Lessons from ‘The Wind Rises,’ Hayao Miyazaki’s magnum opus

“This is my last design,” Count Gianni Caproni tells Jiro in Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises.” “An artist is only creative for 10 years,” Caproni says.

Unlike his animated counterpart, Miyazaki shared his creativity with the world for 50 years.

For almost half a century, the great Japanese animation artist created beautiful dreams, enchanting us with hand-drawn animation of talking animals, witches and wizards, soot sprites, spirits, little people and heroic princesses.

“The Wind Rises,” Miyazaki’s latest and last animated film before retiring, differs from his fantastical canon, but it’s a beautiful, reflective work of art.

The work’s title comes from a line of Paul Valéry‘s poem, “Le cimetière marin.” “The wind is rising. We must try to live,” it translates.

The 126-minute film is a biopic combining the lives of short story writer Tatso Hori and Japanese plane engineer, Jiro Horikoshi. Horikoski’s known for creating the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, the plane responsible for bombing Pearl Harbor.

Miyazaki’s Jiro (Jason Gordon-Levitt) is a dreamer. And like many men before him, he dreams of flying.

Translating American aviation magazines in his spare time, Jiro dreams up conversations with Caproni (Stanley Tucci), the Italian plane manufacturer.

“Airplanes are beautiful dreams,” Caproni tells him. “Engineers turn dreams into reality.”

Which is why Jiro designs fighter planes for Japan. Because even if wings brought man too close to the sun, it was brilliant while it lasted.

“Airplanes are beautiful cursed dreams,” warns Caproni.

If anything, Jiro’s curse is loving planes too much.

While “The Wind Rises” sparked controversy due to the film’s subject matter, the animation is beautiful and dreamlike. Triple-Decker passenger planes rise like helium balloons. Fluffy white clouds slowly inch across the screen.

“A flying door,” someone says. “You don’t see that everyday.”

But Miyazaki’s dreamlike picture is also poisoned by nightmares of nature, poverty and war.

The 1923 great Kanto earthquake rips apart Japanese cities; fire rumbles like an angry demon, swallowing every house in his wake. Although this cacophony’s voiced by human actors, the fire doesn’t talk like “Howl’s Moving Castle’s” friendly fire demon, Calcifer. Nor are his grumbles as benign as the fluffy forest spirit Totoro of “My Neighbor Totoro.”

Jiro sees death. Children starving on street corners. Pilots falling out planes he built. Bubbling bombs and missiles.

“Poor Jiro, stuck in his happy dreams,” says his best friend, Honjo (John Krasinski).

It’s a wonder he could sleep at night.

But Jiro’s no Hitler, even if he built the plane. Miyazaki paints a beautiful portrait of a good Samaritan trapped in his circumstances.

“What a nice guy,” a minor character would repeat after Jiro helps them out.

It’s like Miyazaki’s trying to rehabilitate the man for the deed. Planes — like pictures and propaganda — can be used for both good and evil. If animating pictures doesn’t make Miyazaki a villain, then the builder of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero wasn’t evil either.

After all, we all do what we have to do to live.

“The Wind Rises” was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It was nominated for best animation in the 2014 Academy Awards.

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2 thoughts on “Lessons from ‘The Wind Rises,’ Hayao Miyazaki’s magnum opus

  1. Pingback: Wednesday Collective — Films of Excess, Black Widow, & All Your Ark Are Belong To Us | Gabriel Diego Valdez

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