I must admit that I stopped watching animated films since elementary school; hence my knowledge of Miyazaki’s filmography is minimal. The only Hayao Miyazaki films I am familiar with are Castle in the Sky, Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro. Castle in the Sky remains my favorite. But perhaps I can lend an outsider’s perspective. Adapted from his own manga, The Wind Rises is a fictionalized account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the aircraft designer of the Mitsubishi A5M and A6M Zero, two fighters that were used in World War II. Jiro’s story spans from his childhood all the way to adulthood, covering Jiro’s employment for the airplane manufacturer during WWII and the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, where he meets Naoko, who he later falls in love with.
With its Monet-like skies and lush renditions of historical landscapes, the animation, particularly in Jiro’s dream sequences, is gorgeous. I had forgotten how lifelike Miyazaki’s characters move and behave. I recommend seeing this film in a theater if it is available, as much of the fun is losing yourself in the animated world.
The historical context evokes unsettling memories in the segment set in Nazi Germany. The grand romanticism of the animation and Jiro’s pursuit of becoming an aircraft designer just seem trivial placed against the events of WWII.
The story is glacially paced, and without any fantastical elements or a villain, children will be bored. Dreamers make great characters, but I doubt Jiro Horikoshi will be on any fan’s list of top ten Miyazaki’s protagonists. I assume fans might expect something epic and fantastical for Miyazaki’s last film, and he does not seem to be in any way interested in doing that.
Hayao Miyazaki’s family manufactured metal parts that went into the A6M Zero fighter airplane designed by the real-life Jiro Horikoshi, and there is a heavy sense of autobiographical elements of an author accessing his legacy by revisiting his roots. Miyazaki has chosen to make his farewell by telling a story about dreams and man’s pursuit of them. In life, we may achieve our dreams, but not in the way we want to achieve them. But in the end, it’s important not to drivel in perfections and appreciate what you have.
Perhaps Miyazaki is delivering this message to himself, in the context to his retirement, but it is a poignant way to say farewell no less. Prepare the tissues or a faux man cough, because if you go along with the story patiently, it is a touching message that is said with heart.