Kaze tachinu (Wind Rises)
Volume 14, Issue 3 (Film review 1 in 2014). First published in ejcjs on 23 December 2014.
Film Review: Miyazaki Hayao, Kaze tachinu (Wind Rises), Studio Gibli, 2014.
A theme often seen in Miyazaki Hayao’s works is that of a romantic adventure in the sky. His latest film, Kaze tachinu (Wind Rises), is also about what is called the ‘beautiful dream’ of flying in the sky. The story is about an aeronautical engineer who pursues his dream of creating ‘a beautiful plane.’ What divorces this film from other works by Miyazaki, however, is that it examines the cost of pursuing this ‘beautiful dream.’ In his daydream, the hero Horikoshi Jirō is asked by his (self-proclaimed) mentor Mr. Caproni, an Italian aeronautical engineer, ‘Which would you choose, a world with pyramids or one without pyramids?’ Although Jirō does not directly answer this question, like Caproni, he chooses the latter: the world of pyramids. It is a world of creativity which is glorious but ‘cursed’ at the same time.
Kaze tachinu is in part based on the life of Horikoshi Jirō (1903-1982), the engineer who created the Zero fighter. Since the Zero is closely associated with the brutal militarism of wartime Japan, Horikoshi is at times politicised. Miyazaki does not deny the fact that Horikoshi played a part in the war, but here focuses on his passion as a creator. In the film, the backwardness and poverty of Japan are emphasised. For example, Jirō’s friend, Honjō, who is nihilistic and realistic unlike Jirō, constantly mocks the uncivilised state of Japan such as the fact that the latest aircraft is hauled by oxen to the airfield. Yet Jirō does not seem to mind much. On the contrary, believing the words of Caproni, ‘The important thing for an engineer is inspiration,’ Jirō overcomes all handicaps and creates an original and very advanced plane. Thus the film depicts the success story of a challenger who realises his dreams through the power of will.
The film is also partly based on Hori Tatsuo’s (1904-1953) novella, ‘Kaze tachinu’ (1936-1937), from which the title is borrowed. This novella is a love story about a young couple who try to live their lives together to the full. Hori’s hero is a novelist who chooses to stay in a sanatorium in the Japan Alps with his fiancée who is terminally ill. Like this novella, Miyazaki’s film is also a love story about a young couple. The heroine Satomi Naoko—her name is from another of Hori’s works, Naoko (1941)—has tuberculosis and is terminally ill. Her love for Jirō makes her decide to receive medical treatment in a sanatorium in the mountain: she wants a life with him. The couple thus attempts to make the most of the short time left to them.
If a creator’s passion to pursue his ‘beautiful dream’ is combined with a love story, a tragic outcome can be easily predicted, since creativity and happiness in life are so often incompatible. In fact the major difference between Hori’s original novella and Miyazaki’s film is that Miyazaki’s hero is not as attentive to the heroine. Since Jirō is so absorbed in his work, Naoko is left alone in the sanatorium. Their life together begins when Naoko leaves the sanatorium and decides to stay with him. They marry and start their life together. Despite Jiro’s claim that ‘each day is very precious to us now,’ he does not spend much time with Naoko. In fact, she is quite often left ‘alone all day’ at home. Seeing this, his younger sister says, ‘Brother, you are so insensitive. (…) How can you do this to her?.’
The cost, of course, is not limited to the private domain but also the public one. The film is set in an era of political turmoil when the cheerful and liberal air of the Taisho era (1912-1926) is swept away by the militarism of the 1930s. Japan experienced two major disasters, the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 and the financial panic in 1927. It is in 1927 that Jirō, newly graduated from university, starts to work as an aeronautical engineer in Mitsubishi Heavy Industry in Nagoya. The cost of Jirō’s ‘beautiful dream’ can be seen in the starving children on the street. As Honjō says, the money spent on creating a plane would be enough to feed the starving children all over Japan. Nevertheless Jirō and Honjō do not give up their privileges and create a plane which is eventually used as a tool of war.
