The Wind Rises may well end up being the greatest film of this decade. It’s certainly the front-runner so far.
Much has been made of Miyazaki’s announcement this would be his final film, but it has the markers all over it; it’s what the French call a “testament film”. Like most testament films, it has the self-reflexive air of sentimental recollection. Of life seen from a broad overhead view. And in the case of a film so concerned with airplanes in many instances many times this is meant literally. It is suffused with a sense of death, or rather with a sense of a thin divide between life and and death metaphorically seen in dreams but where the feel of dreams and what we’re supposed to accept as the base level of reality is blurred; there is no strict life/dream duality. This isn’t, thank god, Inception.
We open with a child who we later learn is our protagonist. He dreams of lithe airplanes, of flying through fields of the most gorgeous painted green to ever grace the cinema. But then they fall apart in horrible disintegrations of scrap metal, blacks and greys and reds. So it goes throughout the entire film; utopian visions of the future, sometimes predicated on technology, sometimes not, lead to visions of apocalypse to impress a Duhrer, and though there is a sense of chronological time in the film this seems to be in place paradoxically the flattening of time within this basic cycle of imagery; the plane crashing seems to be implicit in seeing the plane fly and vice versa. Love in the film is always the implication of eventual loss and becomes a ghost story while both lovers are still living, and presents itself as a dreamlike ghost story when first they meet.
World War II, where the film reaches its climax, is grasped loosely, not historically. Somehow this is far more effecting than the literal quality of so many other films engaging with the war. It comes across as primal forces loosed on dreamers like Jiro, who is still implicated in his part in bringing them about; in order to build airplanes he must build gunners and bombers. He realizes this, but in the same way he realizes his dream planes and when we finally see them realized it’s in pieces in a sequence reminiscent of the graveyard sequence in Gance’s J’Accuse. This twirling dance of dreams of great technological accomplishment and visions of the end of things is still as much with us as it was in the interwar period, perhaps moreso.
Miyazaki is too experienced a filmmaker to make any claim to answers, but by putting a couple things repeatedly in a kaleidoscope of haunting pared down imagery he creates the possibility in the audience of contemplation, it is a film to meditate within. It goes without saying I left the theater tremendously moved.
Oh, and besides Werner Herzog’s disturbing turn as a German engineer, the dubbing is fucking awful. Joseph Gordon-Levitt voices the english dub of Jiro. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, yes we get it, you think you can act and that’s cute, you can leave now.
See at all costs on a big screen, preferably late in the evening on a weeknight when the theater is sparsely attended.