While Hayao Miyazaki’s (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away) latest endeavour boasts all the familiar artistic qualities of his previous films, The Wind Rises is a very different and contentious beast on which the writer/director has chosen to rest his pen. Abandoning the high fantasy that usually populates his films, Miyazaki has instead chosen to chronicle the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the brilliant engineer who designed the A6M Zero fighter, which would become Japan’s deadliest and most effective weapon of WW2, with a respectful and deliberate honesty.
But regardless of its inevitable apex, The Wind Rises is in no way a tribute to Imperial Japan. In fact, in true Miyazaki style, the few moments in which the conflict is directly acknowledged are rich with anti-war sentiment. Instead, The Wind Rises is the story of Japan under the Depression – a Japan that Miyazaki exhibits an unapologetic affection towards, and which stems from the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake, brilliantly and horrifically depicted in one of the film’s most powerfully animated sequences.
And its from these ruins also that Jiro Horikoshi’s legacy is born with the young academic, determined to help his crippled nation recover, dedicating his life to becoming one of the country’s finest engineers. Quiet, socially awkward and slightly neurotic, Jiro at first seems like an unusual choice to hinge a film on, but Miyazaki’s portrayal of Horikoshi captures both the engineer’s charm and tragedy, painting him as an artist whose creativity lies in the banal, and who is continually frustrated by the technical, political and at time emotional restrictions that surround him.
Regardless of the film’s intrinsic controversy, The Wind Rises is essentially Miyazaki’s final cinematic sonnet to Japan before it shed its innocence. And while critics and historians can debate the narrative’s moral ambiguity, or lack thereof, the film’s magic, which includes a fair share of heartbreak and whimsy in equal doses, is expertly syphoned from the younger, more hopeful memories of a grand storyteller.