Release Date: 9th May 2014
Running Time: 126 minutes
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: (English dubbed voice talent) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, Werner Herzog
Japan’s Studio Ghibli has captured the collective imagination of cinema goers the world over since its inception in the mid 80s, balancing much loved children’s classics like My Neighbour Totoro with more adult fare like the harrowing Grave of the Fireflies. Ghibli’s co-founder and most famous director and animator, Hayao Miyazaki, is the most influential animator in modern cinema, perfectly blending ambitious story-telling with gorgeous visuals and memorable characters. Now almost 30 years later, Miyazaki is announcing his retirement with the release of The Wind Rises, an intimate historical epic about life, love and loss.
The Wind Rises is loosely based on the early life of Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese aviation engineer that designed many of the fighter planes used during World War II. We follow him over a number of years, starting as a dreaming youngster, through college and then as a fully fledged engineer, whereby through trial and error he seeks to build his perfect plane. Along the way we see the world through his eyes; his visit to Germany in the inter-war years leaves him both fascinated and appalled by their feats in military engineering, and he has mixed feelings towards building his own planes knowing that they will be used in combat. Friends and acquaintances come and go and he falls in love with a girl, however the historical framing means the story is tinged with melancholy, and the extensive foreshadowing in his dream sequences never let us forget the tragedy that is to come. At times this actually feels like a departure for Miyazaki and closer to the animation of Isao Takahata, his Studio Ghibli co-founder who grounds his stories in reality over fantasy.
Miyazaki himself was brought up around planes; his father was the director of Miyazaki airplane, which made parts for the fighter planes used during the war. The Wind Rises is the most clear link to Miyazaki’s past, although his fondness for aviation can also be seen in numerous other Ghibli titles, among them Porco Rosso, Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Seeping with Nostalgia and the heartbreak that comes with the trials of life, Miyazaki has threatened to retire in the past but this really does feel like the end; a man reflecting on his past and his passion with a fond sadness.
The animation, as ever, is simply stunning. On the big-screen is where Ghibli really shines, with the painstaking attention to detail coming to life in a way that a television screen will never be able to muster. In comparison with modern Western animation, which is often a blur of CGI, colour and noise, the care taken with the hand-drawn animation here is a breath of fresh air. Miyazaki has always had a way of depicting nature, and here everything from the majestic clouds to the leaves rustling in the wind are imbibed with an awe-inspiring beauty. The pace is slowed down too to more accurately reflect the passage of time, allowing room to reflect and take in all its facets.
There are some who will more than likely find it a little too languidly paced, and indeed at times it may feel a little self indulgent. It certainly isn’t a film for young children either, although older children may take to it if they have the patience. However if anyone has earned the right to a little self indulgence, then surely it is Hayao Miyazaki. The perfect bittersweet ending to an unforgettable career; he may yet come out of retirement, but until then this really does feel like his last hurrah. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think have something in my eye.