Anime Film Review: The Wind Rises (風立ちぬ) [Miyazaki’s final film]

By | January 28, 2016

My family and I are big fans of Studio Ghibli films and have seen a good portion of them (roughly half of their 20 films). A few classics like Totoro and Spirited Away we’ve seen several times.

For some time I was eager to see their 2013 animated film “The Wind Rises” (風立ちぬ), but wasn’t willing to put out ~$40 to buy the Blu-ray on Amazon, especially for the first viewing. So when we came across it at Target for half the price, we couldn’t help but pick it up.

I began watching this movie without much information about the story, which is usually the way to get the best dramatic experience. I did know that it was Director Hayao Miyazaki’s last film as director before he retired later that year. So you could say I had fairly high expectations, given my status as a Ghibli and Miyazaki fan.

Here is an excerpt of the film’s description on Wikipedia (links removed, see original here for them):

The Wind Rises is a fictionalized biopic of Jiro Horikoshi (1903–1982), designer of the Mitsubishi A5M fighter aircraft and its successor, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, used by the Empire of Japan during World War II. The film is adapted from Miyazaki’s w of the same name, which was in turn loosely based on the 1937 short story The Wind Has Risen by Tatsuo Hori.

I’m not going to give much more information on the story for those who want to watch it from an clean slate. My purpose of this post is mainly to rely my impressions of this movie, which unfortunately were pretty negative.

First, as you can see from above excerpt, this film is loosely based on real characters and real events. For me that is a big wet towel in the face since I tend to enjoy fiction much more. For a Miyazaki film, my expectation in this area was even higher hence my great disappointment. I will say there was some fantasy-like elements, in the vein of “Whispers of the Heart”, but they were not sufficient. “From Up on Poppy Hill” is another movie which doesn’t have many fantasy elements, and I didn’t like that one much either. While I greatly enjoyed the film “The Grave of the Fireflies”, I wasn’t expecting another anime movie with a wartime setting.

Second, the story was a major letdown. While I think the real life events and characters would probably be fun to read about in the original short story, I felt that trying to squeeze in everything into a two-hour film just didn’t do the story justice. Also, the way the main character was portrayed really made me dislike him, especially regarding some key events in the end of the film. One can make the argument that the way he acted was realistic for a Japanese person in that era (nearly 80 years ago), but the end result was just not emotionally satisfying. I would have preferred they went more for the documentary angle to tell things how they were, or make the main character more likable. I realize this explanation is a bit vague, but if you watch the movie you’ll understand. (According to this page about Jiro Horikoshi, the character this story was loosely based on, “the details [in this movie] of his personal life are completely fictitious”)

The best part about this movie was by far the visuals. They don’t come close to Anime films which heavily use CG to good effect to create a visual work of beauty (like “5 Centimeters per second”), but rather have has a subtle elegance and grace, in the traditional style of other Ghibli films. A few of the scenes clearly used CG, but because they stood in contrast to the hand-drawn stuff I almost wish they would stop using CG completely. By this I don’t literally mean “stop using computers”, because I am fine using them as part of the production process. Rather, I mean drawing geometry which is rendered by an 3D algorithm on a computer instead of having a human imagine and draw it by hand. The paper airplane (shown on the cover) is one example which I am divided on. They generally did a good job but a few frames felt awkward to me.

The music didn’t stand out very much, though there was a few portions which were well done.

The Japanese voice acting was high quality, inline with other Ghibli movies. I didn’t watch the English dub, but there are a few famous actors involved including Joseph Gordon-Levitt,  Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, and Martin Short.

The Japanese used in this movie is a level more difficult than most other Ghibli movies I’ve seen. There are several factors contributing to this, including the fact it was set nearly 80 years ago and because there is a pretty heavy amount of technical talk about airplane design. One part that  I remember near the beginning of the movie is when a young girl says “何をなさってるのですか” (nani wo nasatteru no desu ka?) which is a way of saying “What are you doing” with polite, formal Japanese. I’ve never heard a child speak this way and doubt many modern children would use such a phrase, but I was told this is accurate given the era and the speaker’s social class.

Regarding this film’s title, at first I thought it was a bad English translation since ”立ちぬ” seemed like a negative form of the verb “立つ” (to stand). However, when I read the original work’s Wikipedia site (Japanese), I discovered this actually represents past tense, so the title literally means “風が立った” which makes “The wind rises” a reasonable translation. I’ve seen the original short story’s title translated as “The wind has risen”, which is closer literally. This phrase is actually translated from a portion of a line written by German author Ambroise Paul Toussaint Jules Valéry, which is referred to in the original story.

Overall, while I was disappointed at this movie on many levels, I can’t say it wasn’t worth watching and if you are a die-hard Ghibli or Miyazaki fan I think it’s still worth checking out. You might even like it better than I did (:




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