Also known as The Wind Rises. It’s kind of funny how Miyazaki’s first and last films at Ghibli(counting Nausicaä as the proto-Ghibli that spawned the studio) both start with the word “Kaze”. The two films are also similar in another way, in that they’re both really dissimilar to Spirited Away, which I would call Miyazaki’s magnum opus. Whereas Spirited Away starts normally and then goes down a rabbit hole into a land of magic and fantasy, Nausicaä focuses more on practical issues arising in its singular fantasy world, and The Wind Rises is firmly about this real world that we the viewers live in. It does have those wonder-instilling fantasy scenes that Miyazaki seems to love doing, but in this case they’re simply Jirou’s dreams and daydreams.
The heavy focus on airplanes initially made me assume that The Wind Rises was going to end up being similar to Porco Rosso and/or Laputa, This turned out not to be the case, though the “dream sequences” did make me think of Porco Rosso, what with the Italian connection and everything. What I got was a total surprise. In the past I’ve criticised Miyazaki for what I think is excessive and exaggerated “nature wanking”, i.e. most of his movies stressing the “nature good, industrialism bad!” theme, but The Wind Rises had none of that. Instead, what I got was a surprisingly (pardon the pun) down-to-earth historical drama about pre-war and WW2 Japan. It wasn’t quite as bold with its portrayal of the war as Grave of the Fireflies, but to me The Wind Rises was much more engaging.
My favourite thing about the movie was that even though it was in a big way a departure from the kind of movies Miyazaki made before it, it still felt like a Miyazaki movie, and I think that’s because he was able to adapt his usual storytelling to fit this movie as well. The scenes where the main character, usually a child, discovers just how amazing the fantasy world he or she lives in can be, those were baked into Jirou’s relationship with Naoko, as were the “nature scenes”(for instance, the scenes in Totoro where the kids explore the forest). But The Wind Rises also had some new elements. The occasionally very sobering and always moving portrayal of life and death is something that I can’t remember seeing in any of his other films. The fact that this new element ended up being so strong for me is, however, probably also due to the performance of Hideaki Anno as Jirou. At first he sounded really out-of-place, probably because the main characters in most of Miyazaki’s films are children, and because I’m more used to hearing him talk as the director of Evangelion rather than playing a role, but with time I got used to his voice, and I think his quiet and reserved way of talking actually worked really well in the end.