Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu) & Miyazaki Plans Exit

The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu), an epic film that sweeps through earthquake, fire, and dreams, is seen through the thick round bespectacled airplane designer, Jiro Horikoshi. His singleminded devotion to airplanes and love of flying machines dominates his life and dreams against the historical backdrop of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, an economic depression, a tuberculous epidemic, and war in Japan. 

Jiro's story is fueled by dreams, sponge cake, and cigarettes. His dreams are shared with an Italian airplane designer, Caproni (voiced by Stanley Tucci), who notes that though the work is designing airplanes, they are used for war and destruction, but he chooses to stay focused on the beauty of the machines, "Airplanes are not for war or making money. Airplanes are beautiful dreams waiting to be swallowed by the sky." Jiro's curmudgeon boss, Kurokawa, (voiced by Martin Short) attempts to counter Jiro's dreaminess. Leaving a meeting with the military brass, Kurokawa says to Jiro, "You weren't even listening!" Jiro's focus is on creating and his response is classic Clint Eastwood, "Nope." 

Work dominates Jiro's life, and yet he is one to pause momentarily for music, to help others, to read poetry, and to take in the beauty of the Japanese countryside. He is not paralyzed by the pain of life or by the knowledge that his flying machines are wanted by the military. Instead he remains steadfast in his efforts to create something original and, to him, beautiful.  In a nod to the economic depression and his military minded customer he knows that he'll need ingenuity to overcome the lack of resources at his disposal from flush rivets to leaving off the guns. My eight year old history buff noted that Jiro's final aircraft was the Zero combat plane used in World War II.

A French poem, "The Graveyard by the Sea" ("Le Cimetière marin") by Paul Valery "The wind is rising!…We must try to live!" ("Le vent se lève!... Il faut tenter de vivre!"), gives the film its title and is at the core the way Jiro deals with obstacles in war, life, and love, it is about living, not regret.

Small doses of humor pepper the story through other characters such as when the Germans complain, "You Japanese copy everything!" Jiro's friend, Honjo (voiced by John Krasinski) quips, "What? Are you afraid we'll improve it?" Still the heart of this Jiro's story is about creating. In a dream sequence Caproni says "Artist are only created for ten years." At the end Caproni returns in another dream to ask him, "Ten years in the sun, did you live them well?"

Jiro's love, Nahoko Satomi (voiced by Emily Blunt) continues the theme of focusing on beauty and the moments at hand instead of the of what they cannot control or have due to the tuberculosis shortening her days. The most poignant scene is voiced by the landlady who stops Jiro's sister from going after Nahoka when she is seen walking away. The landlady (voiced by Jennifer Grey) understands that Nahoka wants Jiro to remember her as she was.

The animation is rich and detailed, the film long. The story's themes are complex and not for children, but for those who can understand the call of beauty and creating art and that the outcome of such work, though it can be used destructively, is born from an inner vision and drive that is without guile. Longing and loss play heavily in the second half of the film. Perhaps writer, director, and animator, Hayao Miyazaki wants us to remember him in a certain way while he still has the energy and will to direct his creativity. The Wind Rises seems a fitting capstone to his career.

"Ten years in the sun, did you live them well?" is a worthy question to ask ourselves.