Get out your paper airplanes and fishbones, we're reviewing The Wind Rises!
Based on a true character in history, Jiro Horikoshi(Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wants to make airplanes just like his Italian idol Caproni(Stanley Tucci). He becomes an aeronautical genius and makes Japanese fighter planes for WWII. Then he falls in love with a young woman.
This is a studio Ghibli movie so let's get it out of the way: The animation is incredible. Like all Ghibli animations, the world they set up is breathtaking and every little detail makes the movie more engrossing. Little things like painting with a brush on a canvas or showing rain on the ground are done perfectly. It is a gorgeous film. It's very reminiscent of Porco Rosso in that it takes great care in showing the intricate machinations of planes and the wondrousness of flight. In fact I'd say it's a step up from the planes in Porco Rosso. They've added sound effects to the planes that sound like mouths doing airplane noises which goes to great lengths to humanize the planes themselves. It's very silly and a great effect. There's also some amazing visuals involving dreams and an earthquake that's really terrifying.
There might be some purists who only like seeing anime subtitled, but you'd be missing out on a great voice cast including the soothing tones of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the incredible outbursts of Martin Short. I'm always astounded at the incredible cast of voices they get for these. Some of my other favorites include Stanley Tucci, Werner Herzog, and John Krasinski.
You'll notice that there weren't any women mentioned in that last paragraph. Not to say that Emily Blunt and Jennifer Gray didn't do a fine job themselves, but Miyazaki movies are notable for their strong and interesting female characters and this movie doesn't have a lot of those. It sticks mostly to its male protagonist Jiro who is SUCH A NICE GUY YOU GUYS HE IS THE NICEST. I guess this is why we should feel bad for him that he has to make all the war planes? Because he's so nice and pure stopping bullies and helping out injured ladies in earthquakes and all he wants to DO is MAKE PLANES FOR GODSAKES GEEZ. Anyways, a third through the movie he has a love interest(which is apparently completely made-up for the movie) in Nahoko, played by Emily Blunt, which feels like it comes out of nowhere and only serves to further show how great a guy Jiro is. Not to get too much into spoiler territory but Nahoko doesn't do much except paint and be there for Giro to take care of. It's hard to say why she was included at all other than to have a wholly unneeded love plot that takes away from what should be the main drama of the movie: Jiro making war planes.
And here's where the big problem lies. Giro is a famous plane maker who makes fighter jets and bombers for the Japanese army during WWII. And you would think the main story would be Jiro struggling with his love of making beautiful airplanes over his conscience hatting to hand over war machines to the army, because he's such a good guy and hates seeing bullies or people get hurt, right? Well not really. He just really wants to make airplanes and he doesn't care that they're being made for war. Most of his exchanges with his colleagues are, "Hmmm guess these planes are going to bomb China or America or some place. WELP. Time to get back to making the most beautiful airplanes ever!" It's weird. The connotation that he's making kamikazi planes is mostly glossed over except for one comment where he mentions, "none of them came back." And it's all just kind of...uncomfortable.
It's not that there's no value in showing a different viewpoint of a war, but it's odd the lengths they go to to deny their part in it. Even from a storytelling standpoint you would think Jiro wrestling with himself over making planes that kill people would be the more interesting route than "he just really really wants to make planes and also falls in love with a girl". Or hey, they skirted with the idea of the secret police arresting airplane engineers, maybe do something with that? Instead of nothing? It's an odd choice. There are a couple of great article on it here and here. And it might be that Miyazaki didn't want to go through that route for fear of being labeled a traitor by his people, but then you have to wonder why he chose this story in the first place.
All this boils down to a Miyazaki movie that's probably not among his best and won't be as renowned as some of his others, but still a beautiful, and at least interesting, film.
THE GOOD: Beautiful animation and scenery, especially the planes and flying, great cast.
THE BAD: No real strong female characters, uncomfortable glossing over of war, random romance plot.
THE VERDICT: $$$$ It's still a gorgeous Miyazaki film that is so beautiful it might make you cry. Animation fans should at least see it once.
MOVIES LIKE IT: Porco Rosso, Grave of the Fireflies, Empire of the Sun
ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: On his way home from school, Jiro stops some bigger kids from picking on a little kid. You'd think he'd be in trouble since it's three against one, but he has no problem taking them down with some fast moves. It's a nice, beautifully animated sequence of Jiro being a great guy, but you'd think it would have more connotation to the rest of the movie. Something about Jiro sticking up to the Japanese government because they're bullies, or some other nation trying to arrest him, but nope.