The Wind Rises

At least he goes out with style.

The Wind Rises, which opens this Friday in Oklahoma City exclusively at AMC Quail Springs Mall 24, 2501 W. Memorial Rd., doesn’t boast the elements of fantasia that usually distinguish Miyazaki films — there are no cats doubling as buses here — but it’s just as gorgeous and, in its way, just as mystical.

The story is a fictionalized account of Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon), the real-life aeronautical engineer whose creations included the A6M Zero fighters used by Japanese kamikaze pilots in the attack on Pearl Harbor. We meet Jiro as a child obsessed with airplanes. He pores through English aviation magazines and dreams of mysterious flying machines. Jiro even has conjured up a mentor, engaging in dreams in which he consults with Giovanni Caproni (Stanley Tucci, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), a pioneer of Italian aviation.

Encompassing such pivotal events as the 1923 Kanto earthquake and the Depression, the movie chronicles the polite, soft-spoken Jiro as he sets to work for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries designing airplanes under the watchful eye of a cranky supervisor (Martin Short, TV’s The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!).

Flight and the power of creation are at the heart of The Wind Rises, but that is only part of the narrative. Miyazaki gives his hero a sweetly affecting love story. Jiro is at a German resort when he reunites with Nahoko Satomi (Emily Blunt, Looper), a young woman with whom he fatefully has crossed paths before.

Despite being Japan’s highest grossing film last year, the film is not without controversy. Some critics, particularly in the U.S., have criticized Miyazaki for mostly ignoring the story’s moral implications. The Jiro Horikoshi of The Wind Rises doesn’t appear particularly conflicted about his genius being put to deadly use.

There are no scenes of Jiro grappling with his role in the creation of warplanes, but neither is he ignorant of the situation. “Humanity dreams of flight, but the dream is cursed. Aircraft are destined to become tools for slaughter and destruction,” the fantastical Caproni cautions the young Jiro, who simply responds, “I know.”

Given this controversy and the hand-wringing surrounding The Wolf of Wall Street earlier this year, it is a wonder American moviegoers are trusted enough to find popcorn and seats on their own. When did subtlety and subtext lose their value? I am not bothered that Jiro reflects the stoicism and sense of duty endemic to Japanese culture. Viewers can appreciate the tragic irony of creative force used for destructive force without being smacked around. 

Miyazaki prefers a more delicate touch. As one has come to expect with the director, The Wind Rises is
a visual feast, but what really impresses are the small but telling
details. Whether it is Caproni’s mustache shifting in the breeze or the
languorously magical route of a paper plane, the little things are what
make The Wind Rises so memorable.

Phil Bacharach

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