Visionary tribute to aviation history and modern art by Japanese master
Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, reportedly the final feature film from Japan’s master of cinematic animation, may be a bit of an unexpected triumph—a biopic, however sprightly, that ranges over the early history of aviation and selected chunks of Japanese history in the first half of the 20th century.
The biopic aspect highlights the life and career of Jiro Horikoshi, the young genius of aircraft design in pre-World War II Japan. In Miyazaki’s portrayal, Horikoshi is a boy wonder, a visionary dreamer, an aeronautical engineer with the poetic soul of an artist. He is both a pragmatist and a romantic, utterly devoted to his design work but still capable of heroic rescue feats in the catastrophic earthquake of 1923 and not at all impervious to the great romance that gradually arises in the aftermath.
The film’s Horikoshi is much given to lavish dreams of an at least partly prophetic nature, and Miyazaki’s film moves between dream and reality with such sly frequency that the entire enterprise begins to look like a dream vision. Horikoshi’s encounters—real, remembered and imagined—with the Italian aviation pioneer Giovanni Caproni come across as mutually inspiring encounters between artistically inclined designer/technicians. And Miyazaki’s allusions to Thomas Mann’s novel The Magic Mountain, and to its protagonist, Hans Castorp, further heighten the sense of kinship with the work of modernist artists and thinkers in the early 20th century.
The film’s title and its epigraph are from lines written by the modernist/symbolist poet and thinker Paul Valéry, and they too add to the impression that The Wind Rises is above all a portrait of the artist as visionary, a fantasia of exalted creativity that has room for Mann, Horikoshi, Valéry, Caproni, and perhaps Miyazaki as well.
As always, Miyazaki’s imagery is thoroughly delightful, and all the more so in this case, what with its nonstop indications that the old master’s moviemaking is itself a dream of flight. And the late, too-brief recognition—that the role of their inventions in World War II put a curse on the dreams of Caproni and Horikoshi—brings a troubling poignancy to Miyazaki’s dream.