Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"The Wind Rises": animated biography of fighter plane designer shows a different side of Japanese life before WWII

It’s always interesting to wonder what it was like to grow up in an enemy society as a “good person” and innovator, only gradually becoming aware of the possible evil to follow when politicians use one’s work.
The Wind Rises” (“taze kachinu”), by Hayao Miyazaki, is a lengthy (two hours) animated biography of Jiro Horikoshi (voice of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the Emglish dubbed version), who dreamed of designing the perfect airplane as an art form, even if he was too nearsighted to fly them.  Shortly after the movie starts, it depicts the 1923 earthquake, in which Jiro shows his character rescuing a girl with a broken leg.  Later, the script has a line, a man needs a wife and family at home so he can work long hours!
Eventually, he is hired designing aircraft by a taskmaster boss, but pretty soon impresses everyone and gets sent to Germany to learn German technology, soon to be Nazi.  In the meantime, he starts a romance with a young woman who turns out to have tuberculosis and has to live in a sanitarium.  The realization of what war will mean comes only very slowly to him, even as he adopts smooth rivets as a way to increase plane speed and payload.
At the end, he has to deal with the idea of losing a war.
The dubbing of the Japanese film was a major project for Walt Disney Studios;  apparently Fox was a major contributor to the original production.
Technically, the closeup scenes seem to lack detail, but the aerial shots of Japan, Germany and Italy, as imagined by artists, are stunning, most of all in the earthquake scenes.    
The official site from Touchstone is here. The music score is sweet, and there is a theme that sounds like Brahms but actually comes from an obscure composer.  I saw the film at the AMC Courthouse before a small crowd and digital presentation.  Although it has major branding from Disney for distribution, many of the venues are “arthouse” theaters.  

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