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The Wind Rises by Hayao Miyazaki

September 5, 2013


Le vent se lève! . . . il faut tenter de vivre! (The wind is rising! … We must attempt to live!) Miyazaki’s new film starts quoting a line from Paul Valery‘s Le cimetière marin, wind and attempts to be alive are at heart of the film indeed though it’s not the kind of film we expected from the great wizard of Japanese animation, The Wind Rises is a heavily fictionalized biopic of Japanese aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi, when you look at Miyazaki’s filmography it’s easy to see how much he loves the flying machines (Porco Rosso, Castle in the Sky) but Miyazaki’s interest in Horikoshi was spurred by this phrase “All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful.”

Horikoshi wants to make airplanes, the film begins when he is just a kid who dreams designing them, in his dreams he has an Italian mentor – Caproni, a real life aircraft manufacturer – and his struggle is to grow up, then to learn the art of projecting airplanes and in the end to discover technical innovations that are beautiful, successful and one hundred percent Japanese. In the meantime he meets a beautiful girl and they fall in love, alas she is sick with tuberculosis so she has to live far from Tokyo to take care of her health. Beauty and love seem to be within the grasp of Horikoshi, but there is a price to pay to snatch them, but it doesn’t matter because when the wind is rising, we must attempt to live.

Miyazaki has announced his retirement from filmmaking so it’s easy to read The Wind Rises as a kind of credo: life is worth living when we raise to the occasion to fully live the opportunities of creating beauty – from this point of view its theme is the opposite of Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem which I saw on the same day at Venezia 70. The theme of the film has a winning formulation in a line of its dialogue – an instant classic, I believe:

“Do you prefer a world with pyramids, or with no pyramids?”

Everybody loves Egyptian pyramids but everybody knows they came at a cost, their beauty and dare wasn’t for free, dangerous work and human lives at risk, Miyazaki and his characters have no doubt – and their commitment makes me think of another poet, the Roman Horatius and his carpe diem (seize the day) – and I have no doubt too: life is worth living when you seize the chances to live it beautifully. Needless to say the beautiful story comes with breathtaking images, the scene recreating the earthquake and fire that in 1923 devatated Tokyo and the entire Kantō region conveys the terror of the situation while stunning the viewer with the creative power of the animation, the whole film is a visual feast as you can expect from Miyazaki, but let me mention another memorable moment: the dream scenes with Caproni. In the end there is one thing to say, the reason for an artist’s greatness is the will to challenge himself, not resting on laurels but a continuous try to climb new unexplored heights, no one can deny that when the wind rises Hayao Miyazaki attempts to live.

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