Release Date(s)2013 (November 18, 2014)
Studio(s)Studio Ghibli/Nippon Television/Toho (Touchstone/Disney)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: C+
- Extras Grade: B
“The wind is rising. We must try to live!”
As a young boy living in Japan in 1916, Jiro dreams of beautiful airplanes. Inspired by tales of the great Giovanni Caproni in borrowed aviation magazines, Jiro decides that he’s going to become an aeronautical engineer. Several years later, Jiro is riding the train back to his studies at Tokyo Imperial University when the Great Kanto earthquake strikes. In its aftermath, he meets a young girl named Naoko, and ends up helping her (and her injured maid) through the devastation back to her family. More years pass. As the Japanese economy falters in the late 1920s, Jiro and his friend Kiro are hired by Mitsubishi to work on the company’s aircraft design teams. Jiro dives right in and quickly proves his value with hard work and innovative thinking. Jiro and Kiro are soon sent to Germany to study aircraft technology, where they encounter much suspicion and witness a Gestapo raid. Jiro is unsettled by all this. But while he knows that the aircraft he’s developing are “cursed dreams” destined to be used in war, he perseveres. As Caproni says to Jiro in his dreams: “I prefer a world with pyramids in it.” So when, upon his return, Jiro is tasked with leading a design team to build a new fighter plane for the Japanese Navy, he commits to give the project his all. Then one day while on retreat, Jiro encounters Naoko once more, now a beautiful young women. Naoko has never forgotten Jiro and the two quickly fall in love, but not before she reveals that she has tuberculosis. This matters not to Jiro – as with his work, he commits to her fully. So as the world plunges into war, Jiro struggles to realize his dream of building a beautiful airplane, sacrificing everything but his love for Naoko to do the very best job he can.
Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises is a singularly unique film among his body of work, very much the culmination of his long career. It’s been criticized in some quarters for ‘romanticizing’ the life of the real Jiro Horikoshi, but it’s important to note that Miyazaki is not attempting to make a biographical film here. Rather, he’s trying to illuminate what he sees as a deep problem in modern industrial society. The essence of this can be found in a quote by Horikoshi that inspired Miyazaki to make the film: “All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful.” The real Horikoshi was obviously an aeronautical engineer in WWII who, as a young man, wanted to make the very best aircraft he could. Unfortunately, that very best aircraft turned out to be the deadly Type 0 Carrier Fighter or the “Zero” as it’s known in America. It’s unclear how much Horikoshi actually regretted the result of his life’s work, but that’s not really the point. The details of his life as depicted in The Wind Rises have been greatly fictionalized – not to gloss over his actions, but rather to better allow Miyazaki to explore how and why the innocent dreams of childhood can sometimes be perverted by society at large into terrible things. It’s worth mentioning that this film is based in part on a novel by the poet Tatsuo Hori, concerning a woman in a sanitarium with tuberculosis – clearly the inspiration for the character Naoko.
It’s also apparent to me that The Wind Rises is a deeply personal film for Miyazaki. He seems to have imbued the character of Jiro with some of his own emotions and traits. I suspect Miyazaki is examining something of a contradiction in his own life: Since he was a child, he’s had a deep fascination for war planes (the name of Studio Ghibli comes from the Caproni Ca.309 “Ghibli” aircraft – and obviously Caproni appears as a character in this film), yet Miyazaki considers himself a pacifist. The older he gets, the more such things seem to trouble him, so he’s using his films to explore them. Are Jiro’s choices right or wrong? That’s not the real question. Whatever else they may be, Miyazaki seems to be saying, Jiro’s choices are deeply human. Anyone can find themselves living in tough times, amid larger events that are out of their control. But when this wind rises, good or bad, we must face it head on. Sometimes, it’s not enough to just survive. You have to really live.
The video quality of Disney’s new Blu-ray release is absolutely stunning. I’m a huge fan of hand-drawn, traditional animation – I much prefer it over modern CG animation. For me, it’s just so much more artistically expressive, personal and human. Every bit of the love and care that Miyazaki and his animation team have put into this film is apparent here in HD, in crystal clear detail, and bold, vibrant colors. Blacks are deep, the color palate is rich, and there’s nary a bit of artifacting.
