23 July 2014

風立ちぬ (The Wind Rises)

Disclaimer 2016: Currently editing and re-writing parts. Leave this here solely for reference. Content remains same, but the language is very wonky at times and I just want to elevate it to a higher level of reading fluency. 

Disclaimerthis post contains a ton of spoilers - obviously.

The film Kaze Tachinu depicts the life of Jiro Hirokoshi shortly until Japan's entry in World War II. Miyazaki's latest and final masterpiece is a tribute to the real Jiro Hirokoshi and writer Tatsuo Hori (The aeronautical engineering - Jiro Horikoshi ; Naoko - Tatsuo Hori). I feel Hayao Miyazaki combined both real life characters wonderfully to create one character. He is not a perfect person either as he also combines flaws from both.
The good thing about Studio Ghibli films is that they are equally fun to watch without knowing anything about Japanese culture or history. However The Wind Rises can be a better experience if you have some background knowledge. This is Miyazaki's strongest work. A true finale, with a great and important message.
It's a film more directed towards adults than children, as well. Here I retold the story and added some hopefully useful analysis.

The dream of a man

This animation feature begins with young Jiro Hirokoshi floating through the air. He is a dreamer. An aviation enthusiast. It's his dream to become a pilot. At the time of the movie aircrafts carrying people instead of bombs were still a novelty.
Young Jiro realises early that due to his sight problems he will probably never be able to become a great pilot. After reading an English magazine reporting on Caproni's recent breakthrough in aeronautical engineering Jiro becomes obsessed with a newly formed dream. He wanted to build beautiful airplanes instead of flying them. Caproni develops to be his biggest inspiration throughout the film. We often see them conversing in Jiro's beautifully detailed dreams. Caproni also serves as the wise man supporting Jiro and giving him advice in his dreams.

About Jiro Horikoshi (堀越 二郎)

He was born in 1903, right before the Russian-Japanese war began to take place. He was an aviation enthusiast, but was short-sighted which means he could not become a pilot. His character could be described by being helpful, almost heroic as he stands up for weaker people and is against bullying (movie only). He was a dreamy person, often drifting off into  daydreams about aviation. Later he was shown as being a diligent worker, maybe even a workaholic.  He is strongly against the war, but in this sense a bit naive as he rejects the reality his actions cause. He designed the Mitsubishi A5M fighter and later also the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter. For more information about the real Jiro Horikoshi read here.

About Tatsuo Hori:

Tatsuo Hori was born in 1904 and was a famous writer and poet of the Showa period. The work on which this film is based is also called Kaze Tachinu and is about a woman called Setsuko spending time in a Tuberculosis Sanitarium in Nagano and the man who falls in love with her. He also wrote another novel called Nahoko depicting the life of protagonist Nahoko in a detailed manner and reporting of an unhappy marriage for example. It also deals with tuberculosis. The inspiration for this novel was taken also from the early death of the poet Michizō Tachihara who died from Tuberculosis himself. The title Kaze Tachinu is a direct quote from Paul Valéry's poem "Le Cimetiére Marin" - Le vent se léve!... Il faut tenter de vivre !" - which translates to "The wind is rising. We must [try to] live".  

The movie jumps ahead to the crucial year of 1923, during which the Great Kantō earthquake laid devastating destruction upon Japan. Jiro, who in the meantime, became a university student at the Tokyo University, first meets young Nahoko here. After the drama occurs he helps Nahoko's maid to an evacuation spot near a temple near Ueno.  
Here we first hear the famous Valéry quote said by Nahoko and Jiro together. 
A Shockwave of large proportion
The animation of the earthquake is mind blowing to say the least. The sound effects were haunting. The sound made its way inside my body like a growling monster vibrating with my heart. A feel of terror overcame the situation on screen and me. Outstanding job, Studio Ghibli. We also often see shots of everyday life in Japan at that time. Mundane shots you would think, but they give you a wonderful insight and transition between the Taishō and Shōwa period. 

crushing Tokyo

In the following scenes we are confronted with Japan's situation after struggles of all kinds. We witness the closing of a bank due to the Great Depression, which also hit Japan. We also see shots of homeless people living under bridges, kids waiting for their hard working parents to return at night and Jiro is wondering "Why is Japan just so poor?". Miyazaki gives us an insight of the time by showing us the Great Kantō Earthquake, the results of the Great Depression, the tuberculosis epidemic, fascism, suppression of freedom of speech and many wars.

All beautifully mixed with scenes of hard working Japanese people, desperately trying to rebuild the country. It is a salute from Miyazaki to the hard working people of that era. 

