Hayao Miyazaki—writer, director, visionary, and all-around creative maestro. I love this man; having not directed a film since 2008’s Ponyo, his absence has been felt. 2013 marks the return (and sadly farewell) of Miyazaki, presenting his most recent piece of cinema, The Wind Rises. Having been out in Japan since July, it’s now making the festival rounds this part of the world (slated for western release February 2014). I had the pleasure of watching The Wind Rises at the 51st New York Film Festival last week. It was beautiful, it was captivating, and it left me walking away thinking, which is exactly what a good film should achieve.
For those of you not familiar, Miyazaki is the founder of Studio Ghibli, famed animation studio from Japan. They’re often compared to Disney, in terms of cultural influence. Admired for films such as [Academy Award-winning] Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro, Ghibli is responsible for pumping out some of the most imaginative works I’ve ever seen on the big screen. Miyazaki’s touching narratives coupled with Ghibli’s astounding animation never fails to move me. While The Wind Rises continued this tradition, the subject matter and tone of the film is distinctly different from any other Miyazaki work encountered. The Wind Rises is extremely mature (in a wonderful way).
Based on the life of Japanese Aviation Engineer, Jiro Horikoshi, it revolves around the creation of his life’s work, the Mitsubishi A6M, dubbed “Zero.” This long-range fighter was operated by the Japanese Imperial Navy during World War Two and marked a turning point for the Land of the Rising Sun: their foothold in an increasingly industrial world. The film operates on many levels, managing to weave together a complex web of Japanese history, wartime conflict, romance, and I’d argue, the power of a creative mind with the will to achieve more.
As far as creativity and life accomplishments go, I sense this film was deeply personal to Miyazaki. Aviation is part of his blood, Miyazaki’s father was the owner of a factory responsible for producing the Zero’s rudders. A childhood that no doubt had a heavy influence on his body of work; real and imaginative flying machines are a trend throughout Miyazaki’s pictures. While the influence of aviation may have been the driving force in the creation of this piece, Miyazaki claim’s to have been inspired by Horikoshi’s statement, “all I wanted to do was to make something beautiful.” The A6M Zero was just that, regarded as one of the most beautiful aircrafts ever manufactured. It seems that Miyazaki also followed suit and took this sentiment to heart; The Wind Rises is a creation of immense beauty.
Miyazaki’s movies are one-part famous for their signature hand-drawn animation, a medium virtually unseen nowadays. The amount of work that goes into traditionally animating a feature length film is astounding, but as the work of Studio Ghibli demonstrates, it pays off. The Wind Rises is no exception, it’s one of the best looking Ghibli films to date. From colourful vistas to sweeping interludes of flight, the two-hour film quite literally leaves you with the sensation of a whimsical joy-ride through the clouds. As with every Ghibli release, accompanying the film is a book, The Art of The Wind Rises. These publications are a must for any fan, as they give a glimpse into the process that eventually blossoms into a beautiful Ghibli feature.
Even for those who have never watched the work of Miyazaki, these books serve as a great source of inspiration. One aspect often overlooked in Ghibli pictures is the background art, it’s easy to be caught up in the enthralling animation onscreen. But pay attention: remove the cells layered overtop and you’re left with designs that rival fine art. Ghibli often employs Kazuo Oga, who is truly a master of his craft. The Art of publications let you appreciate the skill that goes into every faucet of a Ghibli feature (Oga’s work for example). There’s so much to take from getting a peek into the process of extraordinarily talented individuals. Learn from the best, they say. The diligence employed alone has helped motivate me time and time again in my personal and professional life.
Watching Horikoshi’s struggles on screen helps reaffirm notions you’ve probably already considered. The film opens quoting Paul Valéry’s Le Cimetière marin, which reads, “Le vent se lève ! … Il faut tenter de vivre!” Translated, “the wind is rising! … We must try to live!” While it may have not been Miyazaki’s intent, I perceived Horikoshi’s willpower to directly conflict with his romantic life. There’s no simple way to strike a balance between professional and personal lives… Sometimes we must make choices that benefit one, and unfortunately hurt the other. The culmination of the narrative, music, and eye-candy swept together, as if in a big wind, to really drive home this idea. Would you prefer to be remembered for your accomplishments, or rather remembering a life well lived? Miyazaki chose “Ikineba” as the film’s tag line, which in Japanese means “we have to live.” Whatever choices you may make in life, take note and choose them for the sake of living.