I’ve gotta confess. I am not a fan of the wildly popular Japanese style of animation known as animé. This Oscar-nominated animé feature, by the revered and apparently now retired director Hayao Miyazaki (“Howl’s Moving Castle,” “Spirited Away”) makes the fifth time I’ve attempted to watch one of these films. My problems with the genre are numerous: The drawing style is too simplistic, the faces show very little expression, the stories are convoluted and the films often go on far too long.
“The Wind Rises,” running at just over two hours, is guilty on all counts, yet I found myself wrapped up in it. I was sometimes fascinated by small details such as the rendering of cigarette smoke (there’s a whole lot of cigarette smoking here) and sunlight sparkling on bodies of water, and sometimes disconcerted – yet still fascinated – at how the film freely jumps around in time and space, leaving viewers to figure out when and where things are happening.
There’s no problem keeping track of things during the film’s early moments: Jiro Horikoshi is a young boy who dreams of flying, realizes that his eyesight is too poor to become a pilot, and after a series of imaginary conversations with Italian plane designer Giovanni Caproni (Jiro has a very vivid imagination), he opts for a career of designing rather than flying planes.
The film’s muted pastels are nicely balanced by a far brighter color palette in its many fantasy scenes. One of the coolest elements is that when Jiro seems to drift off into yet another dreamy sequence of meeting up with his idol Caproni, usually soaring through the skies while both are standing atop an outrageous-looking triplane, it’s near impossible to know whether it’s Jiro’s dream with Caproni in it or Caproni’s dream with Jiro in it.
Note: This works on some levels as a biopic. Jiro Horikoshi and Giovanni Caproni were airplane designers almost a century ago. It’s revealed late in the film that the events are taking place in the 1920s and ’30s. According to the script, Caproni built war planes but longed to build passenger planes, and Jiro, eventually landing a job designing planes at Mitsubishi, also had pacifist leanings: Told that one of his planes was too heavy, he suggests removing the guns.
But even with that anti-war message, history tells us that Jiro is the man who designed the Zero fighter plane, the aircraft that was used in the attack on Pearl Harbor. This turns out to be a film that’s hard to follow, with a protagonist who’s hard to root for. Why Miyazaki would complicate matters more by tossing in an unnecessary doomed romance angle makes enjoying this even more of a challenge. Fifth time was definitely not the charm for me.
Page 2 of 2 - Another note: Theater owners and exhibitors are being given the choice of showing the original Japanese version, which has English subtitles, or the dubbed version, which features an excellent voice cast, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt (in the lead role), John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci and Mandy Patinkin. If you’re going, you might want to call first to see what you’ll be getting.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
THE WIND RISES
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki