Review: The Wind Rises
PLOT: THE WIND RISES explores the life and love of Jirô Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes in World War II. It follows the designer from his childhood to his adult life as the man who created the Mitsubishi A5M.
REVIEW: In the English language release of Hayao Miyazaki’s THE WIND RISES, his leading man Jirô Horikoshi is given life thanks to the very talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Part biography and part fantasy, this animated story of a bespectacled young man who dreams of designing airplanes at times has the ability to soar. However, the over two-hour running time is often bogged down during an overblown romance with a beautiful girl named Nahoko (Emily Blunt). The film explores the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1928, World War II, death due to tuberculosis and the creation of the Mitsubishi A5M in an all-out epic tale. Yet as grand as this picturesque animated feature is, the emotion doesn’t always reach the heights that it strives for.
When we first meet Jirô as a young boy, he has big dreams of flight yet there is a sense of dread lingering inside. His fantastical imaginings often end with destruction, a recurring theme spread throughout the WWII time frame. When he is older he meets Nahoko, who he aids along with her maid after their train derails during an earthquake. He brings them to the safety of her family not giving his name – yet we all know they will be reunited someday. During his years at a university to study engineering he befriends Honjô (John Krasinski), a wisecracking designer who is far more cynical than the daydreaming Jirô. With wartime looming, the young designer must battle his own desire to create something beautiful, in a world in need of a plane that will carry bombs and gunfire. When he once again meets Nahoko, his life is further complicated by a passionate yet possibly doomed romance.
Writer/director Miyazaki brings a sprawling history lesson to life with beautiful animation and a unique blend of human voices to create the sound of the planes. THE WIND RISES is drenched in rich colors and impressively drawn characters. The idea of telling this tale – based on the filmmakers own Manga loosely based on the short story “The Wind Has Risen” by Tatsuo Hori – should be given credit on the scope alone. The stunning animation used to create fire and battle sequences as well as the magical sky with planes soaring is incredibly picturesque. There is serious beauty in the story of one man and his search for his dreams, even if they are conflicted by a somber reality.
It could be said that the film is occasionally too ambitious. This monumental story drags a bit and the focus isn't completely solid. As a fictionalized biography, the most interesting thing about Horikoshi is his constant daydreams of flight and desire to build. The romantic element never quite gets off the ground as it is introduced fairly late in the film and follows a predictably bittersweet path. The focus on the man is far more satisfying than two lovers in a PG-13 rated animated feature. Sappy and sweet, Jirô and Nahoko fail to generate any fire or passion. Yet when it comes to the love of flight, you can’t beat the wildly original scenes of flight or a dream world which our hero shares with legendary Italian plane designer Caproni (Stanley Tucci).
Fans of Miyazaki will no doubt find much to love in Horikoshi’s expansive biopic. It is a beautiful film with a handful of charming character aside from a couple annoying additions including Jirô’s grating sister (voiced by Mae Whitman). I’ve yet to see the original film, but the English actors do a fine job, especially Gordon-Levitt who is terrific in the leading role. This story is a massive undertaking with its exploration of historical events and a classic romance. However, the two don’t quite work as well as they should and as gorgeous as the film may be it isn’t quite as compelling as it could have been. It is hard to complain too much however with such inspired animation and a stunning score by Joe Hisaishi. THE WIND RISES is a visually powerful feature with a less-than-stellar romance.