Vigorous, wondrous, troubling, and sumptuous, The Wind Rises is an elegy for lost dreams, an emotionally generous and expansively detailed romantic fantasy, and a ballsy statement that animated wonder needn’t be confined to genre ghettos. Both benign and ominous, romantic and tragic, subtle and daring, it’s a suitably rich and inexorably strange exit for one of the giants of Japanese cinema, making the dream of flight itself a vehicle for bittersweet enchantment.
The Wind Rises is a dream project and fine capstone for the great Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo), as well as a stunning tribute to the Japanese airplane designer Jiro Horikoshi. Miyazaki renders Jiro’s life and dreams with lyrical elegance and aching poignancy, giving us Jiro as a pure-hearted genius by day and a dark dreamer by night. Miyazaki’s most delicate talent is the way that he honours stillness and silence, values that are in lamentably short supply in modern-day productions.
Dramatic, morally ambiguous, and rapturously beautiful, Miyazaki’s swan song rewards patient attentiveness and casts a similar magical spell as his previous inventions. It’s a a very honest exploration from a great artist; a meditative epic about Japan’s journey into modernity; and a work of immense mystery, loaded with spectacular images, effervescent colours, and nested meanings.
A complicated allegory about the innocence, culpability, and arrogance of artists, The Wind Rises praises the power of curiosity as a motivating force. It is an ode to flight, a celebration of living with one’s head in the clouds, and an indelible reminder that the only way that we dishonour the things we’ve lost is by forgetting how necessary it was for us to love them beforehand. The desecration of beautiful dreams is a ghost always lurking.
Visually beautiful yet conceptually muddled, the collision between poetic fancifulness and grim reality, between peace and war, never falls into complete focus. Thus, The Wind Rises abides as a problematic anomaly in an illustrious career, a case of rapturous artistic blindness. While the film’s individual moments and images are fantastically wrought, the moral exegesis and narrative elements seem unintegrated.
Nevertheless, like Kubrick or Polanski, Miyazaki’s lesser films still yield great rewards. The Wind Rises one of the most beautiful animated films made in years, and conveys the visual poetry of its titular reference. From the rustic mountain scenes to the ascending aerial views, it is muted and complexly gorgeous. It has the historical sweep of Lawrence of Arabia – panoramas of migrating populations against a background of disaster – visual flights of fancy as glorious as anything Miyazaki has created, and a story is rooted in a country trudging towards its own destruction.
The Wind Rises effortlessly establishes itself as a bold, startling coda to a career defined by gentle contemplation, a film by a pacifist humanist shot through with a sense of resignation. With its complex diminuendo, it underlines Miyazaki’s longer creative odyssey. It also serves to remind us of the worth of pursuing beauty in the face of ugliness, testaments to the quiet rewards of determination.
If Miyazaki’s farewell – beckoning, compassionate – doesn’t soar to the heavens or represent him at the top of his game, it soars above child’s play and represents him at the end of his game, and that is something to bemoan and to celebrate. Studio Ghibli will surely continue without him, but it will never be the same.