Horikoshi is a Studio Ghibli character Tony Stark would approve of. He was the engineer responsible for designing
Imperial Japan’s Model Zero fighters, but he dreamer rather than an
ideologue. At least, that is how Hayao
Miyazaki re-imagined Horikoshi’s private persona in his fictionalized manga,
which he has now adapted as his reported final film as a director. Spanning decades of Japan’s tumultuous
pre-war history, it is also a deeply personal film that was justly nominated
for best animated feature. After brief festival appearances, Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises (trailer here), opens for real
this Friday in New York.
a young student, Horikoshi yearns to fly, but he realizes his spectacles make
it nearly impossible for him to become a pilot.
Borrowing an aviation magazine from an encouraging teacher opens up a
new path for the earnest lad. Through
its pages he learns of Italian aircraft designer Gianni Caproni, who becomes
his inspiration. Setting his sights on
an engineering career, Horikoshi regularly meets Caproni in his dreams and
reveries, where they share their mutual passion for flight.
of history will conspire to make Horikoshi’s life eventful. His first day as a university student is
marked by the catastrophic earthquake of 1923, which will resonate profoundly
with contemporary viewers mindful of Fukushima.
Yet, out of that tragedy, Hirokoshi meets and temporarily loses the
great love of his life.
his intelligence, Japan’s stagnant economy offers few opportunities for
Horikoshi when he graduates. He joins
Mitsubishi at a time when the company appears to be on its last legs. Gambling
its future on military contracts, the company sends Horikoshi to Germany,
hoping he can help them reverse-engineer whatever the Junkers will let them
see. Of course, he will be able to raise
the company’s game substantially.
no way, shape, or manner does Miyazaki justify Japan’s militarist era, but he
has still taken flak from both sides of the divide over Wind. Frankly, it presents a
gentle but firm critique of the Imperial war machine. At one point, Horikoshi is even forced into
hiding, designing the military’s fighter planes while he evades the
government’s thought police. Indeed,
such is a common experience for the best and the brightest living under
oppressive regimes. Yet, Miyazaki is
just as interested in Horikoshi’s grandly tragic romance with Naoko, a
beautiful artist sadly suffering from tuberculosis. Horikoshi makes a number of difficult choices
throughout the film, every one of which the audience can well understand.
its elegiac vibe, Wind makes a
fitting summation film for Miyazaki.
Covering the immediate pre-war decades, it compliments and engages in a
wistful dialogue with Gorō Miyazaki’s charming post-war coming of age tale From Up on Poppy Hill (co-written by the
elder Miyazaki). One can also see and
hear echoes of master filmmakers past, such as Ozu and Fellini, throughout the
film. Any cinema scholar surveying
Miyazaki’s work will have to deal with it at length, but it still happens to be
a genuinely touching film.
After watching Wind, viewers will hope the real Horikoshi was a lot like
Miyazaki’s (and the same goes for Caproni). Miyazaki seriously examines the
dilemmas faced by his protagonist while telling a lyrical love story. Visually, the quality of Studio Ghibli’s
animation remains undiminished, but the clean lines of Horikoshi’s planes and
the blue open skies lend themselves to simpler images than some of his richly
detailed classics. Regardless, The Wind Rises is an unusually
accomplished film that transcends the animation genre. Highly recommended for all ages and
interests, it opens this Friday (2/21) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine, in
dubbed and the infinitely preferable subtitled versions.
Labels: Animated films, Hayao Miyazaki, Japanese Cinema, Jiro Horikoshi