The Wind Rises is my introduction to anime films and Studio Ghibli. It follows the life of Jiro Horikoshi, a man with a passion for aeronautics, who designs aircraft for the use of the Imperial Army. The English voice cast is stacked in this film with the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinksi, Martin Short, Werner Herzog and many others.
For someone who has a personal connection and fascination for airplanes, this was really enjoyable whenever Jiro and his colleagues discuss how these planes should be designed, especially when they talk about drag and any other jargon in order to make their planes go fast without falling apart. This is one of the best aspects of the entire film.
The other aspect is the visual storytelling. Visually, this film is masterful. Director and producer Hayao Miyazaki has a knack for creating some of the most breathtaking and truly awe-inspiring sequences in this film. Whether it’s the massive earthquake leveling an entire town at the beginning or what looks to be an actual plane flying but is then caught by Jiro and thrown like a paper airplane, it’s beautiful
Now, beauty is the main motif of this film. Jiro believes in the beauty of his creations and the beauty of flight, which is why whenever you see wind appear in the film, it has a majestic feel. There are stark contrasts to what Jiro finds beautiful as well. While his creations are beautiful and seeing planes fly are quite beautiful to see, that beauty is going to be a weapon of mass destruction in wars and there’s great foreshadowing during the earthquake sequence where Jiro imagines fighter jets and bombers within the billowing smoke, knowing that his beautiful builds are going to lead to bloodshed, destruction and pure violence.
The other contrast with beauty is the tuberculosis that Jiro’s wife, Naoko Satomi (Blunt), has been diagnosed with. TB is a nasty bacterial infection that affects your respiratory system, but through it all, Jiro reaffirms to his wife that she is still beautiful and says this to her multiple times within the same scenes.
When it comes to Naoko, I believe this is Blunt’s finest performance — acting or voice acting. Even without seeing Blunt’s face, she does a tremendous and gut-wrenching job of speaking like a woman who is deathly ill and in a lot of physical and emotional pain. Obviously, the physical pain of the illness is there as you feel like Blunt is gasping for air with every word she says, but it’s that emotional pain of knowing you won’t be cured and you just want to be with your lover until the moment you die is where that gut punch happens. While it doesn’t benefit the overall plot (my biggest issue), I find a very satisfying subversion of expectations with how his wife’s death is treated. She appears in one of Jiro’s dreams, which he has a handful of times with his idol, Giovanni Caproni, and she becomes one with the wind when we last see her, signifying her death. It’s a beautiful moment.
My biggest issue is with the overall plot and narrative storytelling. There isn’t a cohesive plot. This movie is essentially key moments in the life of Jiro. There’s no angle taken on one of those moments and that’s not something that grasps my attention. Maybe I’m not a biopic fan, but I watch a film like Straight Outta Compton and I really enjoy that film because it looks at the flaws of the group and their internal rivalry more than focusing on their success and popular songs. For me, I just don’t find it in this movie. If I wanted to, I could’ve fallen asleep, but it’s the perfect visual storytelling that keeps me awake.
If you are looking for a movie to solely entertain you, this isn’t the one. It only fits an obscure niche of film buff, but if you love striking visuals, then you’ll love The Wind Rises. I’m truly conflicted on where I stand with this film. I definitely don’t hate it, but I definitely don’t love it. It’s a film I only plan on watching once and that’s fine. I think it’s good to have those films you are conflicted on because it leaves a lot of room for reflection and comparison with other movies.