The Wind Rises

As a teenager growing up in rural Japan during the Taisho Era (1912-26), Jiro Horikoshi knows that his short-sightedness will prevent him from perusing his dream of becoming a pilot. He has another dream, however – qualifying as an aeronautical engineer and aircraft designer; and in vivid dreams, his hero, the Italian designer Giovanni Caproni, encourages him to pursue his vision – but also warns him that his work will be used for terrible purposes. In the early 1920s, he arrives in Tokyo as it is struck by the Great Kanto Earthquake; in the aftermath, Jiro rescues a young woman and her maid, then leaves without revealing his identity. Upon graduating from university, he and his best friend and fellow designer, Kiro Honjo, are employed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to develop aircraft for the increasingly powerful Japanese military. Their initial prototypes fail, and they are sent abroad to study foreign aircraft technology; in Germany, Jiro meets Hugo Junkers and marvels at the all-metal aircraft he has designed and built, and resolves to do likewise. Back in Japan, Jiro encounters the young woman – named Naoko – whom he rescued many years before; the two fall in love and eventually marry, even though Naoko is terminally ill with tuberculosis. But as the 30s progress and the clouds of war gather, Jiro is preoccupied by work; not wanting him to remember her in her final illness, Naoko slips away to a mountain sanatorium, leaving him a farewell letter. Jiro’s new design proves a success; his desire to build beautiful aircraft has resulted in the creation of one of the most devastatingly effective fighters of World War II: the Mitsubishi A6M, better known as the Zero…

Based on a manga created by Hayao Miyazaki (which was in turn loosely based upon story elements from Tatsuo Hori’s 1937 novel “The Wind Has Risen”), The Wind Rises was written and directed by Miyazaki and produced by studio Ghibli. Animated in the trademark Miyazaki/Ghibli style that eschews the conventions of mangaesque character design in favour of an aesthetic reminiscent of the ukiyo-e school of art, The Wind Rises premiered in 2013 to enormous commercial success and critical acclaim.  Gentle pacing and understated treatment of global and domestic events through the 1920s and 30s ensures the temptation to lapse into jingoistic nationalism and historical revisionism is avoided, even if this means significant contextual elements such as the impact of the Great Depression, the decline of Taisho Era democracy, and the rise of militarism in Japan remain firmly in the background. Rather, emphasis is placed on the character of Jiro as a human being and his desire to pursue his magnificent dream; and it is in this pursuit that we witness the foreshadowing of tragedy, both personal and societal. Other characters – even Naoko – essentially remain background figures, with the exception of Jiro’s friend Honjo (who would design the “Betty” and “Nell” bombers used by the Japanese in World War Two); but there are also moments when all these figures – among them, Jiro’s sister Kayo, who breaks convention to train as a doctor, and Jiro’s officious manager Kurokawa – briefly come to the fore in powerful and effective ways. Gently affecting and imbued with a bittersweetness points to the deep truths of being, The Wind Rises is another milestone in the storied career of a truly legendary filmmaker.

Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2022. All rights reserved.