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Sunday, March 2, 2014

GeekRex Quick Take: The Wind Rises

Kyle takes a brief look at Hayao Miyazaki's swan-song

The Buzz: Director Hayao Miyazaki's supposed final film, The Wind Rises, marks a departure for the Japanese animation giant. Adapted from a manga he himself wrote, which was in turn based upon a short story written by Tatsuo Hori, The Wind Rises parlays a fictionalized tale of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of Mitsubishi aircrafts that were utilized by the Japanese Empire during World War II. Miyazaki, a filmmaker whose work generally leaves me fairly cold, aimed to venture into new territory with this film. Unlike the fantasy approach seen in films like Spirited Away or Howl's Moving Castle, Miyazaki is tackling a more grounded topic. Anytime a director stretches their legs into something new, particularly genre-wise, its a source of anticipation for me. The Wind Rises has been nominated for Best Animated Film at this year's Academy Awards.  

What's Great About This Movie: The Wind Rises has one strong positive attribute that is very easy to identify, its stunning craft. The animation, as is always the case from Studio Ghibli, is top notch from the first frame to the last, with gorgeous landscapes, dream sequences, and characters that are filled with whimsy and fairly endearing quirks that are identifiable to a Miyazaki work. Even more surprising is how impressive I found the sound design. Rather than the typical usage of library sound clips to portray airplane noise, or the audibles of an earthquake, the film uses vocalized impressions of these same sounds. What seems very cute at first, quickly aids the dream-like quality of the narrative and elevated my own admiration for the thought that occurred behind the scenes. Narratively, the central idea (notice I did not say the execution) is also very compelling, focusing on the side of the Japanese in the lead-up to World War II from an authentic Japanese perspective. It's a fairly humorous movie at points as well, as I found myself chuckling at moments such as when Jiro is attempting to sell his new design to the Japanese Navy or anytime his employer Kurokawa was on-screen.

What's Not-So-Great About this Movie: The execution, as hinted at above, is where The Wind Rises sadly falls short. While the story moves at a fairly brisk pace, and with some level of intrigue through the first act, the proceedings begin to slow by the time Jiro actively becomes a aircraft engineer, falling into a sense of repetition that on paper might have worked well but on screen becomes quite a slog. The Wind Rises hits its utter worst point though, in its final hour, when instead of the potential developments that come to the fore regarding Jiro's issues with the Japanese "thought police", we're taken on a narrative turn into one of the more tacked-on love stories I've seen in a film of this type. Instead of working towards whatever tantalizing statement Miyazaki may have been hinting at regarding the Japanese, its poverty, and subjugation to Nazi Germany; the film focuses on a hard to buy romantic attachment and the unearned drama that the spectre of death and disease hangs as a pallor over these two lovers. The entire final hour is a study in film inertia and makes the entire production feel like it lasts twice as long as its running time. I don't generally have a predilection for these films, so my opinion may not come as a shock. Interestingly, I saw The Wind Rises with a large group of those who are long-time fans of the Director, and they too did not feel as though this movie in anyway met their own expectation.

Final Verdict: While this might be a must see for the Miyazaki die-hards, all others can safely skip it and hope that perhaps the next outing from Studio Ghibli will live up to the quality expected from their typical outings.
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