Critiquing the Wind Rises

Miyazaki directs a Zero. The film shoot revealed many deaths without showing one. And how many other cryptic ways of speaking about this movie can we utilize to describe this modern motion picture? A well-awarded (or nominated) documentary of many miserable failures? Yes, even that would be accurate. In this article, I briefly critique the Studio Ghibli film, The Wind Rises.

When I’m finished, you’ll wonder why I didn’t just stop the article here. Haha, ok, so maybe my opinion isn’t all that bad…. maybe.

The Wind Rises is an animated and romanticized biography of the man who designed the Japanese Zero, Jiro Hirokoshi. I could not have summarized it any better, as this movie is not about being entertaining. It perhaps wins its awards in the same way Dances with Wolves won its. But let me go into detail.

Visuals

The background scenery was the best part. While there were a number of simplistic sky shots, there were also a number of scenes I found to be exceptionally good for an animation. To say a two-story house and train running through mountains were some of my favorite shots doesn’t really do it justice.

Most of the story takes place in 1930s Japan, though it begins with Hirokoshi’s childhood prior to that. The changes of those couple decades were indicated by the shift in appearance from the very primitive and cockamamie Tokyo to the slightly more industrialized Tokyo. I like how the animators paid attention to making their dirt roads more than brown splotches.

Mind you, the entire film was not a dream show (no pun intended, if you know what I mean). While certain scenes, such as the German bomber, were nicely detailed, other scenes were merely par for the course. There was a mix of styles from paintings (for backgrounds) to soft colors (for forests and such) to that classic Studio Ghibli flat semi-technicolor (for characters or anything heavily animated). The styles didn’t mesh very well, but it passed.

Character Animation and Voices

Unfortunately, these two topics have to be grouped because of a very irritating flaw in the film. The characters were animated in that classic semi-awkward movement that is common in Studio Ghibli films I’ve seen. It’s not smooth, sometimes the character’s jolt in ways that are supposed to be realistic. But for whatever bizarre reason, whenever people started talking, they slowed down and had odd timing for speech. Even their complementing hand gestures were bizarre. It’s as if they had learned communication skills from a turtle. It made the dialogue rather irritating. Admittedly, it wasn’t horrible the entire film – some people were better than others, some were worse. I couldn’t tell if this slow-down effect was intended to match the pace of the story (since it was a rather slow film) or if it was just a sub-par job in directing.

The voices caught me off guard. This is not your typical Japanese high school anime, so when the main character started speaking with an adult voice inspite (yes, I could say “despite”) of his youthful appearance, I didn’t associate the voice with his character. In fact, it takes some time to become accustomed to associating that voice with the animated character, especially given the aforementioned odd animation of character dialogue.

Music

Small selection, and nothing particularly special. In fact, being more of a biography, the film lacks an epic score. The emotional cues I would have expected from a Miyazaki film didn’t come from anything in the audio department for sure.

Moral Cleanliness

It’s about real people, so naturally there are bad people. However, there really isn’t much objectionable content. There was one guy diving off a jumping board without pants. There were plenty of allusions to other things, but the grand majority of the film was safe enough for most young adults. One could argue Laputa: Castle in the Sky was less safe for kids than this, but Laputa would keep the child’s attention more than this film.

The main character is made out to be a pretty decent guy. The animators highlighted his helpful, generous spirit.

Most Evoking Scene

Everyone’s life has some sort of tragedy, it seems. We do things, and those things fail. Loved ones around us die. And we may watch our country fall into ruins. That said, there were a number of opportunities to evoke strong emotions. But being a biography, it didn’t take advantage of any of that.

What I found to be the most emotional scene was earthquake in the beginning. The quake itself was scary in a way that only Miyazaki and crew have ever pulled off before. I’d seen other scenes like that in other movies, but this one had a bizarre chilling effect. That said, it was short-lived, and the movie resumed its usual pace.

