"Le vent se lève, il faut tenter de vivre"
Miyazaki's new (and reportedly last) film "The Wind Rises," loosely based on the lives of engineer Jiro Horikoshi and author Tatsuo Hori, is a gorgeous and bittersweet look at prewar Japan and the consequences of pursuing a dream.
Jiro (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt,) a smart, kind, brave boy whose only flaw seems to be myopia, dreams of building planes from childhood. He is encouraged by famed Italian aeronautical designer Caproni (voiced by Stanley Tucci) who he meets regularly throughout his life in dreams.
The film spans thirty years of Jiro's life, from the 1910's to the 1940's. Throughout that time, Jiro grows up, studies, and eventually makes a career for himself as a genius aeronautic engineer. Along the way he finds love and romance in the form of Nahoko (voiced by Emily Blunt,) but is never swayed from his life's passion to design a plane of surpassing beauty and elegance.
The star of the film however, is the surrounding world of Japan which transitions in the course of the story from the Taisho Era (1912-1926) to the early Showa period (1926-1989.) Dreamy rural countrysides eventually make way for urbanization in the form of larger cities, and the jumble of infrastructure that accompanies new development. As with all Miyazaki's work, each frame shows careful attention to and affection for every detail--even the trains Jiro takes to different parts of the country and throughout Europe modernize with the times.
While set in other times, other places, this might be a heartwarming Horatio Alger story about a boy realizing his lifelong dreams, there is an inescapable undercurrent of tension and sadness throughout. Destruction and devastation is rampant after the Great Kanto Earthquake, and the Great Depression results in general poverty and pervasive illness. Jiro and his fellow engineer pal Honjo (John Krasinski) work constantly to improve their airplane designs but are hampered by what they see as Japan's backwards state of technology, and are overjoyed when they are finally able to travel to Germany to learn more modern techniques.
Through it all, each momentous incident in Jiro's or Japan's history is marked by a sudden gust of the titular wind foretelling profound change. We know how this story will end from the start, and what will happen to Jiro's Mitsubishi A6M1s (later to become the Zero Fighters) and the men who fly them. The characters understand too, but like most of us, are helpless to concentrate on anything but their own personal struggles and dreams. Larger issues of politics and war are acknowledged, but like earthquakes, only as functions of larger forces beyond any individual control.
But the wind keeps rising, and the world keeps changing. We are frequently told that "if we can dream it, then we can do it"...but what then? Ultimately we may discover, along with Jiro, that some thought needs to be given to the consequences, once the dreaming and the doing are done.
"The Wind Rises" is currently in limited release in North American theaters, with general theatrical release scheduled for February 28 under the Touchstone Pictures banner.
The previous post in this blog was Disneyland Resort Photo Update - 2/14/14.
The next post in this blog is 2014 Glass Slipper Challenge Part 1 - Expo and 10K.