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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Animated film maintains light tone despite bittersweet plot

    Studio Ghibli

    Acclaimed Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki has crafted another fine film. Substituting a turbulent Japan circa World War II for fantastical realms, “The Wind Rises” is an exquisite portrait of a man and a country who bring each other both great happiness and great tragedy.

    “The Wind Rises” (or, in its original Japanese, “Kaze Tachinu”) takes a path divergent from the majority of films that come out of Studio Ghibli, the studio co-founded by Miyazaki. While classics like “Spirited Away” and “My Neighbor Totoro” (both of which were directed by Miyazaki) are steeped in fantasy, this film has a slightly more realistic subject. It is the fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Hideaki Anno), the engineer who designed the infamous Japanese “Zero” fighter aircraft used in World War II.

    Lush greens and blues make up Jiro’s world at its most positive and inspiring. Verdant, vast fields of grass, open skies and fantastical flying machines populate his dreams, a reflection of his innocence and pure intentions to create a beautiful airplane.
    However, as Caproni, a famed Italian aeronautical engineer who Jiro interacts with in his dreams, says: “Airplanes are beautiful, cursed dreams, waiting for the sky to swallow them up.” Peppered throughout the story are omens that Jiro’s lofty dreams will spiral into nightmares. Flaming planes and rubble intrude on the pastoral beauty, a cacophony of reds and blacks.

    You can feel the world change in this movie. The 1930s and ’40s were volatile decades for the world, and for no country more than Japan. On Jiro’s train ride back to Tokyo after a holiday, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 hits, leveling the nearby city and setting it aflame. It is in that disaster that he first meets the woman who will become the great love of his life, Naoko (Miori Takimoto).

    As Jiro begins his work as an engineer, Germany and Japan are uncomfortable bedmates in the production of military-grade planes. Japan still uses cattle to move its prototype planes onto the testing field, while Germany has already crafted full metal behemoths.

    An engineer asks what the planes will be used for and one quips that it will be used to bomb America, which will more than likely not end well. “Japan will blow up,” is repeated more than once in the film. These types of foreshadowing are strewn throughout.

    As hindsight allows the viewer and filmmaker crystal clear perception, there is the unshakeable knowledge in the back of your mind that there is only one way this all ends. Though Jiro simply wants to create beauty with aircraft as the medium, his ultimate design, which finds humble beginnings when he observes the smooth curve of a mackerel bone, creates arguably the most well-known fighter plane from World War II. Tragedy befalls Jiro in more way than one.

    Somehow, though, the film maintains a light tone. As in all Studio Ghibli films, there’s a colorful cast of supporting characters and a good amount of light humor. Sometimes the dialogue can be unintentionally obtuse and therefore unintentionally humorous, but perhaps that’s partly due to translation and the differences between Japan and U.S. culture.

    There are some lackadaisical lulls in the story, but that’s part of the pleasure. We are allowed to observe little slices of life, like a couple falling in love at a picturesque mountain resort.
    This lightness of tone juxtaposed against impending destruction is best reflected in the words of French poet Paul Valéry, which the film references many times and also receives its name from. “Le vent se lève ! … Il faut tenter de vivre!” or, in English, “The wind is rising, we must attempt to live!”



    *Note: The reviewer watched the subtitled version, and not the dubbed version with an American voice cast.

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