A few weeks back I introduced my wife to her first Hayao Miyazaki movie, Spirited Away, after I realized I had never seen his latest and last film, The Wind Rises. I snagged that 2013 flick from the local library, and last night we sat down to watch it and I was… surprised.
I went in to this movie knowing nothing but the cover art, and the movie started exactly how I expected… beautiful music plays over scenic imagery, a small child climbs on to a roof, gets in aircraft that might be a living create, and cruises across the countryside. He waves to everyone below him before dark shadows come out of the clouds, and belching bombs start falling around him from a massive flying fortress… You know, all the typical Miyazaki stuff.
And then the boy wakes up, and it turns out that this is actually a historical drama and biopic about Jiro Horikoshi a Japanese aircraft designer, who worked for Mitsubishi between WWI and WWII. I spent about the first half of the movie waiting for a wizard to show up, or to find out that Jiro’s friend Hiro was using cursed rivets, or for anything magical, mystical, or strange to happen; but aside from some dream sequences where Jiro speaks with Count Caproni, an Italian aeronautical engineer, the movie is grounded firmly in the real world.
The movie jumps from Jiro’s childhood
to a train ride that gets interrupted by the Great Kantō Earthquake (where he meets his future wife, Naoko), then continues to jump forward years at a time, up to the designing of the Mitsubishi A5M and, simultaneously, his realization that his wife has passed away. The transitions from one period to the next were jarring at first, with little to no explanation of how much time has passed, but the calm music made those transitions ultimately feel dream-like and peaceful, instead of obnoxious.
It wasn’t about magic, but thanks to the beautiful imagery, captivating music, and the sleepy, almost dream like way the story moves from one part of Jiro’s life to the next, The Wind Rises is just as magical as any other of Miyazaki’s works.