32 posts tagged Studio Ghibli
THE WIND RISES (2014)
The Wind Rises isn’t your little brother or sister’s Hayao Miyazaki. It has none of the whimsy of Howl’s Moving Castle or the playful nature of My Neighbor Totoro. It’s a grown-up Miyazaki that is, in many ways, a return to more socially-conscious work such as Princess Mononoke and Nausicaä and the Valley of the Wind. Reportedly Miyazaki’s final film, The Wind Rises is the story of young Jiro, who dreams of building beautiful airplanes. The audience follows his journey, from a young boy who devours magazines that talk about the latest in aviation to a man faced with the grim reality that his work may be used to destroy instead of giving joy. It’s a unique coming-of-age tale that sets out to impart an important message: that of the persistence of life. As the title borrows from poet Paul Valéry’s own version of carpe diem: ”The wind is rising…we must try to live.”
The Wind Rises takes place in early 20th century Japan, a time when the country endured great upheaval that involved an economic crisis and the infamous Great Kantō earthquake of 1923. The film introduces its protagonist Jiro as a young boy who initially dreams of becoming a pilot, yet whose myopic vision prevents him from ever truly becoming one. This doesn’t deter him, however, from pursuing his love of flying. Jiro is a bit of a Walter Mitty, occasionally zoning out into these elaborate dream sequences where he talks to a quirky Italian airplane engineer named Caproni, his idol and a sort of benevolent, imaginary sage. It is Caproni who encourages Jiro to pursue his dreams in a slightly different capacity, as an aviation engineer instead of a pilot. After all, if he can’t fly airplanes, he might as well have a hand in building them! We then follow Jiro as he goes on to become a student of engineering, and onward to his employment at the prestigious Mitsubishi company, which at the time built airplanes for the Japanese military. We see that as Jiro grows older and his journey to become an engineer progresses, the Japanese landscape too changes. Soon Jiro becomes cognizant of forces beyond his control; forces that threaten to embroil his model airplanes into something bigger and more brutal than he ever meant them for.
The Wind Rises is very much in keeping with Studio Ghibili’s portfolio of films that push the envelope of what animation can do. Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies is perhaps one of the bleakest, most anti-war films ever made, and yet in little pockets throughout the film, we see a sense of wonder, joy, and always, a plea to live. Despite its more adult themes, the same spirit is alive and well in Miyazaki’s latest. It may not be as emotionally devastating as Fireflies, but the reality depicted in the beautifully hand-drawn story is just as sobering. The film may be seen as a condemnation of war, but it is even more so a celebration of life. From its uplifting title to the soaring ambitions of young Jiro, it beckons the audience to think about the power of positive thinking, and how this can help fuel and fully actualize inventions through the dignity of hard work. It is in moments when the audience sees Jiro’s dedication to his craft, his openness to creative ideas, his own desire to pioneer and champion, that the realism of The Wind Rises becomes evident. Jiro isn’t blindly idealistic; he knows that one day his creations will be used for insidious purposes. But he chooses to build his planes anyway because he believes in the purity of his dream, and there’s something innocent and respectable about that perspective.
The film takes its time crafting Jiro’s story. As Roger Ebert brought up during his conversation with Hayao Miyazaki, there are beautiful moments of stillness to be found in the film. There are scenes where the characters are just sitting and looking out a window on a moving train, or having a cigarette on a hotel balcony during a quiet night. In these scenes, the story isn’t necessarily moving forward, but the characters are more and more alive in these snapshots, as they seem to ponder themselves or their situations. There’s a beauty in doing nothing at all, and for the audience it allows us to breathe, as Miyazaki pointed out. It is evident how much care went into this film as a result of such patient storytelling, allowing the characters to be shown in as many dimensions as possible.
For instance, the poetry in Jiro’s nearsightedness isn’t lost on the viewer, because it is this myopic vision that becomes the foundation for his story. Jiro’s nearsightedness only allows him to see his dream to be an engineer and nothing else. He doesn’t see the big picture that is in store for his planes. He only sees beauty and craftsmanship, not the war and strife that were to follow because of them. Were he to take into consideration the death and destruction that would undoubtedly follow as a result of his creations, surely that would cripple him with fear and anxiety. Some critics think that this represents a fatal flaw in the film; that somehow Jiro contributed to the war by continuing to make these deadly bombers and fighter jets. The focus on whether this justifies the Japanese wars that followed is misguided, because it seems to idealize the notion of taking a stand at the expense of one’s dreams. Yes, ideally it would have been nice for the Japanese military not to have such firepower at their disposal. Perhaps it would have prevented the brutal military onslaught that followed. However, by demanding such conditions on Jiro’s arc, critics are also taking a deeply personal story and turning it into propagandist agenda, which is certainly not Studio Ghibli’s style.
It seems that these folks have unfortunately missed the nuances present in the film. The Wind Rises acknowledges the necessity of war, but doesn’t revel in it. It actually brings it up in a manner that seems almost regretful. The film implores the audience to look at large scale world events like war, famine, and natural disasters from a human perspective. Not everyone is always thinking about the bottom line, or the effects on geopolitical maneuvering when a young man decides to fulfill his dream of building airplanes. Miyazaki also makes the argument that just because bad things are going to happen, it doesn’t mean people should just lay down and accept it. Again, from the title based on a poem by Paul Valéry: “The wind is rising, we must try to live.”
This quiet struggle against the forces of inevitability is what Miyazaki champions in his last film. We see it in Jiro’s relentless pursuit of his childhood dreams and, most clearly, in his love for Nahoko, a woman he meets during disastrous circumstances, who even in her unwell state, mustered the strength to remind him of his will to live. Nahoko suffers from a severe case of tuberculosis and it seems inevitable that she won’t live long. She asks Jiro to wait for her to recover before they commit to each other; after all, who wants to be married to a dying woman? Jiro initially agrees, but after realizing that he could lose the woman he loves any day now, he races to her bedside and begs for her hand in marriage. It is a defiant decision; it is Jiro and Nahoko looking death in the eye and saying, “We know we don’t have long, but we’ll make the most of the time that we have.” It’s an unapologetically sweet sentiment, and Miyazaki layers this on in a subtle enough manner that the audience can feel it without necessarily being hammered on the head with it.
Its stance against nihilism - which often states that we’re all going to die anyway, so what’s the point in living? - is also laid out in a simple yet profoundly affecting manner. Life is indeed fleeting, but this isn’t what makes it meaningless. What we do with the numbered days is what gives it meaning. And truly, if all we had to think about every day was how short our lives were, how painful love is, how the Earth is getting warmer and warmer and man-made catastrophes are becoming regular occurrences - if all we thought about was the inevitability of death, how would we ever manage to get ourselves out of bed, let alone wake up every morning? It’s these thought-provoking messages in The Wind Rises that really elevate the film.
Yes, there’s a wistfulness to the story that would break hearts, and the sober reality of the world we live in is emphasized in every meticulously-drawn frame. The Wind Rises may not be a rallying cry to “suck the marrow out of life”, as Dead Poets Society's O Captain my Captain may say, but it succeeds in preaching the same message with a gentle prod that only an artist like Hayao Miyazaki can. The lesson that The Wind Rises hopes to leave viewers with is that everyone should dare to dream no matter how dire the situation we find ourselves in. Dreams exist in the realm between reality and fantasy where they remain pure, untouchable by the forces that wrestle with people’s lives - war, politics, the economy, natural disasters. People dream without necessarily wanting to escape their lot; instead they dream because they want to believe that things can get better. Isn’t that what Martin Luther King, Jr. meant when he gave that iconic civil rights speech?
Overall, while it may not have the wild imaginings of Spirited Away or the flights of fancy in Kiki’s Delivery Service, The Wind Rises is a touching, thoughtful piece about ambition, hard work, love and the beauty in the persistence of life. These are all things that celebrate being alive, and lessons that everyone, regardless of age, creed, race or nationality, can appreciate. Perhaps it is your little sibling’s Hayao Miyazaki after all.
6-minute trailer for Isao Takahata’s upcoming film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya. The film is an adaptation of The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, a 10th-century folktale and the oldest surviving piece of Japanese literature. The film is slated for release in Japan on November 23, 2013.
The Breakfast Song
Teshima Aoi • From Up on Poppy Hill OST
From Up on Poppy Hill (2011) - directed by Goro Miyazaki.
Track: “The Breakfast Song" by Teshima Aoi
My local movie theater is having a Studio Ghibli showcase in January. Move over, December. January is officially the most wonderful time of the year.