First Impression of The Wind Rises

I went to see Miyazaki Hayao’s newest film, The Wind Rises, yesterday at the Dallas Angelika where I could see the subtitled version. The crowd was fairly small, about a dozen people, but I suppose that’s not too bad for a subtitled film that’s been out for a couple weeks already on a Wednesday evening. Part of me felt obliged to see it, because I’d failed for no good reason to see Howl’s Moving Castle or Ponyo, so I haven’t seen a Ghibli film in theatre since Spirited Away. Also, I’d like to support any 2D animated films that come out, but haven’t seen many chances to do so. Apparently, the Angelika is showing a Tiger and Bunny film; based on the synopsis it’s an original film and I haven’t seen the TV series, so I’ll have to skip that one, but I’ll have to check out the Anglika occasionally to see if they show anything else. They did have A Certain Magical Index showing in their café, but the sound was muted.

Anyway, I enjoyed The Wind Rises overall. At the very least, it excels in animation quality as one would expect from a Ghibli film, and that alone made it worth the price of admission for me. It also has several memorable individual scenes; I especially liked the conversations Jiro, the protagonist, had with aeronautical engineer Count Caproni in his dreams.

Unfortunately, though the film has several scenes that one could pull out and say, “Oh, that’s pretty good,” as a whole it feels like it’s less than the sum of its parts. Part of its problem is structural, which is more episodic rather than having a single, strong plot. To cross into live-action territory, it reminds me of Patton in that it consists mostly of individual events from its subject’s life, connected by a few overarching themes and motifs.

So, at the end of the film, I didn’t have any sense that much had been accomplished. What progression was there? Jiro seems like the same person at the end of the film that he did at the beginning. Usually, one would expect that living through one’s wife’s illness and a war would make a character bitter, or the reverse – a cynical character discovers how life is precious, or something along those lines, but nope – this all just comes and goes.

Also, we never really see Jiro struggle much. From his childhood dream where Caproni tells him that even if he can’t fly he can be an engineer, his career pretty much just rolls along smoothly until he designs the Zero. Bad things do happen to him, like his wife’s illness, the secret police searching for him, or his poor treatment in Germany, but none of this seems to phase him, so the stakes never feel very high for anything.

Anyway, that’s my initial impression. It is better than Howl’s and Ponyo, so if this is Miyazaki’s last film as he claims it will be, he won’t go out with a dud. Despite my complaints, the film is worth seeing, and left enough of an impression that, twenty-four hours after seeing it, I still want to go out and build an aeroplane.

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