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Published February 23, 2014

Hayao Miyazaki has “retired” a few times before, and it has never stuck. The 73-year-old animator is so intrinsically tied into the Studio Ghibli brand that it’s hard to imagine that they will exist without him. This time is, luckily, no different.

The Wind Rises is a bittersweet (almost) end to his film career. In true Miyazaki style, it is both written and directed by him. The film is adapted from his own manga, which was loosely based on the short story The Wind Has Risen by Tatsuo Hori.

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Following a young man’s journey from his big dreams as a bespectacled student to his creation of the Mitsubishi A5M (the predecessor to his triumph, the Zero), The Wind Rises touches on various historical events (including the great Kanto earthquake of 1923, the Great Depression, and WWII). Along the way, Jiro Horikoshi falls in love, makes friends, and frequently dreams about speaking to his idol, Giovanni Battista Caproni, an Italian plane engineer. (On a fun note, Studio Ghibli’s name comes from the Caproni Ca.309 Ghibli, an aircraft designed by Caproni’s company.)

As his perceived final piece, themes and motifs in The Wind Rises took on an extra dimension. The title comes from Paul Valéry’s poem ‘Le Cimetière marin’, and a verse from the poem crops up again and again: “Le vent se lève!… Il faut tenter de vivre!” or “The wind is rising!…We must try to live.” One wonders if Miyazaki feels the wind rising too. Another part that resonated with Miyazaki’s almost-retirement is dream Caproni’s assertion that engineers, like artists, only get “ten years in the sun”.

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Of course, there are problems with Miyazaki’s sentimental take on Jiro Horikoshi, key among them the lack of real consequences the character’s romantic dream seems to produce. The end dream sequences has Jiro and his idol Caproni walking among a field of destroyed, blackened war planes, but real, human lives are noticeably absent from the image. It’s certainly a far cry from Grave of the Fireflies, Studio Ghibli’s other film set during WWII, which focused on two children trapped in the horrors of wartime Japan. While Miyazaki has always had pacifist themes in his works, and didn’t attend the Academy Awards in 2003 because he “didn’t want to visit a country that was bombing Iraq,” this film seems to forgo the complicated issues of directly contributing to a war (the airplanes were built primarily by Chinese and Korean slave labour) in favour of romanticising the beauty of airplanes.

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Still, it’s a beautiful story, and beautifully animated. Many landscapes are painted in a realistic manner, and even shots of devastation (the earthquake and fire) are strangely captivating.

The Wind Rises is a pleasing addition to the Studio Ghibli stable – not one I’m completely comfortable with on a moral level, but nevertheless a film that holds its own.

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