“They say an artist has only ten years of creativity. The same goes for engineers. Live your ten years well, Jiro.”
~Caproni, The Wind Rises
If you had one last chance to reveal yourself though a story or piece of art, what would you do? Hayao Miyazaki unfolds some of his most controversial ideas, conflicting emotions, and overall personality in his last film, Studio Ghibli’s The Wind Rises.
I grew up on Studio Ghibli. I watched and re-watched the classics: Castle of Cagliostro, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Spirited Away, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. My two favorite films today are Whisper of the Heart and Howl’s Moving Castle. But I believe that my heart has to make room for a new gem.
The Wind Rises, a fictionalized historical drama, follows the life of Japanese airplane engineer Jiro Horikoshi (the designer of the Mitsubishi A5M and its successor the Mitsubishi A6M Zero) from his childhood up to the aftermath of World War II. The audience watches Jiro as he grows from a young boy gazing at the stars from his rooftop to one of Japan’s most sought after engineering geniuses. Along the way, disasters such as The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 reveal Jiro’s kind and selfless nature. His kindness saves the life of a maid of the Satomi household and forever touches the young Nahoko Satomi, whom Jiro eventually reunites with by chance meeting. The two fall in love, later marrying. However, their relationship is not that simple, as Nahoko suffers from tuberculosis.
Jiro Horikoshi’s career is followed chronologically. However, accounts of Jiro’s personal life in the film are fictional.
Jiro’s calm and reserved demeanor is complimented perfectly by his best friend and foil, the sarcastic and realistic Kiro Honjo. Honjo adds comic relief and an abundant supply of spunk that is missing in Jiro’s character. Other characters include Castorp (vaguely based on a character from Tomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain) who meets Jiro at the Satomi summer resort in Nagano and warns him of the despair and corruption to come because of Hitler’s plans for a second war.
In the movie, Miyazaki reveals the animosity between airplane engineers and their clients. “I just want to make beautiful airplanes,” says Jiro. Miyazaki stresses the point that the engineers were not to blame for such destruction in the second World War, and he illustrates this point beautifully by writing the story from the perspective of one of Japan’s most blamed engineers for the death of thousands.
The movie ebbs in and out of a continuous dream that Jiro has and shares with the great aeronautical engineer of the early 1900’s, Giovanni Battista Caproni. Jiro meets Caproni in his dream as a young boy and Caproni, who shows up at pivotal points in Jiro’s life, guides and encourages Jiro to continue with his engineering work, even when times get rough.
Miyazaki uses the french poem “le vent se lève, il faut tenter de vivre”, meaning “the wind is rising, we must try to live” as a recurring theme woven throughout the movie. Wind is a huge point of symbolism in the movie, used to mark important triumphs, failures, and characters throughout.
At first, I was skeptical hearing that Miyazaki’s last work wouldn’t be a visually heart-stopping fantasy like Spirited Away or Ponyo, but I was terribly wrong. For one, the movie is still visually leagues away from any other animation studio (props to Ghibli). Secondly, I’m glad he didn’t do a fantasy, for this movie wasn’t about the visuals.
Some have been critical of the work, especially concerning the Miyazaki’s choice to not include the actual war whatsoever in the film, as well as how he chose to end the movie. But this movie was not about WWII. It was about Jiro, and the struggles of pre-war Japan.
I think the main reason The Wind Rises broke my heart was because I knew it was the last of Miyazaki. I feel as though Miyazaki represented himself in not just Jiro but all his characters: He has Jiro’s heart, Honjo’s disposition, Nahoko’s appreciation for limited time and the relationships that inhabit it, and so on. I felt as though I had been personally invited to see Miyazaki’s conflicting emotions towards the war and the closing of his own creative career. I think if you really look into the movie thoroughly enough, you find parts of yourself in these characters, too. Miyazaki has brought the ability to relate and empathize to a whole new level, showing us that, through the life of one man, we all share the same dream in the end.
“Did you live your ten years well, Jiro?’
I’ll say he did.