The Wind Rises

This is the second to last film I need to see to properly judge the Animated Feature Oscar.  Alas, the last one, Ernest & Celestine won’t be opening wide until later this month and of course the Oscars are tonight.  Most of the Oscar predictors say that Frozen is a lock but I don’t know how you can pick against Miyazaki, especially if there’s no Pixar entry nominated.

Hayao Miyazaki has said that this will be his last film.  Of course people have said this before and have been drawn back so we’ll let the future decide that one.  If it is his last, however, it’s a good one to go out on.  For one thing this is an unusual film for him, in that it is a pretty conventional story.  There are, of course, touches of fantasy here and there and some cultural assumptions that are strange to us westerners.  Miyazaki fans are used to the latter.

The Wind Rises is essentially a biopic about Jiro Horikoshi, voiced by Joseph Gordon Levitt, the aeronautical engineer who designed the Mitsubishi A5M fighter, and eventually the A5M Zero, which we know as the Zero, for the Japanese Navy before the war.  As portrayed here, Jiro is an endearingly nerdy and kind-hearted man who is obsessed not with making an efficient war machine but with creating a work of art.

And this is how Miyazaki gets past the troublesome subject of the film.  Japan, of course, was our enemy in the war and was a brutal and ruthless one at that.  The Zero fighter was a symbol of imperialism and brutality throughout east Asia.  And of course they were used in Pearl Harbor.  Yet it was also a brilliant advance in aeronautical engineering and an undeniably beautiful plane.  The theme of the film is that designing airplanes is an art and doing it at a transcendent level excuses the uses the planes are put to by others.  This is dubious at best and I wasn’t exactly sold but Miyazaki makes his case well.

Throughout the film Jiro’s dreams are pitted against reality and the dreams win every time.  When he arrives in Tokyo to study, there is an awful earthquake but that doesn’t stop him from getting his degree.  He meets the perfect woman for him and marries, but she is sickly and is soon dying.  This doesn’t stop him, however, from obsessing over his fighter.  He works at home while holding her hand. 

The Wind Rises is a beautiful film.  Visually it is stunning with wonderful stylized art and great animation.  The dialog and the script are touching.  The film has a slow pace, taking time to linger over brilliant summer days and beautiful Japanese gardens and cities.  And of course Jiro’s personal story is very sad and affecting, mostly because his is such a sympathetic character. 

The real Jiro probably acted at least in part in an aesthetic cocoon, simply not thinking about how his beautiful planes would be used.  But he was also probably a loyal citizen of Japan and acted out of patriotism, just as our weapons designers did, especially on things like the Manhattan Project.  No doubt he viewed his actions as necessary to the security of his country.  In short it was a lot more complicated than this movie makes it out to be.

It is possible to enjoy a work of art that you don’t really agree with.  I feel that the theme of this movie is unconvincing and yet I like the film.  And I suspect it will win the Oscar.

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