By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
Sometimes The Wind Rises soars. Yet, on the other wing, it often crashes to earth. Due to the film’s tepid story, flat characters and achingly slow pace, while the wind does indeed rise … it also blows.
One of the constant themes mentioned throughout the piece is that an artist has only ten good years in order to create. Which is ironic, since the movie’s writer/director Hayao Miyazaki (The Secret World of Arrietty, Ponyo, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke) is 73 years of age and, his sixth announcement of retirement notwithstanding, is still working away.
Rather than his earlier, juvenile-oriented features, here Miyazaki delivers an animated historical fantasy epic which nods to Japan’s celebrated aeronautical engineer of the early 20th century, Jiro Horikoshi. Miyazaki opens his film with a wide-eyed young boy who dreams of designing airplanes, and who ultimately invents the Zero, the primary fighter plane that was used in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
While the film takes us through such events as the Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the Great Depression, the rise of Nazi Germany and Japan’s eventual entry into WWII, Miyazaki additionally incorporates Tatsuo Hori’s semi-autobiographic novelette, “The Wind Has Risen,” using that story about a tubercular young woman as a jumping-off point to create a love interest for Jiro. A third element is introduced with the inclusion of Jiro’s dream-sequence mentor, the Italian aeronautical engineer Gianni Caproni. (Caproni is yet another fact-based character, responsible for constructing bombers used in WWI before his company followed up by creating multiple flying machines for the Italian Royal Air Force in WWII.)
Problems aside, The Wind Rises is breathtaking to behold. The visuals literally soar: airplanes like birds streaking against a robin’s egg blue sky; lacy forests with the sunlight delicately filtering through; picturesque villages dotting the verdant countryside. Which are all effectively balanced against the yellow-gray tinge of impoverished cities, filthy water, red and black firebombs of exploding aircraft, the ruinous destruction in the wake of earthquakes. The fact that every frame is hand drawn, with the backgrounds hand painted, puts modern digital animation and CGI to shame.
As for the story, a few highlights occur during the dream sequences, with Jiro frequently jumping into fantastical flights of fancy, usually accompanied by the outsized, Howard Hughes-ian Caproni. One particular scenario depicts the two men standing on the wing of an airplane that’s engaged in midflight. While their faces are stationary, shot in close-up, the background reflects a breakneck blur of sky, clouds and land.
Another standout occurs in the final act when we see Jiro standing, frozen, as he stares out at his Zero fighter plane seconds after it has completed its first momentous, historic flight. While his colleagues rejoice, he can’t. Like Oppenheimer, he suddenly, viscerally understands the ensuing consequences from the weapon of mass destruction that he alone created.
As effective as that one moment is, the film is rife with agonizingly slow sequences that do nothing to advance the story. Scenes of walking, smoking, studying, a man eating watercress, more walking and smoking, Jiro traveling from one part of the globe to another just to return again, Jiro on the run from some Orwellian Japanese police — and then not — are utterly nonsensical. Editor Takeshi Seyama, where were you?
Themes are repeated as if in an eternal loop-de-loop: Japan is technologically backward; dreams are beautiful, dreams are cursed; you must live. And oh, that rising, rising wind. Even Caproni, weary and sarcastic, says, “Is the wind still rising, Japanese boy?”
Worse, characters are painted flatter than any of the movie’s gazillion backgrounds. Our hero Jiro, sporting Harry Potter-esque glasses, is kind, generous, brilliant, brave, humble and noble. Other than his being a workaholic (yet again, for a noble purpose), he possesses no flaws whatsoever. The sister is a scold, the boss is a grouch, the fiancée is altogether lovely and selfless. The only characters depicting any dimension are the effusive Caproni, and Jiro’s best friend/colleague Honcho, who is not only smart but exhibits a shrewd sense of humor.
The Wind Rises is akin to sitting through an unbearably long flight in which the view can only be appreciated so much. Ultimately we need something more, something to keep us engaged. Fortunately for Jiro, he often falls asleep and dreams the tedium away. We wish we could do the same.
Rating on a scale of 5 instances of Wind Some, Lose Some: 2.5
Wide Release Date: February 28, 2014
Written and Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Based on: Hayao Miyazaki’s Manga of the Same Name
Inspired by the Novel Written by: Tatsuo Hori
Japanese Voice Cast: Hideaki Anno, Miori Takimoto, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Masahiko Nishimura, Nomura Mansai
American Voice Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinki, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci
Running Time: 126 minutes
Here’s the trailer: