While Hayao Miyazaki’s (Spirited Away) latest endeavour boasts all the familiar hand drawn artistic qualities of his previous films, The Wind Rises is a very different and contentious project on which the writer/director has chosen to set his pen. Abandoning much of the high fantasy and mythologies that usually populates his films, Miyazaki has instead chosen to chronicle the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the young brilliant engineer who designed and developed the deadly A6M Zero fighter, Japan’s most effective weapon of WW2, with reverence, and a somewhat domestic honesty.
However, unlike the recent spate of WW2 themed projects emerging from Japan, The Wind Rises is in no way a misguided tribute or a revisionist history of 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 gripped by an economic depression, perpetrated by poor political management and instigated by 1923’s Great Kanto earthquake, a natural disaster which Miyazaki depicts with a gripping visual brilliance that is at once mesmerising and horrifying for an animated sequences. However, its a Japan in which Miyazaki has often expressed an unapologetic affection towards, and which resonates with warm familiarity and nostalgia.
It’s from these troubled times that Jiro Horikoshi’s legacy finds its foundation, as the young academic, determined to do his national duty and help his crippled nation recover, dedicates 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 times emotional restrictions that surround him. In fact, it’s hard not to recognise Miyazaki’s respect for the young engineer as he layers his interpretation with themes of romance, grief and moral discord as Jiro watches his innovation and artistry utilised as a weapon of death.
Regardless of the film’s intrinsic controversy, The Wind Rises is essentially Miyazaki’s final cinematic sonnet to a lost Japan, as 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 heartache and whimsy in equal doses, is expertly syphoned from the younger, more hopeful memories of a grand-storyteller.