THE WIND RISES (Kaze tachinu)
Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki (comic and screenplay) loosely based on the short story “The Wind Has Risen” by Tatsuo Hori
Cast: Voices of: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, Mandy Patinkin
Screened at: Regal E-Walk, NYC, 2/18/14
Opens: February 28, 2014
Ever since the legendary Icarus took flight, humankind has wanted to fly. Never mind that Icarus flew too close to the sun and fell, dooming the experiment. From the time that the Wright Brothers took off from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, a love of aircraft became dominant throughout the 20th century for good purposes (see the world and understand other cultures) to evil ones (two world wars and a slew of conflicts that might have been prevented had the perpetrators considered what little would be gained by sending their youth to far-flung corners of the world for missions that ultimately made no sense).
The urge to fly motivates Jirô Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to build a plane for his beloved Japan, though he may not have known to what use his engineering would lead. Western powers, fighting in the Second World War, looked to the sky with dread to see the red zero on each of Japan’s aircraft. (Inventors of the atomic bomb may have later regretted their role rather than hide behind “I’m just the scientist: I am not responsible for my invention’s uses”). Horikoshi, the actual designer of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero used by the Empire of Japan in the early forties to attacks targets in Asia and the U.S. territory of Hawaii, gets a highly fictionalized and romanticized biopic by the greatest of Japanese animators. Hayao Miyazaki, known to cinemaphiles for his “Ponyo” (a five-year-old boy’s relationship with a goldfish princess that wants to be human) and “Spirited Away” (a 10-year-old girl wanders into an area dominated by witches, monsters and gods), wants to sweep us away with his focus on a young man who becomes the chief engineer for the construction of the Zero.
He succeeds admirably. In an animated film not directed to the small fry and probably not about to be the fare on your next flight to Europe (it contains a good deal of smoking, a large spatter of blood emitted by a tubercular woman, and rudimentary planes that smash up and burn), “The Wind Rises” is a great tale of ambition and romance, a testament to the value of hard study, perseverance, and fierce motivation.
Miyazaki opens on an eight-year-old Jirô (Zach Callison) who is a dreamer, both at night when he is asleep and during his days when that dream enables him to rise to the top of his profession. In an early dream he meets a role model, a mustachioed Italian engineer named Giovanni Battista Caproni (Stanley Tucci), who is to appear several times to prod the fellow he calls the “Japanese Boy.” As testament to Miyazaki’s imagination, he shows an Italian that recognizes that he is in a dream while his new friend realizes that he, likewise, is part of a fantasy.
Jirô is to become a valuable engineer for his country winding up on the top of the heap at Mitsubishi, where he is sent with a friend to Germany to study that country’s aeronautics and who is frustrated at how technologically backward his own country is compared to Germany. He meets a German tourist in a hotel who predicts a coming war, giving Jirô the insight that his talent may well be used for destructive purposes. In the final act, a sweeping romance finds Jirô and Naoko Satomi (Emily Blunt) with hearts taking flight albeit with a tragic end, a love story mirrored in part by great music and literature including Puccini’s La Bohème which features Mimì with TB; Alexandre Dumas fils’ The Lady of the Camellias in which Marguerite Gautier dies of consumption (adapted as Verdi’s La Traviata), and in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, taking place at a sanitarium where all the characters suffer from this fashionable disease.
“The Wind Rises” appeared first in its original Japanese language where it became the highest-grossing Japanese film in 2013 and now dubbed flawlessly in English with side roles taken by the voices of Martin Short, Werner Herzog, William H. Macy, Elijah Wood, and others. If this feature is not “perhaps the greatest animated film the cinema has ever seen,” as Film.com critic David Ehrlich opines, it comes close. The animation is startling, the colors magnificent, the dialogue successful bridging the gap between broad humor and the deadly serious.
Rated PG-13. 126 minutes. © 2014 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – A
Overall – A-