Animated films get a hard time. Sure plenty of them are for children, but just as many – even from the Disney stable – are good fun for adults as well. In anime there is a wealth of great storytelling out there, and few studios can claim the consistent quality produced by Studio Ghibli.
The Wind Rises is the latest masterpiece from the studio, and I don’t use the word lightly. Following the story of Jiro, a young japanese boy (a fact which we are, somewhat oddly, reminded of a fair few times through dialogue) who wants to design aeroplanes, the film is set between the two world wars and there is an uneasy tension in the air as Jiro begins his journey.
The balance of this film is one of its greatest strengths. The plot is driven by a combination of both Jiro’s development in aviation and his relationship with Nahoko Satomi, and just as you fear one may overpower the other the film redresses the balance – it’s a fantastic bit of filmmaking, and a credit to its world-renown director: Hayao Miyazaki.
Miyazaki, who also wrote the film, is responsible for countless classics to come out of his studio over the years (and has had a hand in the rest), including Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Nausicaa Valley of the Wind. It has been said that this will be Miyazaki’s final film (though it has been said in the past), and if that is so then it is definitely a high note to go out on.
One aspect of the film which is particularly high quality, is that of the English voice cast. Jiro is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, Looper and Brick) and the chemistry between him and Emily Blunt as Nahoko leads to a lump in the throat at more than one point through the film. Other big names are involved include Stanley Tucci as inspirational Italian inventor Caproni and even Elijah Wood who pops up briefly.
Visually the film is everything we have come to expect from the studio, with a few 3D-style animation sequences really giving it a contemporary feel, despite its historical setting. Musically the film is a joy too, with soaring swells of strings sending a tingling sensation along your arms and a smile to your face as the sunshine blazes. One stand out piece of sound design is the sounds of the aeroplanes themselves, which are all created using human voices in a style which is SO Ghibli and fits in effortlessly into the film’s world.
As usual, it’s compelling characters which really bring the film to life, and though some might be put off by the fact that it is animation, really the film delivers drama and touching moments just as well as some of the best traditional flicks. The connections between the characters are sincere and you really relate to Jiro in his dedication – and borderline obsession – to creating his masterpiece.
In all, The Wind Rises soars (pun very much intended) as almost all Ghibli efforts do. This is a film which anyone could enjoy, so long as they give it a chance, and in fact could be the most realistic film from the studio, making it more accessible to those who might otherwise be put off by the eccentricities and surrealist aspects of some of these sorts of films.
Calling it a masterpiece is no hyperbole, the film is undoubtedly one of the strongest films this year.
James Michael Parry