Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Wind Rises

Hayao Miyazaki enjoys a unique place among international filmmakers, having received two decades of international acclaim for animated films that both articulate a universal set of values and venerate Japanese culture. The Wind Rises, reportedly Miyazaki’s final feature film, works this paradox as much as any of his previous works. Miyazaki remains as interested in his country’s past as ever, and his concern with man’s relationship to the world around him rivals that of Terrence Malick. I wanted to like The Wind Rises more than I actually did. Miyazaki illuminates a fascinating part of early-20th century history but the film is too much a lamentation and doesn’t have enough conflict. Jiro Horikoshi (a historical figure voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the English version) dreams of designing aircraft as a boy and converses in dreams with the Italian engineer Caproni (Stanley Tucci, also voicing a historical figure). Jiro and Caproni are both aesthetes, men who are in love with the art of design and in denial about the possibility of their work being co-opted for military purposes.

Jiro’s career advances in the years between the wars, and he falls under the tutelage of the kindly bosses Kurokawa (Martin Short) and Hattori (Mandy Patinkin). Jiro is fully aware that his company is trying to win military contracts, but The Wind Rises doesn’t address either how he feels about the fact his planes could be used as weapons or the question of whether his employers are exploiting him There’s little sense of the Japanese political culture of the time or of a rising militarism. Jiro seems to have plenty of time to ponder design innovations and  to fall in love with Nahoko (Emily Blunt) at a summer resort. Jiro first meets Nahoko when he comes to her aid during an earthquake, and Miyazaki animates this sequence like a sort of planetary rebuke to humanity. The Wind Rises is a visual feast and an ambitious film that gets oddly bogged down in the details of airplane construction. I’ll certainly allow Miyazaki his national pride but I wish it hadn’t gotten in the way of his story sense. I’ll return to Spirited Away and Miyazaki’s earlier films to celebrate this essential artist.

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