‘I am retiring’ designer Caproni tells Jiro in one of his dreams, just one of the many references to the passing of creativity in what is Miyazaki’s swansong, The Wind Rises. Caproni may be referring to aeroplanes, but in the lines ‘aeroplanes are beautiful dreams, engineers turn dreams into reality’, the word ‘films’ would do just as well. The Wind Rises may be about planes, but the references to the length of a person’s creativity, and the ability to turn a dream into something tangible, is exactly what Miyazaki has always excelled in. These references succeed in acknowledging the retiring of a director who has managed to capture the hearts and the imagination of so many.
The film is based loosely on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, an aviation engineer whose dreams to make something aesthetically beautifully was tempered with issues of money and necessity, (again something reminiscent of the filmmaking process). The necessity in The Wind Rises is a military one, as the encroaching war means that Jiro’s talents are put towards making bomber and fighter planes. Indeed eventually the plane Jiro was responsible for was used for the Japanese Kamikaze campaigns of the Second World War, something which, as Kamikaze translates at ‘spirit wind’ or ‘divine wind’, hangs heavily over the whole film.
Despite this dense subject matter, the film is uncannily Miyazaki, and in typical style the political machinations form the backdrop for the love story which takes centre stage: a story about Jiro’s love of aeroplanes, and the woman in his life, Nahoko. Jiro’s calm and un-impetuous nature means he takes a step back from the immediate political upheaval, instead becoming the eye through which the audience observes, unbiased, and from a distance. Opening with the quote from Paul Valery, ‘the wind is rising… we must attempt to live’, the film immediately sets up its focus. This is a film about a coming storm, not about being in the eye of one, and in that way, the war is only spoken about retrospectively towards the end, and from a dream. Although there is no question about its impending arrival, the film is about the living in between, and becomes a story about hope.
This uplifting and dreamlike aspect of the film, which counters the increasingly bleak context, is made explicit in the magnetic animation of it. It looks beautiful, the stark colours of the Japanese cherry blossoms and surrounding countryside provide a striking backdrop to the story, mimicking the ongoing events. It is stunning and edenic throughout the scenes of blossoming romance, whilst the dark and miserable German weather, causing Jiro to turn up the collars of his bulky overcoat, are images reminiscent of early film noir.
The Wind Rises depicts a story of love in the midst of impending doom, flagging up the contrasts between tragically prophetic exclamations of ‘Japan will blow up’ and marriage proposals. Jiro’s love of aviation, which is the core of the film, comes to represent this contrast directly, and we are told ‘airplanes are beautiful, cursed dreams, waiting for the sky to swallow them up.’ Miyazaki’s final film is a beautiful meditation on what films do best, portraying an image of the power of human imagination and our capacity to dream.