Hayao Miyazaki is one of the most beloved filmmakers on the surface of the planet. His creations have entertained and enthralled millions of people from a myriad of backgrounds and cultural viewpoints. The writer and director of such masterpieces as My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Nausicaa is on the verge of releasing his final animated feature film. I was lucky enough to see a screening of the film last night with a sold out crowd. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the experience I was hoping for.
Miazaki’s The Wind Rises is loose biopic about the life and times of Jiro Horikoshi, the famous japanese engineer that designed the Zero fighter plane during World War Two. The film chronicles Jiro’s life from early childhood to adulthood. The film aims to be a sprawling epic but ultimately is a lackluster effort from an obviously aging director.
The Wind Rises is cacooned in laboriously exhaustive dream sequences. The film never really picks up narrative momentum due to the fact that it’s constantly being cut off at the pass by more and more dream sequences.
Surprisingly, the animation itself isn’t very good. It’s utilitarian, functional, and accurately communicates the basics of the story, but never seems to rise to the whimsical heights that Miyazaki’s previous works. The film feels laborious on most fronts. It feels like the final film from a director who is done making movies.
The most perplexing element of The Wind Rises isn’t the overwrought dream sequence usage or the simplistic narrative devices, it’s the utter naiveté of the protagonist. Miyazaki is know for making cute, sugar coated films. At this stage in the game, that’s what you want from him. With The Wind Rises that same sugar coating is almost seems like a narrative sword of Damocles. The entire film the protagonist, Jiro, does selfish, and often destructive things, due to his passion for building planes and unstoppable work ethic. And yet, the narrative never addresses those elements. Case in point, the film is about the man who designed the Zero, a killing machine, that was used to murder hundreds of thousands of people, and yet that is never brought up in the film. When it is cursorily raised, the phrase ‘Airplanes are beautiful dreams’ is bandied about. What does that mean? That just just because you really love making planes you don’t have to think about the repercussions of those actions?
The Wind Rises fails on almost every front. It contains an extremely forced and unwelcoming love story, a protagonist who is so bland and thoughtless that it’s almost impossible to invest in him, and a centralized goal that resulted in the deaths of millions of innocent people. The film is not what it could have been, and definitely not Miyazaki’s finest hour.
There’s a narrative refrain in The Wind Rises. Many of the characters repeat the supposed fact that creatives are only truly productive for ten years. This is extremely perplexing for the view while watching The Wind Rises because Miyazaki has been making films for going on forty years. Is this his subtle way of telling the audience that he didn’t want to make this film?
Overall, The Wind Rises is frustrating experience. There are moments of clarity, but eventually they are lost on the viewer due to a stymied experience. The film fails in nearly everything it attempts to accomplish. Perhaps it truly is time for Miyazaki to retire.