Words by James Zarucky
Upon its release, The Wind Rises was initially marketed as legendary Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s final feature, the swan song to a remarkable career overseeing some of the most iconic animations of all time. As many would be aware, this wasn’t the first retirement announcement by Miyazaki, the founder of the venerable Studio Ghibli. However, at the time of writing it is looking increasingly unlikely that he won’t be stepping back from an active involvement with the animation company any time soon.
Should it indeed turn out to be his last directorial effort, The Wind Rises serves as a graceful coda to Miyazaki’s formidable body of work. The film is a fictionalised biography of Jiro Horikoshi, an engineer responsible for designing aircrafts that were used by Japan during World War II. Though Horikoshi didn’t possess the nationalistic zeal of his colleagues, his desire for technological innovation meant that his designs were of great interest to military commanders. The protagonist’s ambivalence towards the deployment of his inventions reflects broader tensions which emerged within Japanese society during WWII and in its aftermath.
As a nation which has always been at the cutting edge of technological development, Japan has often had to grapple with the moral dichotomy brought about by its ability to produce machines capable of inflicting great devastation against its tendency towards strategic pacifism in the post-war period. While just as stylistically breezy and light in tone as many of Miyazaki’s previous Studio Ghibli features, the film has been received somewhat controversially in Japan due to its subject matter, as the nation is in the midst of revising long held policies which place limitations on the size and scope of its defence capabilities.
Many will be tempted to view this film as a companion piece to Grave of The Fireflies, Isao Takahata’s 1988 exploration of Japan’s involvement in WWII (also produced by Studio Ghibli). Such an attitude, however, would overlook the fact that this film doesn’t quite reach the same level of emotional gravitas. Its approach is arguably a bit too much on the reflective side, but there is still much pleasure to be found in the beauty of the animation and accompanying musical score. Though it probably won’t be placed in the upper echelons of the Studio Ghibli canon, The Wind Rises should nevertheless be a welcome treat for anime fans.