More noise than signal

The Wind Rises

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Lads, I’ve notice something going back over Miyazaki’s films. Prepare to have your minds blown – he’s super into aviation. I’ll let that unexpected truth sink in for a moment.

Perhaps the greatest tip off to this attitude is The Wind Rises, which appears to be a film made purely so Miyazaki could draw aeroplanes for a while. In a wildly condensed nutshell, it tells the story of Japan’s aeronautics industry as it matures from being well behind the curve at the end of World War One to creating, arguably, the most advanced warplanes by the middle of World War Two.

This is played out in front of the eyes of Jiro Horikoshi, initially a youngster dreaming of becoming a pilot, before turning his attention to the design of them instead. We follow him through his University stint, then his career at Mitsubishi where his talent and dedication eventually sees him rising to become director of the program that eventually produced the feared Zero fighter plane.

Mixed amongst this broadly accurate biography are a number of wildly fictional scenes, in particular his dream conversations with Italian aeroplane designer Giovanni Battista Caproni, and rather more surprisingly, his relationship and eventual marriage to Naoko Satomi, a relationship unfortunately doomed by Naoko’s tuberculosis.

Now, allow me to say this up front, because I’m finding it difficult to analyse much of this film without sliding into snark – this was my first viewing of the film, and I enjoyed it well enough. It’s one of Miyazaki’s best looking films, and it held my attention well enough to recommend that anyone who liked Miyazaki’s other works should at some point see this.

I certainly did not like it enough to recommend that everyone put it to the top of their watch list, nor was my attention held well enough for my mind not to continually wander back to the central point of “who is the audience for this film?”, and on reflection I think that answer to that is “Hayao Miyazaki”, and if anyone else comes along for the ride that’s a bonus.

There’s certainly undercurrents on display here that’s more of a reflection of Miyazaki’s now reneged stated intent to retire after this film’s release, with some, again, quite on-the-nose reflections of the protagonist about dreams not quite realised, but there’s a melancholy to it all that comes across as a bit self-indulgent – particularly given the very real achievements of both Horikoshi and Miyazaki.

Also, having no particular knowledge of Horikoshi’s life beforehand I was perplexed indeed to find out that the relationship angle was a complete fiction, and I’ve yet to work out what the greater point of mashing this particular lie in with the broadly factual accounts was, unless it’s just as a route-one way to introduce a bit of emotional heart to the piece, which seems like an uncharacteristically easy out give Miyazaki’s track record.

The Wind Rises, for me, is the least enjoyable of Miyazaki’s films, and while I’m slightly perturbed by my inability to even grasp what he was aiming for here, I don’t think that even were that door of perception opened for me I’d think a great deal more of the film. There is, it turns out, more to film-making than being really really really ridiculously good looking. Catch it at some point, but not as a priority.