After watching Hayao Miyazaki’s final film (The Wind Rises) a couple of times, I wondered why I kept thinking and re-watching the film. The film is very mature, subtle and beautiful in many ways, but I think the message of the inevitability of life was what struck a chord in me.
While Miyazaki is known for his very creative, fun and often lighthearted films, his final film is more socially-conscious and mature. The Wind Rises takes place in early 20th century Japan, a time when the country endured great upheaval that involved an economic crisis and the infamous Great Kantō earthquake of 1923. The film introduces its protagonist Jiro as a young boy who initially dreams of becoming a pilot, yet whose myopic vision prevents him from ever truly becoming one. This doesn’t deter him, however, from pursuing his love of flying. We see that as Jiro grows older and his journey to become an engineer progresses, the Japanese landscape too changes. Soon Jiro becomes cognizant of forces beyond his control; forces that threaten to embroil his model airplanes into something bigger and more brutal than he ever meant them for.
The Wind Rises acknowledges the necessity of war, but doesn’t revel in it. It actually brings it up in a manner that seems almost regretful. The film implores the audience to look at large scale world events like war, famine, and natural disasters from a human perspective. Not everyone is always thinking about the bottom line, or the effects on geopolitical maneuvering when a young man decides to fulfill his dream of building airplanes. Miyazaki also makes the argument that just because bad things are going to happen, it doesn’t mean people should just lay down and accept it. Again, from the title based on a poem by Paul Valéry: “The wind is rising, we must try to live.”
This quiet struggle against the forces of inevitability is what Miyazaki champions in his last film. We see it in Jiro’s relentless pursuit of his childhood dreams and, most clearly, in his love for Nahoko, a woman he meets during disastrous circumstances, who even in her unwell state, mustered the strength to remind him of his will to live. Nahoko suffers from a severe case of tuberculosis and it seems inevitable that she won’t live long. She asks Jiro to wait for her to recover before they commit to each other; after all, who wants to be married to a dying woman? Jiro initially agrees, but after realizing that he could lose the woman he loves any day now, he races to her bedside and begs for her hand in marriage. It is a defiant decision; it is Jiro and Nahoko looking death in the eye and saying, “We know we don’t have long, but we’ll make the most of the time that we have.” It’s an unapologetically sweet sentiment, and Miyazaki layers this on in a subtle enough manner that the audience can feel it without necessarily being hammered on the head with it.
Overall, while it may not have the wild imaginings of Spirited Away or the flights of fancy in Kiki’s Delivery Service, The Wind Rises is a touching, thoughtful piece about ambition, hard work, love and the beauty in the persistence of life. These are all things that celebrate being alive, and lessons that everyone, regardless of age, creed, race or nationality, can appreciate.