By ALEXA J. WILLIAMS ’14
“The Wind Rises” is somewhat of a swan song—one last foray into filmmaking for the now 72-year-old director, animator, producer, screenwriter and co-founder of studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki. Long obsessed with flight, Miyazaki has taken the up subject yet again. This time, he tells the story of aeronautic engineer Jiro Horikoshi, the inventor of the Mitsubishi A5M, airplane of choice for the Japanese in World War II. After learning as a child that people with glasses can’t fly planes, Jiro devotes his life to creating them.
Viewers get a fairly straightforward biopic as we follow the young man through university and various jobs at airplane manufacturing facilities. There is also a touching romantic subplot between Jiro and Nahoko, a woman he meets during the great Kanto earthquake of 1923 and eventually marries.
Though subtler than many of his previous stories (nothing fantastical or particularly adventurous to be found), “The Wind Rises” is a great final note to an illustrious career. It touches on various issues—taking a pacifistic stance on many—yet most important is the relationship between artist and creation. Jiro works his whole life to fulfill his dream of flight and invents a beautiful machine. It wasn’t his intention that it be used for violence, but is he still responsible? Anxiety over how one’s work may be used is something that Miyazaki is undoubtedly feeling on the eve of his retirement.
Lately, Miyazaki’s films have been heavily distributed in the United States, often heading straight to the Oscars. “Spirited Away” won Best Animated Feature in 2003; “Howl’s Moving Castle” was nominated in 2006; and two of his more recent films, “Ponyo” and “The Secret World of Arrietty,” were heavily advertised and gifted with star-studded casts.
However, distributors seem to be tiptoeing around “The Wind Rises.” Though the film was a resounding box-office success in Japan, bringing in nearly $120 million, it was only released in two cities for one week in the United States, the minimum requirement for a film that seeks to be considered for the Academy Awards.
Naturally, there is controversy surrounding the subject of the film. In Japan, “The Wind Rises” aroused objections from both liberal and conservative groups. Those on the left were upset that it humanizes a man inadvertently responsible for thousands of deaths, calling it a celebration of Japan’s actions in WWII, while those on the right have called the film unpatriotic. Unlike many of Miyazaki’s more recent films, “The Wind Rises” certainly could not be marketed in the U.S. as a children’s movie—there are bombs and bouts of tuberculosis, plus parent groups are already complaining about the depictions of a few characters smoking. Disney, the company in charge of distributing Ghibli films in the United States, seems hesitant to market the film to its usual audiences. However, there are still worries that aiming the movie at an older audience would only stir negative feelings towards its subject matter.
Regardless of its limited release, “The Wind Rises” seems to be a shoo-in for Oscar nomination and a shining note to end a legendary career.
Alexa is a senior studying English and Chinese who doesn’t use twitter but her tumblr (and Steam) username is Lyrox.