Although Jirou Horikoshi's nearsightedness prevents him from ever becoming a pilot, he leaves his hometown to study aeronautical engineering at Tokyo Imperial University for one simple purpose: to design and build planes just like his hero, Italian aircraft pioneer Giovanni Battista Caproni. His arrival in the capital coincides with the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, during which he saves a maid serving the family of a young girl named Naoko Satomi; this disastrous event marks the beginning of over two decades of social unrest and malaise leading up to Japan's eventual surrender in World War II. For Jirou, the years leading up to the production of his infamous Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter aircraft will test every fiber of his being. From witnessing firsthand the growing antisemitism in Germany to fatefully reuniting with Naoko at a summer resort, his many travels and life experiences only urge him onward—even as he realizes both the role of his creations in the war and the reality of the waning health of his beloved. As time marches on, he must confront an impossible question: at what cost does he chase his beautiful dream? [Written by MAL Rewrite]
It’s no secret that Miyazaki is a big giant grump who looks down on practically every part of anime culture that doesn’t include flying or trees, and while it’s true that allowing that abomination known as Project Ice to exist was a bad movie on the industry’s part, it would really help if he controlled his own fetishes when trying to show people what he thinks animation should be like. Whilst I’ve enjoyed everything he’s made before his (fourth) final film, it’s pretty clear that he’s been losing control when it comes to delivering what’s fun over what’s important to him and I’ve always feared that he would eventually let his biases overwhelm general entertainment if he didn’t stop soon, so hopefully he stays retired this time.
Of course, it would have been even better if he did it before Wind Rises came into existence, because my god was this one fucking dull movie.
The genre that Miyazaki tackles with his latest flying extravaganza is the biographical one. Whilst it’s true that stuff like Porco Rosso and Kiki were films centered around one protagonist’s life, Wind Rises goes a step further by detailing the life of our main hero, Jiro, as he grows from a boy to university to adult to irresponsible fuckwad. We see that he’s acrophobic but still wants to build planes as inspired by his dream friend and famous plane designer Caproni. As such he grows into a man who builds planes that are eventually used for war – who didn’t see that coming? – and eventually gets to marry a girl he knew when she was only twelve or so whilst he was in college. More things happen later, but it’s not really my place to spoil that stuff, so I’ll just go into “complaining mode” now.
Okay animation guys, I’m going to establish a new rule. You know those slice-of-life stories where we follow a dude as he learns about new things and the charm apparently relies on how much you like the focus character whilst throwing in a few comedic scenes that make up the crux of anime like Silver Spoon or Uchouten without any real conflict that can’t be solved through a counselor on Skype? You’re NOT allowed to do that anymore! You can still have them as downtime or whatever, but you have to have something else, even if you have to hire the Kanon car or introduce a sick mum who’s not really that sick, Totoro-style. Why? Because it’s boring! It doesn’t allow the audience to learn about the subject matter you’re probably trying to teach. And it’s #1 on my most hated anime cliche list for a reason.
Even if I was into Jiro as a character, I still wouldn’t find following him for two hours all that interesting because there is no real personal conflict that happens to him throughout the majority of his life. He likes planes. Some plane-related/war-related incidents happen that have fuck-all tension and don’t really affect him all that much. He meets the girl he’s going to marry and we get a few playful scenes before they decide they want to be together. He goes through a bunch of timeskips that have no subtitles to indicate when they’re happening and come off as jarring when they occur without incident because after he stops being a kid, he looks the same in his thirties as he does in his twenties.
And to make it worse, the finale of the film is that the story just ends. No real big scene. No big climax. It’s just a revelation where the message overrides the story and then it just ends without a second thought. That’s got to be the most sudden “okay we’re done” ending I’ve seen since that godawful Steins;Gate movie.
I won’t say the film isn’t without merits. The stretch of time where Jiro gets married and has to care for his wife is decent, if only because it actually introduced a personal conflict to his life. The way it all ends up is sad, even though the finale became a little manipulative in that Up sort of fashion. Unfortunately, that only takes up about twenty minutes of the film at most and it only happens in the last act.
I suppose Wind Rises is worth watching if you’re a plane geek who’s into all the “many” historically accurate details that are peppered through the film’s early 90s setting, or if you’re a die-hard Miyazaki fan (despite the fact that I didn’t like this film, I’ll probably still buy it just to complete the collection), or if you’re into “feels”, whatever the fuck that means. But dude, that’s a lot of hype and talent to use up on what comes across like a nature documentary with a plane dude as the main subject. Personally, I want to free up time to watch Castle in the Sky again. Whilst eating Papa John’s pizza.