Review: The Wind Rises | Final Flight

4
Posted January 18, 2015 by in Anime

Release Date: July 20, 2013
 
Producer: Toshio Suzuki
 
Synopsis: A lifelong love of flight inspires Japanese aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi, whose storied career includes the creation of the A-6M World War II fighter plane.
 
Genre: , ,
 
Creators:
 
Voice Actors: , ,
 

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One of the most beautifully animated films ever made, excellent soundtrack and sound design, well-written characters and a very organic narrative
 

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Story can be a bit difficult to follow, subject matter doesn't lend itself much to Ghibli's trademark whimsy
 

The winds of change give flight to Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises; a heart-wrenching and mature story about the gravity of choices, burdened by love and war.

Rating

Plot
8.0


Animation
10


Sound
9.0


Overall Direction
9.0


Total Score
9.0

9/ 10

by Dominic Barbiran
Full Article
Studio Ghibli lend their talents in world-class visuals and music, to breathe a remarkable and tumultuous life into Jiro Horikoshi, and to beautiful pre-war Japan.

The Wind Rises is one of the most mature efforts and a dignified swan song from acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki. For his final film, he brings his signature character design and visual storytelling prowess to the almost ordinary life of Jiro Horikoshi, a real aeronautical engineer who would go on to design many of Japan’s legendary warplanes, like the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. This highly fictitious biopic presents Jiro as a dreamer who embraces his love of flight to pursue a career as an engineer. The story recounts his much of his adult life, starting from his time as a starry-eyed child, to the triumphs and failures of his career, and finally to meeting the love of his life, and all of this taking place as pre-war tensions start to mount in traditionalist Japan.

 

Life is no breeze

The first thing to get out of the way, is that this film is a bit of a deviation from the standard Ghibli story, and it will likely come as a surprise to some fans who go into this film blind. It’s much more in line with Grave of the Fireflies than it is to Spirited Away, doing away with most of the signature whimsy you know Studio Ghibli best for, in favor of a grounded atmosphere. This is the story of an average kid with big hopes for the future. Now, that’s not to say it’s completely devoid of fantasy. There are sporadic dream sequences which serve as Jiro’s primary motivator and influence, but it doesn’t begin with a flourish and end with a bang, and there are no enchanting mascot creatures frolicking about. It’s just rolling green plains that are realistic enough to confuse for real life. The concept may not be as enchanting as his other stuff, but it’s powerfully persuasive and worth your attention.

the-wind-rises-plane

“Airplanes are beautiful dreams, engineers turn dreams into reality.”

Jiro Horikoshi’s life is not textbook cinematic narrative; there isn’t a focus on one single complication and the subsequent journey of adversity. Rather, it undulates, mirroring real life and the highs and lows that come with it. This organic storytelling is arguably its most interesting aspect, but may detract from the experience for some, as it gives way for some slow and erratic pacing. Consequently, this makes the story a little hard to follow, especially when the dream sequences are just haphazardly thrown into the narrative. Nevertheless, it’s a refreshing change from the generic character arc, and it really helps sell the notion of life’s wondrous unpredictability. Incidentally, I believe that’s the crux of this film; about the choices we make in life. Jiro’s storied history is sprinkled with choices, and the weighty consequences that follow, whether it’s the morally unsound pursuit of his dreams against a backdrop of war, or the decisions between his true love or his passion. Regardless of whether you agree with the path that he’s chosen, you can respect his character all the same. I think it’s remarkable how much gravity there was to the story, without being overly-dramatic or exaggerated.

None of the events of the film would be half as engaging if you didn’t like Jiro and the supporting cast of characters, but I think you’re going to be hard-pressed in finding someone you dislike. The characters and their interactions with Jiro are compellingly and genuine. Jiro himself, with his brightly coloured suits, messy hair and pensive drawl, propels the story with his charm and his good-nature. We can all relate to him in some way, as we all have dreams and we know how difficult they can be to pursue. Everyone else in his life is characterized by their foibles. His boss is hotheaded and pertinent, his sister is sincere and responsible, his significant other; saccharine sweet and optimistic. They all have dimensions to them that should impel you to legitimately care about what they have to say or what they bring to the story. I wouldn’t be surprised if Miyazaki based all these personalities around people in his life, because that’s what’s at the heart of this film. It’s a story about life, and the things that make it worth living.