What Did I Learn

Since the entire movie was really a biography, it was a history lesson, so there are number of things that could be learned from this film, aside from obvious things like the passions of young men causing them to make choices that eventually backfire.

First, I got a glimpse of primitive Japan prior to World War 2. The technology was terrible. Everything from the airplanes to the steam engine were at risk of exploding. Japan had to overcome a burdensome technological deficit to even begin fighting the war.

Second, the thought-police were a problem in Japan, even for loyal citizens. While Americans tend to think about the German Gestapo more – perhaps from our Europe-first mentality – the story of Japan is far more complex than an emperor and a bunch of mindless maniacs willing to commit suicide as is depicted in those old films. I’d like to hear more about the survival tales of the Japanese pilots whom I’ve read lied about having engine problems so that they wouldn’t have to go commit suicide in a dive bomb.

Third, I learned that, in order to get to where he was, Jiro Hirokoshi had spent a long time dreaming of that point. He was portrayed as being rather myopic, mostly because the movie centered around his desire to create airplanes. I could certainly believe it if he were dedicated to his work like that, but of course, that also made him live a life that was pretty much without direction after World War 2. It makes me wonder what he did afterwards.

Conclusion

The film is a respectable tribute to the engineer Hirokoshi. It’s not pretentious, it doesn’t lose itself in the romanticism (no pun intended), and it doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. In no part of the film did I feel like the movie tried very many of the usual cinematic tricks (e.g. touching music) to make me sympathize with the characters. Naturally, you feel some sympathy because he is the protagonist, but the film stayed relatively dry, and I could assess it as I wished. Did I like the guy? In some ways. I prefer to look at the broader, long-term consequences, so to me he seemed like a mouse on a wheel. That aside, I liked the finer points of his character, his attention to detail, and his passion for design.

Is the movie worth a watch? I suppose, but it’s more or less a mediocre compromise between history and entertainment. If you want history, go read a fact book. If you want to be entertained, go watch another film. If your curious and have an hour and a half to burn, watch this film. (Or you could write a blog post, which I did. That only cost me a couple hours.)

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About chronologicaldot

Just a Christ-centered, train-loving, computer geek.
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2 Responses to Critiquing the Wind Rises

  1. Tim D says:

    You shouldn’t be too critical of the Film. Yes, it depicts the life of a man who was an instrument of war, but the film isn’t a tribute to the protagonist it’s a tribute to Miyazaki. This is the final work of a man who indelibly changed the face of animation worldwide. The choppy animation stylistically fits a period piece, and reminds me of early cinematography where the camera is choppy. Also, to give due credit studio Giblhi they began with hand-drawn animations and likely still used a portion in this film.

    In my opinion this is Miyazaki’s plea to see WW2 through an alternative lens. He doesn’t try to make a moral judgement about the character, he only shows the story of somebody inspired to greatness, and the cost it had on his loved ones.

    • I believe I was simply rating the film as I do other anime; I judge by the same standard, to be perfectly fair. Just fyi, just about all anime these days still uses hand-drawn animation, so yes, the entire film is that way. Admittedly, they may have been targeting a specific style – “oldies”, as you’ve pointed out – but I’m comparing to a common rubric. I don’t watch alot of old anime.

      I admit I don’t know the reason for why he made the film – and I’ve read it even sparked controversy, which he may have expected – but it’s more or less an untold story that I perceive is a tribute to a man who pursued his dreams. Perhaps Miyazaki saw in the man something of himself? Who knows.

      If anything though, it doesn’t seem like a plea. It doesn’t make me sympathize with the man. It doesn’t make any strong political statements. Like I said, it’s dry. The basic point is that the man knew what he walked into and chose to do it anyway. Again, maybe Miyazaki was saying something about his own life. Animation is very hard and if you want to be rich and famous, it’s taking the long way. I’m sure Miyazaki knew that – after all, he worked on anime before computers. I can’t say much about his wealth, but I know he doesn’t do it for the money because, as a friend of his said in an interview, Miyazaki will be drawing storyboards until the day he dies.

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