Achilles catches up with a turtle

When Jiro begins work at Mitsubishi International Combustion Engine in Nagoya, he focusses on his tasks instantly, though he even takes the time to improve plans that he thinks are flawed and will end in failure. 
Jiro's old university friend and no co-worker Honjo complains that Japan would be at least 10 years behind in engineering. We later even hear 20 years. After the first failed project and a change of company direction to build bombers instead of small fighters Jiro and Honjo get sent to Germany to inspect the work of Professor Hugo Junkers. Arriving in Germany the Japanese delegation suffers from the distrust and rejection of German engineers. Horikoshi and Honjo also witness how the GESTAPO (secret state police) track and hunt a spy. The mood of the film changes massively here. Figuratively speaking, we see war on the horizon. We see young men following their dreams, not realising those are cursed dreams that will cause slaughter and destruction. Caproni mentions that in another dream to Jiro, by using the world with pyramid or without metaphor to which Jiro responds with saying "I just want to build beautiful airplanes". It is not clear whether he acknowledges the looming war and destruction, but as mentioned above Horikoshi is naive and so doesn't question the morality behind his doings. All he focusses on is his dream, a respectable dream, to build airplanes. This screams "Corruption of the beauty" all over the place. Planes are something beautiful according to Miyazaki, who himself is an avid fan and has a private collection of old aircrafts. The Wind Rises was not just meant to condemn the war or criticise the main character. It is showing a young man following his dreams, living a life of perseverance, facing challenges of love and life. In the production notes Hayao Miyazaki wrote 
"I want to portray a devoted individual who pursued his dream head on. Dreams possess an element of madness, and such poison must not be concealed. Yearning for something too beautiful can ruin you. Swaying towards beauty may come at a price. Jiro will be battered and defeated, his design career cut short. Nonetheless, Jiro was an individual of preeminent originality and talent. This is what we will strive to portray in this film."

The Wind Is Rising

After several failed projects Jiro goes on holiday to switch off a little bit. He is haunted by his failure and stuck at a dead end it appears. For a while Caproni has not appeared in his dreams anymore, but destroyed aircrafts. 
The mood of the film is slightly changing again. We see a lot of nature. Miyazaki is famous for his beautiful nature animations and yet again he does not disappoint. Gusts of wind strive over the cosy looking green. What comes next is pure poetry. Nahoko is standing on a hill painting when a wind gust blows her parasol away, only for Jiro catching it. This is basically the same scene as on the train when Nahoko caught his hat. Both answer with baseball phrases after catching, too "Nice play", "Nice catch". The scenery and symbolism of the hotel where both Nahoko and Jiro reside resembles that of Thomas Mann's Zauberberg (Magic Mountain). A character called Castorp mentions this symbolism when talking to Jiro for the first time. 
                                                               Zauberberg paradox:Castorp is also the name of the protagonist in Magic Mountain. He believes that "Illness spiritualises and ennobles people". Thomas Mann's novel was a parody of the typical education novels as the protagonist here doesn't see the world, but instead travels to a lonesome place upon a mountain. It was his ironic counterpart to "Death in Venice" and should combine death and amusement. Mann's Zauberberg and Hori's The Wind Rises are very similar storywise (both take place in an Alpine sanatorium), but the tone is fundamentally different. Hori's story focusses on the beauty, while Mann's Zauberberg actually doesn't help the healing (and for the protagonist - maturing) process, but instead leads to emptiness and ultimately the horrors of World War I

Castorp continues with the Zauberberg metaphor in saying that Jiro as a young engineer can forget about all sorts of horrors in this hotel.
Castorp predicts that Germany and Japan will both blow up.
This reminds the viewers of the looming war on the horizon, just to jump to the now shortly after again. The mood of the film changes completely and becomes beautiful and poetic. We are now entering the Tatsuo Hori part as I like to call it. The focus changes to Naoko and Jiro's developing love. Beautiful nature shots mix with short scenes of interaction between the two. This is the tribute to Tatsuo Hori who described insanely beautiful scenery in his novels and poems. Jiro throws paper planes around, Nahoko catches them and throws them back. This is vital for the young engineer as his mind gets freed and he receives new inspiration. Also Nahoko who suffered from a slight fever after Jiro arrives at the hotel feels revitalised after interacting with the young man. 
So for both the hotel has a healing function, but isn't it just like in Magic Mountain? Isn't it just nothingness in the end? We will see.

Jiro asks Nahoko's father for his daughter's hand and both agree. However, upon the proposal the young lady informs Jiro that she is stricken with Tuberculosis and he would have to wait with the marriage until she is cured. Jiro is affirmative and mentions that he would wait even if it took a hundred years. The wind brought him to her. 

