(Be sure to check out Elessar’s review of this film as well.)
Miyazaki is one of the few directors whose film career is filled with praise and adulation for his excellent movies that have inspired children and adults alike. That’s why when he announced his retirement (for the hundredth time) everyone waited on baited breath for his swan song. The one we got was definitely not what we were expecting, which hopefully means that he will eventually make another one.
Let’s take a look at The Wind Rises.
Kaze Tachinu or The Wind Rises is a historical drama based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, creator of the Japanese Zero plane, known for its use in World War II. Part of the film’s controversy is the fact that it is a film that really glosses over the whole subject of Japan’s involvement and horrors committed in the war. I, however, will not be talking about it because, let’s face it, it’s a movie made by a Japanese man who looks at the war from a specifically Japanese perspective. That doesn’t mean the subject shouldn’t be tackled, but it is not the goal of this work to overwrite history. In fact, some people give it credit for actually mentioning that Japan was in fact involved in the war at all. Still, the film is less about war and more about art, any way you choose to look at it.
I’m just going to go ahead and say that the dub is awful. Usually, Disney has some great dubs, or at least ones that don’t make you want to rip your ears out. This one, not so much. No one except Martin Short, Mae Whitman, and John Krasinski as Jiro’s boss, sister, and best friend, respectively, were any good. Joseph Gordon-Levitt sounds more bland than mayo on white bread, which is something when you compare it to Hideaki Anno (yes, Neon Genesis Evangelion creator Anno) who actually plays it with a deep maturity. Emily Blunt tries to inject emotion into Naoko, Jiro’s bride, but stops just short of actually emoting. William H. Macy and Werner Herzog have the opposite of the other’s problem — Macy could be replaced by a robot while Herzog is trying way too hard to make a throw-away character interesting.
The animation is also problematic in places, though has an overall flowing feel. Some shots had the scene completely done in background, as though it were a moving still. Herzog’s character is somehow more brightly colored and animated than the others, almost like Yubaba from Spirited Away. It seems rushed in terms of the art in places, but definitely not in the soundtrack. Joe Hisaishi is a master composer and really captures the nostalgic, hopeful feel Miyazaki was going for. This movie could have been a silent one with just the soundtrack and I would have probably liked it more.
I really, really wanted to love this movie, but The Wind Rises was simply not up to snuff when compared to Miyazaki’s other great works. Miyazaki works best when the scope of the film is contained to a specific, set time period. This film take too big a leap in time and tries to cover way too much in the life of one man. It drops subplots left and right to try to make a point about following your dreams that is ultimately lost in the maze-like story. There is little in the way of emotional impact, which is real shame considering this is one of Miyazaki’s few love stories.
The writing, which is on the more forcibly whimsical and robotic side, tries its best but fails in the “show-don’t-tell-department” with dialogue. I had to triple to make sure Miyazaki actually wrote this because it seemed like poor work. With the exception of the planes, everything from his studies to his love affair is all talk, no action. Seriously, there’s a bit about the curve of a fish bone being his inspiration and they bring it up over and over. Why? Just show it once, then overlay it over the curve of the plane or wing — we can connect the rest of the dots ourselves, movie. Yes, this work is very important to Miyazaki, both of his creative process and his love of planes, but it seems to instill some of the latter with none of the struggle of the former. Either that, or the dub massacred the dialogue beyond belief, which would be unsurprising.
In the end, The Wind Rises is definitely not Miyazaki’s best work. It might, in fact, be his worst work thus far, but his worst is still better than some people’s best. I would give it a watch just so you can be a part of the discussion and because traditional, hand drawn animated films don’t get as much love these days. Still, for those waiting for the other shoe to drop, this film is the resounding thud, one bad movie amongst a pantheon of great ones.
– Beautiful soundtrack.
– Good animation.
– Poor pacing.
– Terrible dub.