 

Painting (from life)

This film may not be as lively as Ponyo, or as imaginative as Howl’s Moving Castle, but it has all of the charm of those films, right there in the animation and art direction. I can say with all confidence that this is one of the most beautifully animated films ever made, not so much for innovating anything in particular, but just for getting things done right. A lifetime of grandiose animation in spectacle films like Spirited Away have helped Miyazaki perfect his craft, and give this film this muted vitality. The faces seem to be more expressive than ever, the environments are gorgeously hand-crafted, the colours are striking, and there is a ridiculous amount of detail going into crowded scenes. Early on in the film, an earthquake rocks a nearby city while Jiro is travelling to Tokyo by train. The detail in the animation is staggering. Shingles slide off of the roofs of houses, track ballast trembles and shudders, debris wavers with the wind, and everything is wracked in waves, accurately selling the rippling effect of an earthquake. It’s not epic in the same vein as the beauty and scale of the Deer God transformation in Princess Mononoke, but it easily rivals it with sheer nuance.

wind-rises-earthquake

You should see it in motion

However, what I found most impressive was the animation in some of the more “mundane” sequences, and there are almost too many examples to name. The dynamics of light and shadow as car headlights radiate over cobblestone roadways, the shifting perspective of a listlessly taxiing aircraft, the rolling breeze flattening grassy plains. The design team manages to capture these relatable scenes in remarkable detail, and it’s absolutely worth it to rewatch certain scenes with a discerning eye, so you can take in all the minutiae in the animation. A scene in the wake of the earthquake, where people are filtering out of the train; every person is doing something different, stumbling over, dragging their heavy luggage out. You can tell from the way they drew the ground sloping down, that it’s affecting people’s movement, or you can clearly see a person struggling with heavy luggage from the way they plant their feet and slide it along the ground. The scene is really only seconds long, but there’s enough detail in there for hours of interpreting. If you devote some time to it, I think there’s something in every scene worth looking into.

 

You Can (Not) Unhear

anno-jiro

Hideaki Anno as Jiro Horikoshi. Weird fit, but it works well.

The Japanese voice acting in The Wind Rises is great, and there’s a certain quirk in the casting that gives it a bit of a charm. Every supporting role is fitted well and their voices all exhibit genuine emotions in the tones and inflections. This would make the voice acting entirely unremarkable from a professional anime production, except for one thing. The protagonist is played by Hideaki Anno, whom you may recognize as the creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and infrequently as an actor. The very first time I heard him speak as Jiro, it was somewhat jarring. There’s just something to his voice that I couldn’t put my finger on, whether it was the tone or the sort-of languid delivery. However his performance really grew on me. There’s an earnestness in his voice that makes Jiro seem real. It’s strange, because you would expect a dreamer character to have bright, bubbly vocalisation, but Anno gives Jiro a very restrained performance and it’s somehow completely suitable. The English dub is pretty commendable as well. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jiro is a great fit, delivering his lines with the same wistful voice as Anno, and the rest of the supporting cast is full of all-star names like Elijah Wood, John Krasinski and Emily Blunt. I still prefer the Japanese acting, but this is a dubbed production that’s perfectly acceptable, so give it a chance if you hate reading subtitles.

Now, the score of the film is remarkable in every way, and I didn’t expect anything less from Joe Hisaishi. Each song is attractively old-fashioned and moving, perfectly accompanying the style of the film. There are a few musical motifs that you’ll pick up throughout the movie that are worth noting. The main theme is this beautiful piece with a distinct, French-sounding melody that is constantly played throughout the film at different points in Jiro’s life, and oftentimes it’s altered depending on the emotion in the scene. There’s also this ominous, almost imperceptible a capella accompaniment that seems to happen during certain negative events, like the earthquake. You can hear what sounds like sighing and baritone voices droning under the ambient sound effects. It’s creepy, but adds an interesting layer of depth to the sound production. There’s a lot more I could say about the music, but I think you should just listen to film yourself. If you’re well-acquainted with any other Hisaishi-composed film, you’ll know you’re in for something truly magnetic.

 

Dreams don’t die

I used comparisons to other Miyazaki’s films a lot in this review, but in truth The Wind Rises has no equal. Miyazaki takes bits from the decades of filmography under his belt, and created the film you always knew he was capable of; deviating from his usual stuff and yet instantly familiar. It’s strange; this film feels old-fashioned, but not in a bad way. It’s almost nostalgic, like a movie you could’ve already seen growing up. But this is a modern Studio Ghibli production through-and-through. The animation is absolutely stellar, the music is unforgettable, and the story and characters will leave a lasting impression on you. This is Miyazaki’s crowning achievement, and quite a note to go out on; bittersweet, almost like the film itself. The Wind Rises will stay with me for a long while. It may not be my favorite of his films, but it could very well be his best.

 

The Blu-Ray version of The Wind Rises is an excellent way to experience the film. Contains both English and Japanese dubs, looks absolutely stunning in HD, and has hours of special features including behind-the-scenes with the English voice cast, storyboard and animatics, trailers and TV spots and even a press announcement and interview.

windrises-bluray-cover

You can buy this from Madman here
 
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About the Author

Dominic Barbiran


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