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‘The Wind Rises’: a Japanese love story intertwined with a moving WWII backdrop

By Muhammad Muzammal Columnist

Moving and profoundly melancholic, Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises” is both a visually imaginative film and a tender love story.

It tells a fictionalized account of Jiro Horikoshi, the real-life aeronautical engineer who created the A6M Zero fighter plane for the Japanese national army before World War II. Joseph Gordon-Levitt voices him as a kind-hearted young man, whose love for airplanes was undermined by the guilt he felt due to the death and destruction they caused.

In a masterful, wordless opening scene, Miyazaki shows us a prophetic dream of young Horikoshi, who visualizes himself piloting one of his planes. As he glides through the clouds, a dark, ominous army of jets hovers over him.

The entire sequence, from the silence of the characters that stare in awe at Horikoshi, to the vivid, colorful landscapes of Tokyo, to the soft, melodious soundtrack, is a blend of fantastical elements. Blending together, they make the scene as memorable and complete as anything Miyazaki has ever done.

When he awakens, we find that because of his weak eyesight, Horikoshi cannot follow his dream and become a pilot. Yet, his passion runs deep. He will soon become one of Japan’s premier airplane engineers, and also a husband to an altruistic, caring woman, Naoko (Emily Blunt).

Naoko and Horikoshi have their first encounter during the infamous Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. As they work together to save Naoko’s family maid, Miyazaki’s powerful, visceral flair is shown with the ground leveling off into hilltops, decimating whole houses into pieces of rubble.

The destruction from the disaster affects all of the city and its citizens, providing an interesting comparison between the carnage by nature and the wreckage by man. Earthquakes kill human beings, as do the airplanes the Japanese military orders Horikoshi to make.

Naoko and Horikoshi’s relationship takes a tragic turn when Naoko is infected during the tuberculosis epidemic. There is a lovely moment where Naoko holds one of Horikoshi’s hands as he draws airplane concepts with his other hand. Naoko, weak and unhealthy, refuses to let go of her husband’s hand. Like the entire movie, this small scene is deep and poignant.

In the film, tuberculosis and the Japanese army hurt the two things Horikoshi loves the most: Naoko and building airplanes.  But despite his outside struggles, his affinity for creating airplanes and his love for Naoko never wavers, proving that Miyazaki’s film is among the filmmaker’s most hopeful, sentimental works.

The famed Japanese animator, known to helm fantasy films such as “Spirited Away” or “Howl’s Moving Castle,” goes back to his earlier roots in this final story, directing a war-based film about planes as he did in 1992 with “Porco Rosso.” “The Wind Rises” is such a fitting swan song for Miyazaki because of what it tells us about humanity. The film’s title is based on a quote said by French poet Paul Valéry: “The wind rises, we must try to live!” The quote, applied to the film, can mean that as a person’s art or love is elevated, so too is the risk of losing it. Therefore, “to live” means to endure and enjoy our love despite the hardships we have to face.

In the movie’s final seconds, Horikoshi looks at the bodies of those who died due to his planes. He sees the deceased Naoko’s spirit and accepts the truth but never stops loving planes or his wife.

He regrets his mistakes but finally realizes that he achieved his dream of making airplanes and never lost his love for it.

That Naoko and the soldiers will die is not the matter at hand.

The film’s beauty is found in showing the strength of love: Horiskoshi’s affection for airplanes and his wife remains standing after all the damage.

It is here that we realize, after the wind rises, that Horiskoshi, as with all of us, must try to live.

 

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