"The Wind Rises"(Kaze Tachinu) by Hayao Miyazaki opened Feb 21 in San Francisco after its debut at the Venice Film Festival in Aug. The title comes from a line in the poem "Le Cimetière marin" by the French poet Paul Valery ("Le vent se lève!... Il faut tenter de vivre!" - "The wind is rising!…We must try to live!") It is used as a metaphor for the life of the aviation designer Horikoshi Jiro and his dream for creating the perfect flying machine. Jiro designed the Zero fighter aircraft that was used as a fighter plane in WWII.
The subject matter is controversial since the planes were used at Pearl Harbor and during kamikaze operations. Miyazaki's father was director of Miyazaki Airplane, which made rudders for Zero fighter planes during World War II. While a young boy Miyazaki's family had to take to the hills to escape firebombing raids on Utsunomiya by US military planes where his father's business was located. Central to Miyazaki's manga and anime is the theme of aviation with many characters such as wizards or dragons and other kinds of fantastic flying objects. The hero's and heroine's of his films are usually trying to bring peace to their villages from wars.
The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1926 is brilliantly depicted in the film and the ensuing fire, which engulfs Japanese villages. Jiro is on a train when the earthquake strikes and the townspeople of the village where he is derailed begin a mass evacuation. He saves a young girl and her sister who is injured in the quake and years later marries the young girl. Mitsubishi hires the boy wonder after his education and the Imperial Japanese Navy pushes for the creation of an efficient military plane.
Miyazaki shows that Jiro regretted the destruction caused by the plane in war, although as chief engineer for Mitsubishi he tried to meet the military requirements of speed for a plane mounted with artillery in competition with other defense contractors. This is one of the sad realities of scientists and engineers whose inventions are used for destruction.
This is Miyazaki's final film and it is a masterpiece, an enchanting and moving film that was nominated for this year's best animation film at the Academy Awards. It deviates from his previous epics involving adventure and fantasy.
When receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Venice Film Festival in 2008 Miyazaki said that his films speak for themselves. In previous interviews he revealed that he felt his films introduced themes that he felt children should see such as famine, war and threats to the environment. This August, Miyazaki appeared for a second time in Venice to announce his retirement. The 72-year-old director reported that he would work on shorter films for Studio Gibli, which he co-created and where his eleven anime feature films were made based on his manga.
If you have never seen a Miyazaki film you will be enchanted by the detail of his animation, the strength of his characters - especially women, and the brilliant sound effects that accompany each visual. Start with the "The Wind Rises"and revisit the spectacular worlds from Miyazaki's tales of adventure. The website nausicaa.net, named for his anime Nausicca and the Valley of the Wind has the best information on the life and work of Hayao Miyazaki.