The Wind Rises (2013)

by Nandia Foteini Vlachou


Yesterday, I watched Miyazaki’s last film, that was finally released in Portugal. I learned about Jiro Horikoshi and the Mitsubishi A6M Zero; I saw what was probably the scariest earthquake sequence ever filmed, when the earth rumbled during the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923 and fire devastated Tokyo; Hisaishi’s music had a tinge of Bacalov melancholy, probably because of the frequent references to Italian aircraft manufacturer Caproni that serves as Jiro’s inspiration, alter ego and conscience; and the film was as beautiful and poetic as any by Hayao Miyazaki, with animation that fills your heart with joy.

Nicolas Rapold aptly summarized the film in his NY times review of the film: “Soulful devotion with glimmers of doom”. Jiro’s consumptive wife (who existed only in this fictionalized version of his life) adds to the soulfulness and impending doom. Yet, the obsessive search for the perfect curve and the utter ignorance of contemporary politics lends the film an eerie quality. I have too much faith in Miyazaki’s lyrical humanism to believe that he would ever celebrate death and destruction, or that he would justify Japan’s position in the war, although his portrayal of Jiro is entirely sympathetic. I am also curious about the film’s reception in Japan (Rapold mentions that it was perceived in certain quarters as antipatriotic and that its marketing in the States was “cautious”). Both the creator and the character seem unconcerned with implications, and the engineers that work on the planes do not know or do not care to what use they will be put to, once they are constructed. The engineers travel to Germany to study military technology, but remain oblivious to all the rest.

When Jiro (back in Japan), and the father of the girl he loves cheerfully join in singing Das gibt’s nur einmal, accompanying a shady character who is probably a spy staying at their resort, the scene made me strangely uncomfortable. The song’s lyrics (a popular German song from the early thirties) talk about love happening only once, and fleeting in an instant, but hearing the Japanese characters sing in German was jarring. There is another key scene, earlier on, when Caproni, in one of the dream sequences where he appears to Jiro, asks him: “Which would you choose: a world with pyramids or a world without?”. The implication seems clear to me: the monuments of human exertion are worthwhile and an end unto itself, independently of the conditions they were produced in. I have nothing against the pyramids per se, but I do take issue with similar opinions (not that far from this shockingly callous opinion piece about the construction of the Louvre Abu Dhabi). The difficulty, or unwillingness, to associate this man’s life with the consequences of his actions is apparent throughout the film.

The final dream sequence leaves the viewer with a poignant sense of futility. Walking through a field strewn with the carcasses of shot down airplanes that he has helped design and build, Jiro meets with Caproni one last time. “Not a single one returned,” he says, and the sentence feels like a slowly sinking stone.