Knowing that I will die one day terrifies the shit out of me. Like most people, I do all that I can to put it out of mind, banking on the idea that I’m going to live a long, full life, or that immortality will become plausible so long as I live until the technological singularity posited to occur in the new forties.
Most people seem vaguely incapable of comprehending the eventuality of death. They approach life with the expectation of permanence, vying for long-lasting jobs and relationships, and rarely escaping from their comfort zone. People live with minimal risk and attempt to keep themselves alive for as long as possible, often at the cost of actually being happy with their life in passing.
Others, however, do not compromise on their happiness. They throw themselves into the things which make them passionate, regardless of consequence, unable to be satisfied with anything less than exactly what they want. Instead of chasing a permanence that doesn’t exist, they embrace the transience of living. The Wind Rises is a film about one of these poeple.
As such, the film takes place within the transient surreality of memory. Reality, dreams, and imaginings are blended together. The film is mostly nested within Jiro’s perspective, and many of the scenes that don’t feature him seem more to be his own fabricated image of what happened than the actual reality of events. Everything has a hyper-real, romanticized quality to it, with bright animation and a perspective that at times seems to float around the characters, like remembering onesself in third person. Most of the film’s sound effects are made with human mouths mimicking the sounds of plane engines and earthquakes, leading to the feelings that none of this is really happening.
Being as The Wind Rises is currently in theaters, and somewhat limited theaters at that, I’m gonna throw up a spoiler warning right here, and you can click the on-screen timecode to move to the last part of the video.
Jiro clings to the dream of building airplanes right at the beginning of the movie, and throughout the film there is never a single moment that he questions his desire to continue with this career. Even as a pacifist, he doesn’t hesitate to make war planes because it is the only way to live his passion. Even when the job bounces him between being poor and rich, travelling constantly, and becoming distant both from his family and, eventually, his wife, he never questions it. Even though him and Honjou are well aware that Japan will burn when it inevitably loses the war, they keep right on doing what they love, because they know that if they don’t, there is no second chance. This is the time and place in which they live, and this is the passion that they have. To second-guess it would be to live a life without the one thing that they love more than anything.
Jiro’s love life is exactly the same. He falls in love at lightspeed with a girl who shares his same outlook and attraction. He is told from the beginning that she will most likely die of tuberculosis at a young age, but he doesn’t hesitate for a moment to accept this. There is no other version of his life more worth living than this one. There is no other woman, no other happiness. He will not be better off to have never loved, because the hurt will always come with the inevitability of death.
Caproni tells Jiro in one dream, that an artist is only creative for ten years, and an engineer is the same. The end of the film comes at the end of Jiro’s ten years. His passions are lived and died, and despite all the decay and regrets left behind, it is undeniable that he has lived ten years of absolute glory. He has chased love and passion with all the brilliance that anyone can ever hope to. He doesn’t bottom out because of hubris, but only because of inevitability. Because in the end, everything is transient. In real life, Horikoshi Jirou lived to be nearly eighty years old, and spent much of the time after World War 2 as a teacher. It’s not hard to imagine the Jirou of Miyazaki’s film living into old age, and always with conflicting feelings about how his ten years were spent. Jirou may thrive in transience, but no human can truly be at peace with it.
Hayao Miyazaki somehow managed to remain creative for many more than ten years. In his entire career, he was never washed up, never less than a great filmmaker. Don’t listen to anyone who tries to say that this or that Miyazaki film is a classic and not the other. My favorite film of his is Ponyo on the cliff by the Sea, and you damn sure better believe that I’m not apologetic about it. Miyazaki’s films speak to different people in different ways, like all films do, and his have spoken to a particularly large amount of people. It’s hard to know how many of his own feelings about his career are reflected in this film, but it feels like a proper retirement film one way or another.
I could take this or that element of the film and say that I did or didn’t like it, but at the end of the day, what The Wind Rises did most was resonate with me. Jiro’s relationship, his passion, and his uncompromising view of both, reminded me of myself in a strong way, and that’s a big part of why this is now among my favorite animated films. I can’t promise that everyone will resonate with the film this way, but I do think that it’s a film which everyone should go and see and make up their own minds about.