning against the looming disaster of war. Myazaki’s love of aviation is not new (even his studio, Ghibli, was named after an Italian WWII reconnaissance aircraft), but the biographical ambition is.
Wind was inspired by Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed the Japanese “Zero” fighter made infamous by Pearl Harbour, to take off and reach new, unexplored territories; “trying to live” no matter what, keeping on going even when the wind is against you – worse when the wind’s stopped blowing and the dream is disintegrated into ill-fated reality, whether the destruction of war or the death of the woman you love. Miyazaki’s most lyrical, (melo)dramatic and hauntingly beautiful opus is also his last, announced the 73-year-old at Venice last year.
The Wind Rises | Directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Japan 2013), with the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt. Starts July 17
Originally published in issue #129, July/August 2014.