Miyazaki exits on a high note with ‘The Wind Rises’

Jung Kim, Editor-in-Chief

Declared as Hayao Miyazaki’s final film, “The Wind Rises” is an affectionate and colorful tribute to the filmmaker’s legacy as a world-renowned animator, writer and director.

Loosely based on the history of Japan during the early 20th century leading up to World War II, the animated feature details the life and aspirations of Jiro Horikoshi, a historic Japanese aeronautical engineer who designed many Japanese fighter planes. The story begins with young Jiro dreaming of piloting airplanes, but due to his myopia, he resolves to design them instead. It is within this vast dreamscape of his imagination, free of violence and hatred, that he is able to envision, experiment and refine his craft.

This unadulterated portrayal of Jiro’s determination provides the overarching theme of the film, his characterization purposefully limited in dimension that ultimately works in favor of the overall narrative. Notably, instead of focusing on the repulsive consequences of Jiro’s artistic ambitions – he designed the Mitsubishi Zero, the fighter plane used during the kamikaze attack on Pearl Harbor – the story is presented as a whimsical abstraction of his dreams, his passion for airplanes the sole drive underlying his achievements.

Not surprisingly, this sentiment appears to be a direct reflection of Miyazaki’s own passion for his art. Revered for his devotion to hand-drawn animations in lieu of computer-generated images, the 73-year-old animator does not disappoint with his hypnotically colorful and painstakingly detailed freehand illustrations. At times photorealistic, impressionistic, abstract or painterly, Miyazaki’s mastery of hand-drawn arts dynamically supplements the dreamy overtone of the plot’s central theme.

Although the plot emphasizes the empowering nature of pursuing one’s dream, it also exposes the nightmares as the consequences of one’s failures. As the animator’s most grounded tale to date – no magical powers or creatures often seen in his other works, such as “Spirited Away” – Miyazaki refuses to shy away from the stark realities of the war-torn era, from the monstrous rumbles of the 1923 Kanto earthquake to the devastation of the tuberculosis epidemic. Incredibly, Miyazaki never explicitly reveals the fates of the characters – no visible deaths – and his message remains clear: When dreams are kept alive, bad memories tend to fade away. Ironically, this idea became increasingly relevant during the actual screening; the plot started off very slowly, but the boredom faded quickly once it hit its stride.

Overall, “The Wind Rises” is an apt tribute to Hayao Miyazaki’s venerable legacy, and it soars above the high expectations that no doubt accompanied the news of his retirement.

9 out of 10