All time high

The in­ven­tion of the Ja­panese Zero fighter plane is an odd sub­ject for ace an­i­ma­tor Hayao Miyazaki, but the re­sult is as mes­meris­ing as the great di­rec­tor’s fan­tasies, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

THE WIND RISES/KAZE TACH­INU Di­rected by Hayao Miyazaki. Voices of Hideaki Anno, Miori Taki­moto PG cert, Cineworld/IFI/Light House, Dublin, 126 min

The story goes that that Hayao Miyazaki’s back­ers and col­leagues at Stu­dio Ghi­bli begged the an­i­ma­tor to come back and di­rect one last fea­ture be­fore re­tir­ing. He could make what­ever he liked.

The great man took them at their word and set to work on an an­i­mated fea­ture con­cern­ing Jiro Horiko- shi, the en­gi­neer who de­signed the Mit­subishi Zero fighter for the Im­pe­rial Ja­panese Air Force. Good luck sell­ing that to a fam­ily au­di­ence.

The Wind Rises does, on paper, read like a de­par­ture from the fan­tas­tic worlds of Spir­ited Away and Princess Mononoke. In­deed, the story has much in com­mon with that of The First of the Few, Les­lie Howard’s 1942 stiff-up­per-lip biopic of RK Mitchell, de­signer of the Supermarine Spit­fire. But there is magic here.

In the open­ing sec­tions, Miyazaki imag­ines his hero com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Gianni Caproni, the Ital­ian aero­nau­ti­cal en­gi­neer, and that con­ver­sa­tion continues tele­path­i­cally through­out the film as we en­counter earthquakes, es­pi­onage and a touch­ingly del­i­cate love af­fair.

All this is con­veyed with the spooky en­er­gies that that have helped set Ghi­bli apart from all other stu­dios. A paper plane be­comes a bird. An equiv­o­cal Ger­man tourist takes on the qual­ity of a vis­it­ing war­lock. Hu­man be­ings splut­ter the en­gine noises. The Wind Rises is no­body’s idea of a nat­u­ralis- tic piece of work.

In­deed, if the film has a flaw, it is that it too as­sid­u­ously avoids the (lit­eral and fig­u­ra­tive) nuts and bolts of the en­gi­neer’s work. We learn much about Horikoshi’s re­la­tion­ship with a wife who, hav­ing sur­vived the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, falls fa­tally ill with con­sump­tion. But the in­no­va­tions that made the Ja­panese fighters so feared re­ceive only cur­sory treat­ment in the film’s clos­ing sec­tions.

The Wind Rises is also trou­blingly oblique about the moral­ity of its hero’s en­deav­ours. Fore­warn­ings of doom and creepy en­coun­ters with Nazis make it clear that the is­sue is some­where to the mid­dle of Miyazaki’s mind. There are, how­ever, no real at­tempts to drag that mat­ter for­ward and dis­cuss the en­gi­neer’s re­spon­si­bil­ity for the mis­use of his in­ven­tions.

Those wor­ries nag a lit­tle. But The Wind Rises – a trib­ute to Miyazaki’s fa­ther, who was also in­volved with the Zero’s de­sign – is suf­fi­ciently charm­ing to keep them at bay. Let’s hope Hayao’s lat­est re­tire­ment is no more per­ma­nent than his ear­lier re­treats to the daybed.

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