Aviation has always been a key element of the Studio Ghibli films; from the flying broomstick in Kiki’s Delivery Service to the airborne armies in Howl’s Moving Castle. So for Hayao Miyazaki’s reported swan-song to focus on the development of aeroplane design is no surprise. A fictionalised biopic of designer Jiro Horikoshi, The Wind Rises is a stunning achievement, an animated film that uses the medium to tell a compelling, highly emotional story that has appeal for children and adults alike.
Horikoshi’s designs were used during World War 2, and that detail may make The Wind Rises unpalatable to some. But Miyazaki’s films have never focused on battle-lines, but on the personal stories involved, and The Wind Rises gains power from the balancing of the beauty of the designs against the knowledge that the purpose for which the designs will be used leads to death and unhappiness. It’s a bitter-sweet paradox, and one that many directors would sweep under the carpet. Instead, Miyazaki puts Horikoshi’s dilemma centre-stage, and depicts the designer’s angst as he finds himself immersed in industrial and international intrigue while he attempts to keep his own thinking pure. A subplot, invented for the film, relates how Horikoshi’s work life is informed by his chaste romance with Naoko, a woman with tuberculosis who won’t marry until she recovers. Horikoshi’s dreams take flight while his day-to-day reality struggles to leave the ground behind.
The Wind Rises stirs up sensational aerial dream sequences, but also captures the bleakness of life on the ground, as Tokyo recovers from a devastating earthquake. Horikoshi and Naoko journey to the Magic Mountain resort in an effort to address her physical malaise, and their interaction with a mysterious German spy, beautifully voiced by Werner Herzog, sketches out the sinister world of warmongering that forms the backdrop to their romance.
Studio Ghibli films have always been beautiful to watch, and The Wind Rises excels in every frame. But the overriding message, about the role of a gifted individual to overcome the constraints of society, is just as beautifully wrought; The Wind Rises is required viewing for anyone who wants to have their spirits lifted and soar like the wind for two blissful hours.