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Review: The Wind Rises

February 21, 2014

By John Corrado

*** (out of 4)

The Wind Rises Poster

A few days before The Wind Rises premiered at TIFF, legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki announced that the film would be his last achievement as a director before retiring, which is unfortunate for a variety of reasons.  This is a good film from a great filmmaker, an animated biopic with visuals that often soar, even at times when the script stays on the ground.

After receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, The Wind Rises is being released in selected theatres today, courtesy of Disney.  Toronto audiences have the option of choosing between the original Japanese version, or the English dub that was screened for press a few weeks back, which are both now playing at Cineplex Yonge & Dundas.

Although his nearsighted vision kept him from being a pilot, Jirô Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) always dreamed of designing the flying machines that were first introduced to him as a child through visions of Italian aircraft manufacturer Caproni (Stanley Tucci).  Working for Mitsubishi alongside his friend Honjô (John Krasinski), the young aeronautical engineer created the fighter planes that helped Japan leave their mark on World War II.  His life was also marked by a chance encounter with the young Nahoko (Emily Blunt) during the Great Kantō Earthquake in 1923, leading to a love affair that comes to the forefront during the last act of the film, when The Wind Rises switches gears and becomes a tragic romance.

The idea of making an animated biography is ambitious, but the script unfortunately befalls a few of the same challenges as some live action biopics.  At times the pace feels slow, with certain beats of the story seeming drawn out and others moving too quickly.  When delivered by the English voice cast, some of the dialogue feels stilted and a few of the line readings unfortunately fall flat, and the characters aren’t always presented in the most compelling way.  Japan’s role in World War II is also heavily glossed over, and the violence that these planes were used to inflict is rarely discussed, which adds an uneasy feeling to the messages behind the film.  Jirô Horikoshi was most famous for designing the Zero fighter, which was tragically used in the attacks on Pearl Harbour.

But these problems I have with The Wind Rises don’t take away from the true reason to see the film, which lies in the hand drawn animation, and the visuals are beautiful throughout every scene.  The stylized characters are matched by striking backgrounds and intricately designed airplanes, and the sequences of flight often soar.  There are also moments of inspiration, like the quote from Paul Valery that opens the film.  “The wind is rising, we must try to live,” we are told at the beginning, words that are repeated throughout.  This quote becomes a mantra of hope during the tragedies that Japan faced in the 1920s and ’30s, including the Great Depression and a tuberculosis epidemic, historical events that are often heartbreakingly depicted onscreen.

Although this is his swan song, I think Hayao Miyazaki will rightfully be remembered for his more fantastical films like My Neighbour Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, to name just a few of the Studio Ghibli classics that continue to transport audiences.  There are some problems with his latest achievement that keep the film from reaching the ranks of those triumphs.  But with beautifully mature animation and a story that is clearly personal for the legendary filmmaker, The Wind Rises is a good movie, capping off the storied career of a director who has delivered great films over the years.

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