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The Wind Rises

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    Ugetsu

    Its been mentioned in a few other threads, but I’ve finally got to see what may be the final film from the great animator Hayao Miyazaki. The theme of the film does have a distinct Kurosawa resonance, and not just because the themes I am sure would have been right up Kurosawa’s street – it also needly links in to Tora Tora Tora as it is loosely based on the life of the designer of the Mitsubishi Zero, Jiro Horikoshi. The film in fact seems a three-way biopic – it also borrows much from a semi-autobiographical book by Tatsuo Hori (oddly, most reviewers of the film seem to have missed this) about the horrors of TB in pre-war Japan. It is also clearly semi-autobiographical by Miyazaki himself.

    The film follows Jiro, a quiet, nerdish boy obsessed with dreams of flight. He has imaginary conversations with the great Italian designer Caproni, in which he concludes that while his short sight means he will never be a pilot, it is better to be an aircraft engineer. It follows Jiro through the 1923 Kanto earthquake (which is brilliantly animated), his marriage to a childhood sweetheart dying of TB, and his work on the Mitsubishi Zero. The shadow of war hangs over the film from beginning to end, as does the multiple level of ironies involved – one character lists out all the ‘ironies’ of life in Japan (‘I have to marry because if I have a family that means I can work longer hours’) and the biggest one of course is that creative engineers following beautiful dreams end up building weapons of death.

    The animation of course, is stunning – the film is full of some of the most beautiful sequences produced by Studio Ghibli. The story, unusually, is very much aimed at adults and like many Miyazaki films is epic in scope. Jiro in the film is a creative genius, but something of an innocent – someone with no interest in politics, although is well aware of what is happening in Japan in the 1930’s. This has led the film to be criticised (wrongly, in my opinion) for being politically somewhat dubious. I think its one of the strong points that the film leaves the paradoxes of Jiro’s life and dreams obvious, without didactically having to assume the character is having some sort of wrestle with his conscience and winning. For Jiro, there is no choice – he is a creative, and he must create, even if his creation is misused by others.

    The political controversies surrounding the film have led some reviewers to be less than gushing about the story. But I can’t help but gush – the film is a straight up masterpiece and one of the finest animated films ever made. It is structurally superb, features gorgeous animation and is emotionally very powerful. It is also i think one of the most sophisticated films ever to address the theme of creativity and destruction.

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    Vili Maunula

    Sounds really good! Amazon appears to be taking pre-orders but with no word yet when it becomes available. It also seems to be coming out here at the end of June, but I think it will probably be dubbed everywhere.

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    Ugetsu

    I watched the subtitled version – I normally wouldn’t be interested in the dubbed versions (I think Studio Ghibli has been badly served by some US dubbed versions, Princess Mononoke comes to mind), but I’d watch this one if it comes available just to hear Werner Herzog (and Stanley Tucci too).

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    Vili Maunula

    Turns out that The Wind Rises will premiere here this weekend. I don’t think I’ll be able to catch it right away, but the good news is that it’s subtitled, so I wouldn’t have to endure Hungarian dubbing, just navigate my way between the Japanese original and the Hungarian subtitles. Hopefully they’ll play it long enough for me to see it on the big screen — currently only one Budapest cinema listed, but I think the wide release is next week. Really quite curious about this.

    I’m thinking about seeing either Godzilla or The Edge of Tomorrow this weekend. I’m in a desperate need of some brainless summer popcorn films. And both are, of course, based on Japanese originals.

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    Vili Maunula

    I still haven’t got to Dersu Uzala, but had the chance to watch The Wind Rises yesterday.

    As Ugetsu wrote earlier, it is a stunningly beautiful film and as such I would say definitely one of Miyazaki’s best. I also think that the political controversy is unwarranted and stems from some sort of a very simplistic view of the world and the Second World War, and probably comes from people who haven’t actually seen the film. I suppose you could attack Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator on very similar grounds, but I don’t remember a similar controversy over that one.

    In any case, as Ugetsu said, the film does well not to spoon feed any political messages, and rather concentrates on the story of the character that it is portraying.

    However, it is also very much a Miyazaki film in that while it is very beautiful, the storytelling feels a little disjointed and less effective than I feel it could be. The ending in particular seems to reach for something that it doesn’t quite succeed to grasp.

    Somewhere towards the middle, the film began to lose much of its momentum for me as it became clear that none of the characters were really in control of their own stories, and the passions that defined them were never elaborated on. The film places no real focus either on the inner lives of its characters or their relationships with each other, has practically nothing to say about the world that they inhabit, and is surprisingly uninterested in elaborating on the main character’s creative interests other than on a very abstract level. As a result, I found myself watching a very beautiful but fairly empty film with quite little to say or show to me.

