Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, it tells the story of Jiro Hirokoshi. After arriving in Tokyo to study aeronautical engineering, Jiro finds himself helping the young girl Naoko Satomi during the aftermath of the Great Kanto earthquake. Following his gradation Jiro gets a job at an aircraft company and subsequently ends up designing the World War II Mitsubishi Zero Fighter plane. The film is based on Miyazaki’s own Manga which was published in Model Graphix magazine in 2009, and on Tatsuo Hori’s novel of the same name. The trailer was previously only shown in Japanese cinemas. While there are no subtitles there’s actually very little dialogue, for it plays to the sound of Yumi Matsutoya’s “Hikōki Gumo” (Airplane Cloud), the theme song to the film.
The announcement of this film was a pleasant surprise after Ponyo and From Up on Poppy Hill, which both had simple, childish plots. Few films in Japan have tackled the lives of imperial period heroes; the ghosts of the 1960s urge people to denounce what really happened in that time and memorialize an imaginary anti-war movement, for example in this year’s film “Shounen H”. For Miyazaki to choose a subject like this showed that he was really going for a huge challenge. Miyazaki is of course anti-war and environmentalist. But Ghibli films are never negative. What sort of positive image of the Zero bomber inventor would Miyazaki produce? The result is astounding. As everyone has noted, this is not a children’s movie. It’s complex, so it doesn’t have the epic sense of Miyazaki at his best, but history and adulthood are just as complex, and Miyazaki does justice to both. The film indeed stays positive throughout, by showing from start to finish how everyone wishes they themselves would behave, rewarding the viewer with virtue and beauty, but without being condescending about the hardships of real life. In a sense, the film is about the “importance of dreams”, but it’s also about what it means to be a dreamer in real life, and how our highest fantasies can be turned into beauty if we put our minds to it. The cartoon medium is put to full, extravagant use in dream sequences that merge right into the narrative.
The movie clocks in at a healthy 120 mins, which under normal circumstances would be great for a Ghibli movie, but in this case this seems all too heavy for the story being told. The central story is in itself intriguing, we have the young engineer who dreams of perfecting flight, there is the sub text of war playing over the background, there is an emotional heart in the romantic elements of the movie. Yet there is a feeling of disconnect with this movie. Unusually for Miyazaki, we do not see one story played out in full, but all narratives strands shifting in and out of each other almost TV dramaesque, creating a disharmonious somewhat labored palette. It would be wrong to say that this is a labour of love for Miyazaki, as all of his movies are labors of love, what is lacking here is a strong narrative strand and a lead character that the audience will find engaging. Throughout this movie I kept on wondering where is the heart, where is its center.
On another note I do feel that this movie will be the hardest movie for Ghibli to market abroad, in fact it is very likely that this movie will not see an international cinema release. The story of Jiro, a man who made fighter planes for Japan during WWII will be hard for many international markets to swallow. The most classic films of Japan, like the great works of Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu, say something profound about the meaning of life, and The Wind Rises deserves a place among those ranks. This is Miyazaki at his finest; perhaps not the imaginative super spiral that Spirited Away was, but definitely a sentimental and powerful film that has a great deal of messages; I think this was the movie that we were waiting for from him.