The symbolism of the rising wind is strong throughout the whole picture. We have several scenes in which you see things get blown away by the wind, such as the hats of the main protagonists Jiro and Nahoko, or her parasol, Jiro's paper planes and even gusts of winds delivering a heartbreaking message to Jiro. The wind symbolism is poetry in the way its describing beauty. There is a quote from the film which fits this perfectly "Who has seen the wind? Neither I nor you: But when the leaves hang trembling, The wind is passing through."
It's invisible beauty, humanity can't control it. This fits well with Miyazaki's love for aircrafts. One should not surprised to hear this after watching The Wind Rises. It's an ode to aviation. 

Demise and accomplishment

The combination of these two nouns seems odd, but mirrors the mood of the film exactly. It's never full out positive, but also never endlessly bleak. 
Jiro after returning to work gets followed by the secret police due to his and Castorp being seen together. Castorp apparently tried to leave the country, as well. Fascism and the suppression of freedom of speech are on the rise, at the same time Jiro is about to finish plans for the Mitsubishi A5M fighter. His friend Honjo who he shares a new technology with supports him throughout the movie and even now as both are working on different objectives. 
He rushes to Nahoko's side after she suffered a lung haemorrhage. To help her cure she decides to go to an alpine sanatorium near Nagano to rest. Jiro and Nahoko constantly exchange letters when she decides to go to see him risking her life. They decide to get married and live together. 
At that time Jiro was hopelessly immersed with his work on the A5M fighter and equally hopelessly infatuated with Nahoko who gave him the necessary inspiration to finish his work. He often didn't sleep at all, working day and night. Unfortunately, the young engineer seemed to forget about Nahoko's condition (she is almost completely bedridden) selfishly keeping her by his side. Horikoshi's younger sister, aspiring to be a doctor, reminds him of that and he acknowledges his fault by saying that they haven't got a lot of time left and try to be together as much as possible.  
Nahoko remains cheerful and happy even if her condition gets worse and worse. The day Jiro Horikoshi leaves for the test flight for his A5M fighter, she realises that her time is nearly up and returns to the sanatorium without notifying anyone. She leaves 3 letters on the shared room table addressed to Jiro, his sister and the hosting family who wed them (Jiro's boss+wife). 

The test flight was successful, Jiro accomplished his dreams. Later he also successfully created the design for the famous M6M Zero fighter which represented Japan's and the world's great aviation technology at that time. Before he can celebrate Jiro gets interrupted by a burst of wind notifying him of his wife's death. 

Ultimately we switch to visions of World War II and see destroyed cities and aircrafts. The colour of the clouds until that point has been pure and white but in this scene they are tainted in some sort of brown/black tone, depicting a smoke filled sky. Joe Hisaishi's heart breaking compositions lead us through this scenes realising the consequences of war. The planes depicted don't look beautiful anymore, but all we see is an ugly pile of steel. These are the scenes of Jiro's final dream in which the wise man Caproni asks him if he lived his life to the fullest. Jiro tells Caproni how his dream became a nightmare for humanity. Jiro finally questions the morality of his work.  

However, Miyazaki's final message is from Tatsuo Hori's novel. 
It all returns to "Le vent se léve!... Il faut tenter de vivre !", as his wife appearing in the final dream tells Jiro "You must live..". 
She gets taken away by the wind then. 
Once again the wind rises. 

"We must live.." is a quote that echoes well in Miyazaki's work. The manga for Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind ends with these words. It is a conviction that despite anything that happens, such as destruction, corruption of the beauty and war, we must live our life to the fullest. It's a strong message to the viewers of this film. Perhaps Miyazaki's strongest message ever. It is his final message. 
While the film surely is far from perfect it is surely one of his greatest films ever. It carries a sense of importance he last achieved with creating Princess Mononoke. It is also not my favourite Ghibli movie, but I am strangely attracted to its symbolism and its strong message. I have seen it 4 times in the last week alone and tried to soak up everything there is. I'm aware that I missed a lot, but I tried to focus on the most striking symbols. I wish I could have had the chance to inspect and analyse the works of Tatsuo Hori more, but I will definitely do that someday. I hope you enjoy watching this masterpiece as much as I did. 

The theme song of The Wind Rises is by famous singer Yumi Matsutoya (released back in 1973 under her maiden name Yumi Arai) and is called ひこうき雲 (Hiko-ki Gumo transl.: Vapor trail). I added the original lyrics and the translation here. The song fits the mood of the film perfectly. When I watch the end roll and listen to the beautiful lyrics it always drives tears to my eyes. Enjoy

By 荒井由実

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