A difficult one this. On the one hand, Hayao Miyazaki’s apparent swansong The Wind Rises is one the most staggeringly beautiful animated films I have ever seen. I simply do not have the adjectives to describe how singularly magnificent it looks. In that respect, Studio Ghibli have excelled themselves.
On the other hand, the subject matter – a highly romanticised tribute to Japanese aerial pioneer Jiro Horikoshi – is understandably controversial. This is, after all, the man who designed the Zero, which was used for kamikaze raids in World War II. Is it fair to celebrate his undoubted engineering achievements whilst conveniently ignoring what his creations went on to do?
To be fair, I actually don’t think what his fighters did is ignored. The soaring dream sequences that show Jiro’s inspiration also contain many disturbing hints of what is coming in the future. The key moment comes in a (dreamed) conversation Jiro has with Italian aircraft pioneer Caproni, who asks him if he would rather live in a world with or without pyramids. The implication being, he would rather live in a world with aircraft rather than a world without them, in the full knowledge that his heroic dreams of flight will inevitably be perverted into instruments of destruction.
Some will argue this fudges the issue, as what the fighters did is not directly addressed. But I believe the imagery implies a great deal – particularly towards the end, where piles of destroyed aircraft parts are seen strewn across a burning landscape. Furthermore, where some may see historical revisionism, I see an admirable, committed pacifism that rightly or wrong paints Jiro – and by extension Miyazaki – as a someone who abhors war, conquest, imperialism and everything it stands for.
Whether or not you can view the film in that light will inevitably colour your opinion. In my case, regardless of the controversy, I found The Wind Rises to be a remarkable piece of work, and worth seeing for the astonishing imagery alone. It is also really two love stories – one between Jiro and his work, and another between Jiro and the woman who comes to be his wife. Both stories are beautifully interwoven, and contain an undeniable emotional power.