— Paul Valery
Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of the Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli, has had an astonishing career. This is his 11th feature, and it deals with the life, work, and love of an aviator in Japan before World War II. This innovator in the world of animation has made two other films that take us up into the sky: Howl's Moving Castle and Castle in the Sky.
The focus of The Wind Rises is Jiro who as a boy is fascinated with flight: both the magic and the mystery of soaring above the earth. He is constantly reading aviation magazines in English even though he has to rely on a dictionary to comprehend them. Since he is near-sighted, Jiro cannot be a pilot so he makes up his mind to be an aviation engineer. Inspired by Giovanni Caproni, he goes to Tokyo to study.
In 1923, Jiro lives through a violent earthquake which rocks Japan. This harrowing event is creatively staged on the screen as the ground buckles and an orange color covers the sky as the city is enveloped by fire. During this tragedy, he rescues a little girl who will later become the love of his life. He heroically carries her injured nanny on his shoulders to safety.
After he finishes his studies, Jiro goes to work for Mitsubishi. At the high point in his career, he is the head of a project working on a new carrier-based fighter design. One of his friends tells him: "Artists are only active for ten years. We engineers are the same. Live your ten years to the full."
Jiro comes across as a lonely fellow who is completely caught up in his work. On a vacation, he meets a German expat who predicts that both Japan and Germany are headed for a fall. The phrase "Japan will blow itself up" reverberates in Jiro's consciousness. But his thoughts and emotions are focused on his chance encounter with Naoko, the girl he rescued who has now become a beautiful young woman. They get married but their life together in love is put in jeopardy when she is diagnosed with tuberculosis.
"Airplanes are beautiful dreams," Caproni, the Italian aviation pioneer, tells Jiro who is passionate about his work and sees it as a blend of art and science. He does not seem at all troubled by the fact that his designs of fighter aircraft only serve one purpose — bringing death and destruction to the enemies of Japan. Audiences can still find uplift and meaning in the wonderful love story between Jiro and Naoko which has more emotional firepower than this aviation engineer's work.
Screened at The 51st New York Film Festival, Lincoln Center.