Movie Review: 'The Wind Rises'
Published: Friday, February 21, 2014
Updated: Friday, February 21, 2014 01:02
When the announcement was made that acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki’s latest animated film, “The Wind Rises,” would be his last, fans around the world were stunned. It had seemed as if he would be making his groundbreaking movies forever. The news also drove the expectations for his final film through the roof. Sadly, his last movie is also, by far, his weakest and the least interesting. For a director and animator known for his imaginative plots, environments and characters, “The Wind Rises” represents a major step backwards for both Miyazaki and his animation company, Studio Ghibli.
Even at the most basic storytelling level, “The Wind Rises” falls flat. In Miyazaki’s other movies, there has always been an element of the fantastic — a girl must work in an alternate dimension to save her parents (“Spirited Away”), a forest princess fights to protect her home (“Princess Mononoke”), a large friendly forest spirit befriends two young sisters (“My Neighbor Totoro”), et cetera. The list is endless.
In “The Wind Rises,” a man in Japan wants to build planes, so he builds planes. There isn’t even a real conflict — Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) decides to be an aeronautical engineer, goes to college, becomes an aeronautical engineer, gets a job and builds planes — with everyone praising how genius and remarkable he is at every single turn.
I stopped caring about Jiro almost immediately. He was so highly regarded by other characters, yet he could have died after 30 minutes and I would have been completely unaffected — he was as uninteresting a central character as they come and couldn’t even be salvaged by Gordon-Levitt’s voice work.
If you noticed something that the descriptions of Miyazaki’s other films had in common — something that was absent from “The Wind Rises” — you wouldn’t be alone. The rest of Miyazaki’s canon features dynamic, young, female characters in central roles. In fact, most of his films star female characters. “The Wind Rises” has only one female character of any real significance, the woman who ultimately becomes Jiro’s wife — Naoko Satomi (voiced by Emily Blunt). She only exists to tell the audience how much she loves Jiro, prioritizing their relationship and his happiness over everything else, including her own health and life. Did I mention that he met her when she was a small girl? That’s more than a little creepy.
Apart from its general weaknesses, there’s something very unnerving about watching this film from an American perspective. The story is based on real history, and though it is not directly addressed until the end, it is apparent that Jiro is designing fighter planes during World War II. It doesn’t take an art history major to know that Japanese fighter planes were a big problem for American GIs in WWII. Remember Pearl Harbor? Those were the very planes glamorized throughout the entirety of “The Wind Rises.”
At the end of the film, in a dream sequence featuring Italian aeronautical engineer Caproni (voiced by Stanley Tucci), Jiro looks up at his departing fleet of beautiful planes and makes a passing reference to the fact that “none of them came back.” That’s because they were either shot down by Americans or were used in kamikaze attacks. It is undoubtedly important to pay attention to the non-American perspectives on global history, but “The Wind Rises” doesn’t feel like it has any particular message to that extent. Jiro “just wanted to build beautiful planes.” According to Miyazaki, that’s all that matters, not the mutual devastation those planes helped create.
Even if you look at “The Wind Rises” without the lens of Miyazaki’s other fantastic films, it’s not a very interesting movie. It’s really pretty to look at, especially since hand-drawn animation is harder to come by these days, but even artfully drawn plane wrecks get old after the third or fourth time. If this is the kind of picture we can expect from Studio Ghibli now that Miyazaki has retired from filmmaking, there’s not too much to be excited about when it comes to its upcoming films.