I am not as knowledgeable as I should be about Miyazaki’s films. I’ve seen Spirited Away and Ponyo, and gone back to Porco Rosso and The Castle of Cagliostro but I need to see more. I know a story when I see one though, and being the first audience to see Miyazaki’s last movie is a story.
Jiro dreams of airplanes and goes to work for the Mitsubishi factory designing planes. On the way he meets Naoko on the train and over the years they reunite in an epic romance. As an epic romance you can expect some tragedy to work its way in there.
If you know your history, you may worry what a Japanese designer may invent in the early days of aeronautics. The film goes there subtly. It’s addressed, but in the background because that’s not Jiro’s perspective. This is not the story of the man who designed the planes that flew Pearl Harbor.
Jiro’s professional life is full of beautiful flight scenes as Mitsubishi tests his prototypes. A lot of the planes break apart, and a crash landing on an aircraft carrier is particularly harrowing. The animation of these scenes is beautiful as shadows move across the land below. An earthquake scene ripples through the land in a visual extravaganza early in the film as well.
We don’t often get to see animation used to tell real life stories. The Wind Rises could be shot in live action with actors and cool planes, but anything can be animation. An animated mood piece is a worthwhile endeavor, and The Wind Rises is a really beautiful romance and life story. A scene of Jiro and Naoko flying paper planes at each other is really sweet.
As a story of an entire life, The Wind Rises can be slow in parts, more in the early half. The second half is completely moving, and maybe someone who is more familiar with Japanese culture would get even more out of it. Not that it’s not a universal story. It is, but there is also a lot of specific culture in there about family values, and history of a specific region.
I can see The Wind Rises as Hayao Miyazaki’s mic drop movie, although it would be a shame if Miyazaki retires before making the prequels The Wind Begins and The Wind Returns. Seriously, The Wind Rises is an engrossing, real world epic love story.