    To be honest, this is not the first time that I have watched the end credits of a Miyazaki film roll while harbouring similar thoughts and feelings. It may be that I am simply not properly tuned to receive the Miyazaki channel.

    Yet, I would definitely recommend The Wind Rises, just like I would recommend Miyazaki’s other works, for they so frequently cross into the rarely accessible domain of pure cinematic beauty.

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    Ugetsu

    Vili, I’m glad you got to see the film on the big screen.

    The film places no real focus either on the inner lives of its characters or their relationships with each other, has practically nothing to say about the world that they inhabit, and is surprisingly uninterested in elaborating on the main character’s creative interests other than on a very abstract level. As a result, I found myself watching a very beautiful but fairly empty film with quite little to say or show to me.

    Oddly enough, this is exactly why I love the film so much! I love the lack of didacticism in Miyazaki’s films – I suppose, for want of a better term, the Ozu-ness of his characters. They just exist and live, without necessarily feeling the need to have an external sense of conflict with the circumstances which surround them. They have deeper feelings, but they are, as I think Kurosawa said about Setsuko Hara, like a strong current underneath a still river. It is a very Japanese thing, I think, although I’m never quite sure whether its a cultural thing, or a current which moves through a specific thread of Japanese culture (such as the films of Ozu or the writing of Kawabata or Murakami). Whatever it is, I find the refusal to feel you must express your feelings overtly to be very moving.

    I should also say that I perhaps had a strong emotional connection to this film because just like the lead character, I was a completely flight obsessed child and teenager. I can still recite random and completely irrelevant facts about the flight characteristics of various aircraft most people have never heard of. I’d have become an aeronautical engineer but for my mediocre mathematics and physics ability.

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    lawless

    Ugetsu – If the pending closure of Studio Ghibli was the reason you characterized The Wind Rises as possibly Miyazaki’s final film, here’s a link to a post about it. The English text reads:

    Studio Ghibli is stopping production of animated feature films, according to producer Toshio Suzuki on MBS channel,

    But it’s not the end of Studio Ghibli.

    According to my informations, they will keep a small staff for Hayao Miyazaki projects.

    And also the “Momonoma” department, which is Yoshiyuki Momose staff for production of commercials, music videos …

    Momonoma artists are already freelance, and this is the reality : most of Studio Ghibli staff today are employees, with long term contracts.

    Studio Ghibli can’t pay this staff if there’s no more Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata (expensive but profitable) movies on the way.

    Ghibli cost too much today, so they’re just stopping the current system.

    Before Porco Rosso, Studio Ghibli staff was freelance.

    They’re coming back to this previous system.

    It’s a restart, like Hoshino and Suzuki said.

    Now they will focus on licensing, and Ghibli Museum.

    And wait for new viable projects.

    It looks like the French text goes beyond what’s in English; if anyone reads French, please feel free to translate.

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    Vili Maunula

    The assumption of The Wind Rises being Miyazaki’s last film comes from Miyazaki announcing so about a year ago. This I understand is also one of the reasons why Studio Ghibli will be changing its focus and operations. The French article that you linked to goes into some more details about the background.

    This is of course not the first time that Miyazaki retires from filmmaking, and he will apparently still continue with other projects.

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    Ugetsu

    Yes, as I understand it, Studio Ghibli announced a ‘pause’ in order to reassess their future now that Miyazaki seems to have retired for good. I believe his son, Goro, was groomed for succession, but the elder Miyazaki seems to think he’s not quite up to it (or perhaps thats what his financial backers feel). But it seems that reports in the western media that Studio Ghibli is giving up film making is down to poor translation of comments made by Toshio Suzuki, the general manager.

    I would be worried though that even a pause might mean a loss in knowhow and key staff. I remember reading a while back that when Disney decided to get back into animation after the success of Pixar, they were reduced to scouring old folks homes in Florida to try to find retired Disney animators who could explain to the new recruits how they actually made the old classics. Its very easy for decades of accumulated experience to just dissipate in a matter of a few years if a studio isn’t constantly making films.

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    Ugetsu

    He didn’t stay in retirement long! Miyazaki is working again – this time on a 10 minute animated short.

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    Vili Maunula

    Haha! It’s interesting that according to the article, it will be his first fully computer animated film. Could this be a proof-of-concept project for a possible larger production?

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    Ugetsu

    He certainly seems unhappy at having to work with computers – presumably its a budgetary thing – but he’s such a grump its hard to tell with him. I suspect it will develop into something bigger. Reading between the lines his wife seems tired of having him around the house and has put him out to work again. Good news for everyone 🙂

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