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The Wind Rises (2014)
Movie Reviews

The Wind Rises (2014)

Confused and unendurably boring, Miyazaki’s supposedly final film lacks trajectory, a sense of pacing, and an ending.

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If I were to start my review of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises by reiterating my dislike of anime films, it will have a doubly negative effect. For one thing, having made known this dislike several times now by listing all the ways I find the animation visually disagreeable, my review would come off as a copy-and-paste job, and who would want to read something like that? For another, given the critical acclaim it has received both in its native Japan and here in the U.S., where it has earned an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, repeating myself would go completely unnoticed by the faithful, who are well aware of where I stand.

So, because I have nothing new to say regarding this topic, I will refrain from discussing the animation and character designs.

Unfortunately, there other reasons why this movie failed to pique my interest. It is, for starters, such a languid construct that, by the final third, it took a great deal of effort on my part to stay awake. This is doubly surprising given the fact that the plot, adapted by Miyazaki from both his own 2009 manga and Tatsuo Hori’s 1936 short story “The Wind Has Risen,” is inspired by what many would consider to be an exciting chapter of Japanese history. This would be the years immediately preceding World War II, when chief aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi designed the Mitsubishi A5M aircraft, the predecessor to the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. How is it possible that a very real and monumental achievement can seem so unendurably boring on film, especially since it happens to be an animated film?

Another problem is that Miyazaki apparently couldn’t decide what kind of film he wanted to make. In part, it’s a period film set against the backdrop of several real-life events, not just the dawn of World War II, but also the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the Great Depression, and the tuberculosis epidemic that began sometime between 1900 and 1919. It’s also a romantic melodrama, a fictionalized version of Jiro Horikoshi falling in love with a young woman he met, as is typically the case in stories like this, when he saved her life years earlier. Finally, it’s an enigmatic and somewhat fantastical character study, Jiro’s dreams of aviation explored almost entirely through imaginary conversations with his hero, real-life Italian engineer Giovanni Caproni. Unable to strand these narrative approaches together cohesively, Miyazaki has a film that lacks trajectory, a sense of pacing, and, most disappointingly, an ending.

By “an ending,” I mean exactly what the term implies: A scene that narratively brings the story to a conclusion. Miyazaki attempts to fill this void with an emotional climax, which would have been an acceptable approach had it not come in the form of a dream – or a vision, or a hallucination, or whatever – that seems intentionally designed to answer fewer questions than it raises. It plays more like the prelude to an ending. When the end credits started to roll, I felt as if I had been thrown up into the air, and there was no one there to catch me as I fell back down. Having not read either the manga or the short story, I can’t help but wonder if a more satisfying, more concrete resolution was left behind in the initial pencil stages of the animation process (completed scenes are rarely deleted from animated films).

As was the case with Studio Ghibli’s recent offerings of The Secret World of Arrietty and From Up on Poppy Hill, director Gary Rydstrom has overseen an English-language dub of The Wind Rises, with Mike Jones translating Miyazaki’s original Japanese screenplay. Jiro, seen almost entirely as an adult, is voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, while Naoko, would would become his love interest after saving her from a trainwreck as a little girl, is voiced by an Americanized Emily Blunt. John Krasinski voices Honjo, Jiro’s engineering buddy, while Martin Short voices Kurokawa, Jiro’s easily exasperated and homuncular boss. William H. Macy, Mandy Patinkin, Elijah Wood, Jennifer Grey, and even Werner Herzog all lend their voices as well. So does Stanley Tucci, whose take on Giovanni Caproni comes as close as it can to an Italian parody without actually becoming one.

Not long ago, Miyazaki announced that The Wind Rises would be his final film before entering retirement. Of course, he has made retirement announcements several times in the past, and each time, he would prove himself wrong by continuing to work. True to form, he recently hinted on Japanese radio that his latest announcement will yet again not come to pass. If that’s the case, I don’t know how to feel about it. On the one hand, he will have given himself the opportunity to finally make a movie worth watching. On the other hand, given his track record, which includes an Oscar win for Spirited Away, he will in all likelihood perpetuate his affinity for unappealing narratives, and no matter who’s in charge of the story, anime will always be one of the ugliest-looking art forms there is.

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About the Author: Chris Pandolfi