Because of Jirō’s seeming indifference to the suffering of people around him, some may hastily conclude that he is a heartless person. Yet he is a character who does not explain his feelings, so we cannot know his inner conflict, or even if there is any conflict at all. Moreover, such a black-and-white view misses Miyazaki’s point. Though Jirō does have shortcomings typical to a creative person—when he is absorbed in his work, he forgets everything else—that does not necessarily mean that he is evil. In the film, Jirō is in fact presented as a good person. As a child, he saves a younger child from bullies. On public transportation he gives up his seat to a lady. At the time of the Great Kanto Earthquake, he rescues a young maid who fractured her leg in a train derailment and piggybacks her to Ueno, an area of Tokyo where her house is.
This rescue is Jirō’s first acquaintance with Naoko. Naoko is the maid’s young mistress and is with her. She is still a child then, and Jirō is a university student. Their romance begins a decade later in 1933 when they meet again in Karuizawa by chance. Naoko has now grown into a beautiful young lady.
As is often the case with Miyazaki’s works, the film is heavily scented with the Westernized Taishō culture. Jirō and Naoko are both Westernised characters, being well-informed about Western culture and manners. During their first encounter on the train, Naoko and Jirō recite a poem by Paul Valéry (1871-1945) in French: Le vent se lève, il faut tenter vivre (The wind rises, we must live), which inspired Hori’s title. In Karuizawa—Karuizawa is a Westernised place—Naoko is engaged in Western oil painting. In the hotel where they are both staying, Western food is served and many Westerners are guests, one of whom is Hans Castorp from Germany. Needless to say, this name is that of the hero of Thomas Mann’s (1875-1955) The Magic Mountain (1924). Like Mann’s hero, Miyazaki’s Castorp is also a music lover. There is a scene in which Jirō and other guests sing a German song, ‘The Congress Dances,’ in German to the piano played by Castorp. Castorp says ‘Here is a Magic Mountain. (…) A good place for forgetting,’ and indeed the hotel (or Karuizawa) constitutes a bourgeois society detached from the rest of Japan (and indeed the world). Here is music, culture, and good food. One can easily forget about the political turmoil of the outside world. This glasshouse-like peace is a replica of Taishō Japan. However, just as Taishō culture was replaced by the militarism of the 1930s, Carp knows that even here in ‘the Magic Mountain,’ the turmoil of the outside world will force its way in. Japan was already engaged in conflict with China and had left the League of Nations. As he warns Jirō, Japan is heading for self-destruction in a reckless war.
The political and cultural ruin of Japan is paralleled in the physical decline of Naoko. In fact her sickness can be seen as a metaphor of a sickening Japan. As the story proceeds, Naoko’s health deteriorates and Japan moves step by step closer to destruction.
Despite his (relative) neglect, Naoko rewards Jirō with love and encouragement. This is partly because she wants to leave him with good memories of her last days. This is also partly because she admires Jirō’s creativity. When they first meet in Karuizawa, Jirō is ‘very gloomy’ because of his failure in his aviation project. Yet he regains his confidence through Naoko’s shared excitement about, and support for, the plane. As in Castorp’s words, ‘This is the Magic Mountain. It cures everyone,’ Jirō is cured here with Naoko’s love. Thus with his renewed passion, he starts to study hard, holding a seminar to exchange opinions with other engineers, and finally completes his dream plane. Unfortunately when he realises his dream, Naoko is no longer with him. She has gone back to the sanatorium to die. Thus Jirō in a sense contributes to the destruction of both the woman and the country he loves. By keeping Naoko away from the sanatorium, he ruins her health. By creating a fighter, he plays a part in Japan’s war.
In the last scene after the war Jirō is heart-broken. He has lost Naoko and none of his planes have survived. Yet if he is asked again ‘Which would you choose, a world with pyramids or one without pyramids?’ he would choose the world of pyramids. For creativity makes him really alive and Naoko understands that too. Her last word, ‘Live!,’ in a dream means to live a creative life. That is what Jirō will do in the future.
Kaze tachinu is said to be Miyazaki’s last film. Frankly speaking, this is not one of his best. Nonetheless, I have no hesitation in saying that very few contemporary animation films can match its quality, the complexity of the story, the beauty of the picture, and the rich culture that are so typical of his animated films. Because of this high quality, Kaze tachinu, together with many of Miyazaki’s other films, is one that can be viewed with pleasure more than once. His own ‘beautiful dream’ was to create a unique narrative form in animation and he is a true master of his chosen field. I believe this film is a suitable ending to his glorious career.
Article copyright Rie Kido Askew.