Warning: This post contains spoilers.
A young Japanese boy scurries across the roof of his home to greet his most prized possession: A gorgeous aircraft with wings like birds’ and smooth, gentle curves. He snaps on his goggles, primes the engine, and takes off into the beautiful early-20th century Japanese landscape, darting over fields, under bridges, and high into the sky. The boy is whimsical yet determined as he pushes his aircraft higher, only to be met by enemy planes. They are ugly and made of steel; pulsating bombs itch to be released. Before the boy can turn back, the enemy releases its payload, destroying his world and his plane.
Jiro Horikoshi, the protagonist of The Wind Rises, startles awake. And so begins Miyazaki’s epic: A beautiful dream shattered by war.
Hayao Miyazaki is one of the most celebrated animators of our time. He’s made countless children’s classics, from My Neighbor Totoro to Spirited Away. His movies are generally meant to be enjoyed by all ages, but The Wind Rises is different. It left children bored but gave adults much to talk about. The movie is, after all, a biopic of the man who invented a plane that was used to bomb Pearl Harbor, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. How can a man who has used so many of his movies to preach peace—from Porco Rosso to Howl’s Castle to Princess Mononoke—celebrate a man who brought forth so much destruction?
Simple: He chooses not to show the planes used in combat. The most violent scenes in the movie come from natural occurrences (Tokyo’s Great Kantō Earthquake and illness). Instead, Miyazaki focuses on Jiro’s ignorance as Japan marches to war.
“Why is Japan so poor?” Jiro wonders aloud in the film. He tries to feed starving children as a fellow engineer laments how far Japan is behind in aeronautic technology. Japan’s nationalism is blossoming around Jiro, but he has tunnel vision: Build beautiful aircrafts. A German foreigner even warns him what is to come—”Japan will blow up,” he says— before government agents start stalking Jiro.
Jiro’s mentor, Gianni Caproni, tells him again and again in the movie, “Airplanes are beautiful dreams.” Jiro sees Mitsubishi as not an arm of the government, but the only avenue available to achieve his dream. At the end of the movie, Jiro looks over a graveyard. Its not filled with people, but with his beautiful airplanes in wreckage.
Jiro’s remorse is for his destroyed airplanes and never for the lives taken by his war machines.
Miyazaki, in a masterfully subtle swoop, portrays how Japan’s nationalism not only destroyed the country but also gave false promises to those who just wanted to create and serve society. Caproni wants to build passenger planes but can’t until after WWI. Jiro wants to build beautiful aircrafts, and his vision would be perfect “if we took out the bombs.” This movie is, above all else, about the corruption of intent and perversion of dreams.
Hayao Miyazaki insists that The Wind Rises will be his last film. The director is 72-years-old. In a way, the movie is a reflection of his own work. “Artists are only creative for ten years,” Caproni cautions Jiro. “Live your ten years to the full.” Indeed, Miyazaki lived in the creative spotlight for far longer than 10 years, but he seems to be conceding that he is done. The Wind Rises is a fantastic ending to the director’s long career. I would highly recommend seeing it, but leave the kids at home to keep dreaming.
Author’s note: I am basing this review off both the English dubbed and subbed versions of this film.