Metaphoric Wind in Hiyao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises: A Review

Acclaimed French poet Paul Valéry once stated that “The wind is rising.  We must try to live.” With this quote Hiyao Miyazaki opens his latest film, The wind Rises.  The film metaphorically interprets this quote to mean that we must seize the day when trouble comes.  The film is set in Japan and also in Germany during the 1920s and 30’s before and during World War II. The story is loosely based on The Wind has Risen, a book by Tatsuo Hori.  The film is a highly fictional and animated account of the famous Japanese aeronautical engineer, Jiro Horikoshi.  The English dubbed version stars Joseph Gordon Levitt as Jiro, Emily Blunt as Nahoko Satui and John Krasinki as Honjo.  Miyazaki incorporates major events in both Japanese and world history into the film including the following: World War II, the Tuberculosis Epidemic, the Great Depression, and the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923.  At the outset of the film, young Jiro dreams of becoming an aeronautical engineer.  His mentor in his dream is Giovanni Battista Caproni, the great Italian aeronautical designer of the early twentieth century. Jiro is depicted as magnanimous and never parsimonious.  He defends those who cannot defend themselves.  He is beneficent and altruistic to a fault. Both Jiro’s altruism and magnanimity are portrayed when he decides to care for his ailing girlfriend in spite of the many difficulties that her care presents.  I enjoyed the vivid artistry in the film’s illustration of the countryside and in its portrayal of Japanese mores.  For example, tea is often the beverage of choice, and bowing when greeting someone is shown.  The characters show the proper decorum toward elders during all of their interactions.  Disrespect is never shown from the youngest toward the eldest.  The Wind Rises is a love story, a fictional account of Jiro’s journey in becoming one of the greatest aeronautical designers in history, and a story of great friendship.

In the opening scenes of the film, the great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 is occurring.  It is ravaging the countryside and wreaking havoc and near total devastation on the town.  Jiro is on a train when the earthquake occurs; however, before the earthquake occurs, the wind rises and Jiro decides to seize the moment. In the film, whenever the wind rises a negative or catastrophic event happens. It is during these crises that Jiro seizes the day.  Jiro grabs ahold of all the possibilities that life has to offer.  Jiro saves Nahoko, the woman many years later who becomes his wife.  He makes a splint to brace her broken leg and carries her a great distance to safety. Both she and her family are appreciative to Jiro, despite almost no contact for many years afterward. During this time, Jiro enters college, becomes an aeronautical engineer and is recognized for his erudition.  A company selects him to design aircraft bombers for Japan during the war. Although Jiro is designing bombers which seem to be the antithesis of his character, the film devotes little attention to this inherent character conflict.  He ruminates, however, about the money that Japan is spending on aeronautics while its citizens are starving during the depression.  He says that they can use the money that is spent on aeronautics to feed the impoverished.. The film shows how he desires to help the poor even when they refuse his actions. Intermittently the film returns to Jiro’s dream-like state in order to illustrate the influence of Caproni on his life. Additionally, the film depicts the danger of the war and the casualties of negative associations with those suspected of subversive actions against Germany.  Jiro works with both assiduity and dedication.  He never settles for mediocrity.  When his designs fail, he remains tenacious and dedicated to his goal of designing the best aircrafts with no drag. The Wind Rises illustrates the complexities of aeronautics and how daunted one becomes when one desires to succeed in designing great aircrafts.

In addition to Jiro’s engineering career, the film shows how much in love he is with Nahoko, the woman he rescued years earlier.  When he becomes reacquainted with her, he professes his love for her and his desire to marry her. She also acknowledges her love for him, but tells him that she has the same disease that killed her mother- tuberculosis.  Jiro’s quixotism causes him to take her away from a sanitarium in which she was receiving long-term care.  He cannot live apart from her when he realizes the gravity of her illness. He wants to seize the day by taking advantage of all that their love offers.  He removes her from the long-term care facility, marries her, and assumes responsibility for her care.  Unfortunately, his job requires him to work long hours and as a result, he is unable to spend much time giving her the attention and care she deserves. The love that they share for one another is palpable through their interactions and through their deep respect that they have for each other.  The wind often rises during these difficult times in which both Jiro and Naoko seize the day.  As one watches the film, it is essential to see how Jiro responds regarding Naoko and regarding his life each time the wind rises. I pondered the following question throughout the second half of the film: Why did Jiro not contract tuberculosis? This answer is never explored during the film. They were in close quarters. There was one very brief mention that Jiro could catch the disease.  Perhaps that part of the film was edited out.

True friendship is illustrated in the film. Jiro has an enduring friendship with one of his fellow engineers, Honjo.  They work with great synergy while never competing against one another.  They never engage in sabotage against each other, but it is evident that they have deep respect and admiration for each other.  In real life or otherwise, it is rear to see such true friends support the accomplishments of each other without feeling threatened.

The film thoroughly portrays the successes and the failures regarding Jiro’s career as well as the personal conflicts that inhibited his ability to care for his wife.  His idealism and his undying love for his wife cause him to jeopardize her life.  We all have flaws, but what we do with them counts the most.  We must believe in carpé diem. Using the ideas of Jill Scott, we must take advantage of  all the magnanimous possibilities that life has to offer- today, this hour, this minute.

The Wind Rises is nominated for best animation.  It is a film with a great story and with a great score, but may not have mass appeal for all age groups.  It is up against Frozen, a film with mass appeal that has been in theaters for nearly three months. The Wind Rises is thought to be Miyazaki’s last.  Carpé diem.  Catch it if you can to see the denouement of this love story. Comments are welcome!

Questions to ponder: Should the conflict of designing bombers have been explored in the film?

Do you like the ending? Explain.  If you could change the ending, how would you do it?

How could you remake the film to have mass appeal for both a younger and older audience?

What are your least and most favorite parts of the film? Explain.

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