Audio-wise, the film is also good, though a bit more of a complex tale. The original Japanese audio mix is present in 1.0 mono in DTS-HD Master Audio (mono audio being traditional in Japan for a film like this). The quality is excellent for a mono track, with clear dialogue, atmospheric sound effects and composer Joe Hisaishi’s score well blended. For American audiences, Disney has also created new dubbed audio in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, directed by Gary Rydstrom and featuring the voice talents of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Werner Herzog, William H. Macy, Mandy Patinkin, Stanley Tucci and others. Personally, though, I would never choose to watch this film with dubbed audio, and I have to give a nod here to Gordon-Levitt (the English voice of Jiro) who essentially says the same thing in this disc’s extras. I get that many people simply don’t like reading subtitles, but trust me – a foreign film is always best experienced in its native language.
To that end, optional subtitles are available here in English, English for the hearing impaired, and French. The good news is that the English subtitles appear notably different than the English dubbed dialogue, so this does at least appear to be a proper translation of the original Japanese text. However, the English subtitles on the original Japanese BD release of this film are notably different than those found here. For example, when Jiro and Naoko speak French briefly upon first meeting, the English subs on the Japanese disc present (but do not translate) the French text properly, while the English subs on the Disney Blu-ray do nothing at all. The English subs on the Japanese disc also translate the end credit song lyrics, whereas the subs on the Disney disc again do nothing. I’m not sure who did the subtitle work for Disney, but the Japanese disc’s subs were done by a company called Aura, with dialogue translation by Jim Hubbert and Rieko Izutsu-Vajirasarn, and they appear to be more comprehensive and better reflect Japanese cultural context. I wish Disney would simply have used Aura’s work, as they’ve clearly given the task the kind of proper attention to detail that gets neglected all too often these days. I chose to reflect this subtitle deficiency in the audio grade, and the grade dropped a full letter – from B+ to C+ – as a result.
In order to properly evaluate the quality of the bonus features on this Blu-ray, it’s worth comparing them to those on the Japanese Blu-ray, which was produced by Studio Ghibli. The Japanese disc contains the complete screenplay, the film presented in storyboards, a 5-minute featurette on singer Yumi Matsutoya (who wrote the closing credits song), the film’s 83-minute completion press conference with Miyazaki, actor Hideaki Anno (who voiced Jiro and is also a director whose work includes the live-action Shin Godzilla and the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion) and Matsutoya, 3 Japanese theatrical trailers, 9 Japanese TV spots, and a 3-minute trailer for other Ghibli titles on disc.
Disney’s Blu-ray retains the Japanese storyboard version of the film, as well as a selection of the film’s original Japanese theatrical trailers and TV spots. It also very wisely retains the 83-minute press conference (which here includes English subtitles). This is fascinating because in the course of the interview, Miyazaki offers numerous insights about his inspirations and motivations behind the film. There’s also a poignant moment near the end when Anno reveals that he considers Miyazaki his mentor, and you can see that there are tears in Miyazaki’s eyes. Disney’s disc omits the Japanese screenplay obviously, and also the piece on Matsutoya. But the disc adds a feature of interest to English audiences in the form of The Wind Rises: Behind the Microphone (10:46) which is a look at the efforts of Rydstrom and the English voice cast to create the dubbed English audio. All these extras are in full HD. Of course, you also get a bonus DVD copy of the film. On the whole, I would say the trade-offs here in terms of extras are good ones, and Miyazaki fans will be pleased to note that the best of the Japanese bonus content remains.
Hayao Miyazaki is a masterful filmmaker at the top of his game, and I think is arguably the most important figure in animation today. There’s been much talk of him retiring after this film, but I certainly hope he continues. We need him… and a lot more young animators like him. If The Wind Rises isn’t quite as whimsically entertaining as Miyazaki’s usual, it’s certainly a much more mature film. While it’s also his first based loosely on a real person in a realistic setting, there are wonderfully fantastical elements at play, especially in Jiro’s dream world – beautiful animated moments that are pure Miyazaki. Deeply humanistic, The Wind Rises takes its time to unfold, but it’s a hauntingly beautiful film about investing oneself in life and love, and making the best of things in terrible and tragic times.
- Bill Hunt