The Wind Rises is Hayao Miyazaki’s third Academy Award nominated animated feature film and it will certainly be his last. The 73-year-old has been called the “Walt Disney of Japan.” You may know him from his long catalogue of animated fantasies such as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Ponyo, but The Wind Rises is no fantasy. In fact, it is one of a few unique animated movies to have a non-fictional subject. This biopic tells the life story of one of the Second World War’s most influential engineers, Jiro Horikoshi (voiced dubbed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
Jiro is a day dreaming student who wants to fly. To his dismay, his eyesight will not permit him to become a pilot and so he enters the engineering trade. He never stops dreaming though. In some of the more fantastical sequences, he communes with Giovanni Battista Caproni (voiced by Stanley Tucci), an Italian innovator of flight, in what he imagines as shared dreams. The dreams of modern, elegant aircraft follow Jiro into his adulthood as he falls in love. This romance takes center stage as we only see hints at the horror of the war that may soon be upon Jiro’s world. Jiro’s love interest Naoko Satomi (voiced by Emily Blunt) has Tuberculosis and her decline in health is paralleled by Jiro’s success as an engineer. At the end of the film we see Jiro’s masterpiece the A6M fighter plane also called the “Zero”.
The film’s greatest strength is its visual beauty. Dream sequences have a distinct tonal difference. The film never shies away from taking on viscerally difficult subjects: a natural disaster, numerous failed airplane test flights, and the aftermath of war.
The challenge of biopics is not changing the facts of someone’s life while still trying to tell a better story than what actually happened. What some read as the tacit approval of the silent who make war possible, I read as just the mundane nature of having to stick to the actual life story of a real person. Real people rarely have a tight dramatic arc that plays well onscreen.
If at all possible, go see the subtitled version for a more authentic experience. Hopefully though, the bigger names dubbing in supporting roles will bring in more mainstream audiences.
Both the subtitled and dubbed versions of The Wind Rises are now playing at the Oriental Theatre.