Friday, February 21, 2014


The Wind Rises (風立ちぬ)

The Wind Rises official site In spite of protests from many Asian countries that were victims of Japan's war crime during World War II, Japan's ruling right-wing politicians have been busy on amending Japan's constitution in order to re-energize Japan's military power and to rewrite World War II history. That effort draws uproar around the world and further worsens Japan's relations with its neighboring countries. In the shadow of this tension, it's quite surprising for celebrated animation master Hayao Miyazaki (宮崎 駿) tells a story about Jiro Horikoshi (堀越 二郎), a Japanese engineer who designed Japanese fighter planes including Zero used in the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, in alleged his last film "The Wind Rises" (風立ちぬ | Japan 2013 | 126 min.).

Apparently, Hayao Miyazaki is less concerned about the film's political impact and is more interested in telling a story in this last bow to his distinguished career. Like his protagonist, Hayao Miyazaki perhaps just wants to "make something beautiful." Although this Oscar-nominated film is not as exhilarating and captivating as some of Hayao Miyazaki's previous works, it certainly is a visual delight.

The film opens with Jiro Horikoshi's fascinating boyhood dream in which he flies high in his own fantasy world. As a young boy, he is inspired by an Italian aviation pioneer Giovanni Caproni, who frequently appears in his dreams throughout the film. He continues to explore his passion about aviation after he becomes a university student.

Following his childhood dream, Jiro joints Mitsubishi after his graduation and becomes an excellent engineer. With only a slider rule in hands, he is given a daunting task to design war fighters preparing for the upcoming World War II.

During a vacation, Jiro coincidently reunites with Naoko, who he first briefly met during the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake, and now she is battling with tuberculosis. Their romance quickly blossoms, but in no way it distracts Jiro's passion about his work on designing war fighters.

Although Jiro succeeds in the end, he doesn't appear to be exiting. He gloomily gazes at the fighters disappearing into the sky and mutters: "Not a single plane came back. That's what it means to lose a war."

The Wind Rises Official Site

As shown in Hayao Miyazaki's other films such as Academy Award-winning "Spirited Away" (千と千尋の神隠し 2001), the renowned writer/director/animator is singular in creating an enchanting fantasy world that involves children. There is no exception in this film when Jiro is a young boy. However, once the film gets to the later part, especially when it unfolds a typical romance subplot with Nahoko, the film's enjoyable high energy is subdued and the story becomes less engaging as if we are forced to read the numbers on Jiro's slider rule.

Jiro knew full well that his beautifully designed airplanes are to be used for the purpose of war. There is no question about it. Yet, that doesn't deter his passion a bit at work. The film is honest about it and doesn't portray him as somebody who is single-minded in creating something beautiful in the aviation world. Jiro understands the terrible consequences of his work yet proceeds passionately. Therefore, Jiro isn't just an innocent engineer. He significantly contributes to the devastation and suffering caused by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.

But none of those factors seem to stop Hayao Miyazaki from telling Jiro's story as it is in his final project. In a certain way, he shares Jiro's passion in making something beautiful, disregard the consequences. He makes this film without sending a message about war like other films such as "Grave of the Fireflies" (火垂るの墓 1988). Unfortunately, that also undermines the power the film otherwise could have delivered.

The film's theatrical release in the US is dubbed in English by American actors, which is what I saw at a press screening. I wish I had a chance to see the original Japanese language version. When I hear the voices of familiar American actors such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Stanley Tucci on the screen, I feel those voices somewhat discredit the characters and keep them at arm's length from me, even their voices are perfect. I am told that each theater will decide in which language the film will be shown. Check your local theaters for more information.

"The Wind Rises," a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release, opens on Friday, February 21, 2014 in San Francisco Bay Area.

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