Animation Biography

A Blu-ray Review with Flying Colors: The Wind Rises

November 26, 2014Ben MK

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Miyazaki's masterpiece...

Over his storied, five-decade-long career, Hayao Miyazaki has been responsible for some of the most breathtaking animated films ever to grace a cinema screen. From the whimsically delightful to more serious, adult-themed fare, his body of work transcends the boundaries of age, culture and gender. On that note, some may view his final film, The Wind Rises, as a sad occasion, for it marks the end of a legendary filmmaking career. On the contrary, it should be cause for celebration, for it represents the crowning achievement for one of Japan's most influential artists and storytellers.


The Film Unlike My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service or Porco Rosso, The Wind Rises isn't a tale of fantasy. Instead, it's very much grounded in reality — being a fictionalized account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi (Hideaki Anno/Joseph Gordon-Levitt), famed aeronautical engineer and designer of the Mitsubishi A5M and A6M fighter aircraft.

When we first meet Jiro in the film, he's a young boy, prone to flights of fancy, who dreams of flying his homemade plane high above the clouds. He also dreams of Giovanni Caproni (Mansai Nomura/Stanley Tucci), a famous Italian aeronautical engineer whom he's only read about in English aviation magazines — but in his dreams, he and Caproni are on speaking terms. When Jiro is concerned about not being able to become a pilot, on account of his nearsightedness, it's Caproni who spurs his desire to become an engineer, telling him, "Airplanes are beautiful dreams. Engineers turn dreams into reality." And so, the "Japanese boy" (as Caproni calls him) embarks on his quest to fulfill his dream.

Miyazaki traces through ten years of Jiro's life, which also happen to be ten of the harshest years for Japan as a nation. During that time, he and so many others endure the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, and he and his friend, Honjo (Hidetoshi Nishijima/John Krasinski), graduate university and begin work at Mitsubishi, designing airplanes for a demanding boss named Kurokawa (Masahiko Nishimura/Martin Short). While at Mitsubishi, Jiro is afforded opportunities to expand his horizons — even traveling to Germany with Honjo, to learn about aircraft design from renowned engineer Hugo Junkers — but it's his romantic reunion with a girl named Nahoko (Miori Takimoto/Emily Blunt), with whom he had a fateful encounter during the Kanto earthquake, that will leave an everlasting imprint on his life, his work and his heart.

One characteristic of Miyazaki's films that make them so uniquely identifiable is their visual style. And the visual language of The Wind Rises is signature Miyazaki through and through. Gorgeously painted in lush, pastel colors, each frame is deceptively sparse in detail, yet brimming with keen observations of human nature that serve to draw viewers further into the story with each passing moment. The simplicity of the visuals belies the dense thematic layering present in the film, which references a number of literary works.

As he did with Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Miyazaki bases the film on his own manga, which in turn borrows elements from author Tatsuo Hori's 1936 novel, The Wind has Risen. The film opens with a quote from French poet and philosopher Paul Valéry's 1920 poem, Le Cimetière marin — "The wind is rising. We must try to live." — which also inspired the title of Hori's book. The line is integral to Jiro's story, not just informing his arc but, on a larger scale, that of the people of Japan, as they collectively strive to survive the harsh times during which the film is set.

There's also something to be said of the director's anti-war stance and how it seems to be fundamentally opposed to the subject matter — the story of a man best known for designing Japanese World War II fighter planes. But The Wind Rises doesn't glorify war — rather, Miyazaki thoughtfully contemplates its inherent nature and Jiro's ultimate role in it. When Jiro expresses a deep feeling of sadness and regret over all the planes he designed (and their pilots) that were lost in fiery battle, Caproni's response — "Airplanes are beautiful, cursed dreams waiting for the sky to swallow them up." — is poetic, especially when juxtaposed with his motivational speech from earlier in the film.

Miyazaki counterbalances this darker subtext with the beautiful and textured score by frequent collaborator Joe Hisaishi, and with the lighter tone found in his earlier work, harkening back to it by expertly weaving familiar motifs — the empowerment of flight, the strength and fragility of love, and his own fascination with mechanical workings — into the film's rich narrative tapestry. The culmination of these efforts is a cinematic experience that's as powerfully poignant as it is beautifully uplifting.

Audio/Visual Fidelity The Wind Rises makes its long-awaited North American Blu-ray debut nine long months after premiering in cinemas this side of the Pacific, and, frankly, it was worth the wait. Its A/V presentation is nothing short of flawless, with a hi-def transfer that never once falters: from Jiro's purple pastel suit to Nahoko's yellow dress, colors are consummately rich and vibrant; line art is crisp and sharply defined, emboldened by inky blacks and superb contrast levels; and there are no signs whatsoever of image defects such as aliasing, banding or macroblocking.

Although some may scoff at the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Japanese and English soundtracks, rest assured: they are completely faithful to — and a perfect reproduction of — the film's theatrical presentation. Many of the film's sound effects — from plane and train engines to the rumbles heard during the Kanto earthquake — were generated from human vocals. And they all sound fantastic, accompanied by exceptionally clear and intelligible dialogue, a stirring score by composer Joe Hisaishi and beautiful theme song, "Hikoki Gumo", from Yumi Arai (who also provided the theme music for Kiki's Delivery Service).

Special Features Disney's Blu-ray release includes a DVD copy of the film, as well as a whopping 227 minutes of HD bonus features. As with other Miyazaki titles on Blu-ray, there is a featurette on the voice actors behind the film's English language track: titled The Wind Rises Behind The Microphone, it runs 11 minutes long and features sound bites from the director of the English version, Gary Rydstrom, as well as cast members Stanley Tucci, William H. Macy, Emily Blunt, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and John Kransinski, as they discuss the story, their characters and the challenges of dubbing. This is followed by an alternate presentation of the film: innocuously titled Storyboards, this is actually the entire film (all 126 minutes of it) in storyboard form, complete with Japanese dialogue, music and sound effects presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Next up are 9 minutes of Original Japanese Trailers and TV Spots, consisting of 3 theatrical trailers and nine television commercials. And last but not least, there is the 123-minute Announcement Of The Completion Of The Film, which is a press conference moderated by Hideyuki Nakayama, in which Miyazaki, voice actor Hideaki Anno and singer Yumi Matsutoya (aka Yumi Arai) discuss the film (its origin and development, anecdotes from its production, the real lives that inspired it, etc.).

The Bottom Line With The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki may have stepped away from the fantasy worlds that his characters usually inhabit, but the movie is still a wondrous piece of imaginative and exuberant filmmaking — one that's as densely layered, as emotionally touching and as full of soaring imagery as anything he's ever made. It's truly worthy of being called a masterpiece, and, fortunately, Disney's Blu-ray release lives up to the film in every regard. Featuring stunningly perfect audio and video and boasting a satisfying assortment of substantial bonus features, The Wind Rises on Blu-ray is a must-own for every Miyazaki fan.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on February 21st, 2014.

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