Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu)

THE WIND RISES (KAZE TACHINU) (Hayao Miyazaki, 2013)

It is said that Alfred Nobel hoped he might bring about an end to war by inventing dynamite. The explosive would cause mutual destruction and thus deter combat. Nobel’s hypothesis, whether apocryphal or not, was proven grossly incorrect.  The unintended consequences of creation also come into play in THE WIND RISES, writer-director Hayao Miyazaki’s fictionalized and animated biography of Jiro Horikoshi, who designed Japan’s Zero fighter.

Airplanes captivate Jiro (Hideaki Anno) so much that he often imagines conversations with Italian plane designer Giovanni Battista Caproni.  Too nearsighted to be a pilot, he sets his focus on becoming an aeronautical engineer.  Jiro is single-minded in his work and becomes a golden boy at the Mitsubishi Internal Combustion Engine Co. between World Wars I and II.  He is given time to let his mind roam and sent to Germany to see the all-metal airframes that the Japanese hope to use as they develop new fighters. Although Jiro experiences setbacks, he continues to dream of the beautiful flying machine that he will bring into reality.

A verse from a Paul ValĂ©ry poem--”The wind is rising! We must try to live.”--begins the film, provides its title, and is mentioned regularly throughout.  The quotation describes Jiro’s mindset as he endures his country’s poverty, an earthquake, war, and a tragic romance with Naoko Satomi (Miori Takimoto).  Terrible things happen and are on the horizon, but there is beauty and wonder to behold as well.  Just as the wind can inflict destruction, so too can it spread life.  

For Jiro the plane he is trying to perfect embodies mathematically elegant design that enables sailing among the clouds like in his childhood visions.  In actuality his achievement becomes a killing machine.  THE WIND RISES suggests that Jiro is a dreamer who isn’t ignorant of what he is creating but is susceptible to going about his work with an idealized conception of its purpose.     To Miyazaki the great sorrow is in lovely inventions being perverted into agents of death and ruination.  Technological advances are not inherently moral or immoral.  The enormous challenge, one that is often failed, is to choose to use such discoveries for the good.

THE WIND RISES is purportedly Miyazaki’s final film.  If so, it presents a fitting summary of his loves and concerns.  It celebrates ingenuity and imagination, as when Jiro observes the curve of mackerel bones and applies natural design to make a better frame for his plane.  It bemoans how militarism and economic forces can harm the health of the people and the environment.  No villain exists in THE WIND RISES other than the destructive human instinct.  For all of his enthusiasm about the wonderful things humanity might dream up, Miyazaki worries to what end they will be employed. The bittersweet tone is not intended to discourage progress but to inspire mindfulness in how innovations are implemented.  The verse his film quotes implies that obstacles will always be in the way of happiness, yet it is worth striving to grasp whatever grace exists and resist the forces of doom.   

Grade: A

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