Kaze tachinu (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★
As a child, Jiro (voiced by Hideaki Anno) wished to fly planes but he knew his myopia would ultimately hinder him from reaching his goal. In a dream, Jiro’s hero, an aircraft designed named Giovanni Caproni (Nomura Mansai), told him that building planes was even better than flying them. Jiro will grow up to be a plane engineer whose work is to be used during World War II.
Based on the screenplay and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, “The Wind Rises” is initially engaging but it turns into a somewhat drawn out picture about a boy with physical limitations whose determination overcomes his shortcomings. For the most part, it is saved by fine touches that are not found in works of its type.
Despite the medium from which the story is told, the film is a mature work in that the themes it tackles require a bit of thought, far detached from easy lessons meant to remind than to be considered carefully. I admired that the main character’s journey is not so much about how difficult it is for him to reroute his dream and achieve an alternate goal. It is partly that although his life as an aircraft engineer is more about trial and error, a metaphor for how we come to live our lives. We watch in anticipation whether his latest work will finally live up to expectations—maybe even surpass them.
The animation, as expected from a Miyazaki movie, is beautiful. During the first third, there are more than a handful of dream sequences but it takes a bit of getting used to for us to be able to tell whether what we are seeing is a dream or reality. This is necessary given that Jiro, as a boy when we come to meet him, is very much a dreamer, a kid who is thoughtful, kind, gifted, brimming with the potential to be great at something. Although the hand-drawn animation does not fill in every minute detail—say, of a face or an environment—what matters is that we are in the moment, that we are feeling or thinking what the protagonist may be going through.
Although we get to know about two important people in Jiro’s life, such as a friend and a colleague named Honjo (Hidetoshi Nishijima) as well as Naoko (Miori Takimoto) the romantic interest, the connection between Jiro and his sister, Kayo (Mirai Shida), is undercooked. There is a would-be emotional payoff involving the younger sister during the latter half but because she is not a fully established character, she comes across as an element in the plot meant to tug at the heart strings rather than someone who is completely integrated into the story’s fiber.
There are a few interesting details involving Japan being considered backwards at the time from the perspective of its subjects. For instance, oxen are required to pull on the newly built aircraft for days because the airstrip is very far from where the parts are actually put together. Another scene shows that Japanese planes are made of canvas and wood while German planes are made of metal. Jiro represents his country in more ways than one in terms of starting point and ambition.
“Kaze tachinu” is likely to disappoint those who expect magical elements expected from a Miyazaki feature film. Also, it is less efficient compared to such works in terms of emotional payoff. However, there are familiar Miyazaki elements to be found here. It is a more mature work worthy of a slower pace and contemplation.