After a 50-year long film career, award-winning director, screenwriter and animator Hayao Miyazaki announced in 2013 that The Wind Rises would be his final film. Based on a true story, The Wind Rises depicts Japanese aircraft engineer Jiro Horikoshi’s (Hideaki Anno) experiences of the Second World War as he helps design a fighter plane. Jiro struggles with the fact that his passion for aircraft is being used as a weapon, as well as the deterioration of his wife Naoko’s (Miori Takimoto) health.
The Wind Rises is a very specific portrayal of war from the perspective of a character who is forced to use his talent for destruction. Although it is initially disappointing that a director known for creating strong female characters chooses a male protagonist for his final film, Jiro is likeable enough for this not to matter. Jiro’s kindness and integrity are reminiscent of Studio Ghibli characters like Chihiro and Kiki, but the fact that he is motivated by his unwavering passion for his job set him apart from Miyazaki’s other protagonists. Throughout the film, Jiro struggles with the fact that the work he loves so much is being used as a destructive weapon, and this inner dialectic is more powerful than any of his interactions with other characters. Although the relationship between Jiro and Naoko may seem like the central love story of the film, it is really Jiro’s relationship with airplanes which forms both the plot and his character.
Visually, The Wind Rises is stunning. The bright, colourful dream sequences work perfectly alongside the deliberately bland scenes of reality, and the shots of the German mountains and Japanese blossom trees are the most beautiful scenes of the film. Miyazaki mixes colourless scenes inside factories and offices with intense, vivid shots of nature and the sky. This combination makes certain scenes stand out even more, as well as constantly reminding the audience of the two sides of Jiro’s passion and his internal struggle.
Even though The Wind Rises is based on a true story, Miyazaki plays with reality in a way which makes this feel like one of his fantasy films. Dream sequences are scattered throughout the film, and the emphasis on Jiro’s imagination makes the relatively basic subject matter feel far more elevated and sublime. The dialogue supports this theme, most obviously in Caproni’s speech, and the poetic language Miyazaki uses throughout the film means that even when the main character is forced into less than sublime situations, Jiro’s perception of his work as art is never forgotten.
This doesn’t initially seem like an obvious choice for Miyazaki’s final film: it is completely different in theme, style and plot from many of his best-loved works. However, by the end of The Wind Rises, it is clear why Miyazaki chose to end on this note. It is a lot more grown up than films like My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service, which may at first feel disappointing to fans of his classics, but after 50 years it makes sense that Miyazaki’s style has matured. For anyone who has grown up watching Studio Ghibli, it feels very personal to say goodbye to Miyazaki with an adult protagonist. The content is quite mature too, but the film deals with death and war in an ambivalent enough way for it to still be appropriate for children. Miyazaki draws on common Studio Ghibli themes, including the absence of a concrete villain and the destruction of nature by man, and the inclusion of these concepts makes the film feel very familiar despite its differences from his past works. All in all, The Wind Rises is intelligent and touching. It is the perfect film to end Hayao Miyazaki’s amazing career.