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Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Wind Rises

Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki

Produced by: Toshio Suzuki

Screenplay by: Hayao Miyazaki

Based on: Kaze Tachinu by Hayao Miyazaki

Starring: Hideaki Anno/Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Miori Takimoto/Emily Blunt
Hidetoshi Nishijima/John Krasinski
Masahiko Nishimura/Martin Short
Stephen Alpert/Werner Herzog
Morio Kazama/William H. Macy
Nomura Mansai/Stanley Tucci

Music by: Joe Hisaishi

Cinematography by: Atsushi Okui

Editing by: Takeshi Seyama

Studio: Studio Ghibli

Distributed by: Toho (Japan)
Touchstone Pictures (United States)
StudioCanal (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): July 20, 2013 (Japan)
November 8, 2013 (United States, Los Angeles)
February 21, 2014 (United States)
May 9, 2014 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 126 minutes

Country: Japan

Language(s): Japanese

Production budget: $30 million

Box-office revenue: $117, 932, 401

The month of January has now closed, and we are soon enough going to be knee deep in the midst of Oscar season. As such, I'm right now simultaneously working on finishing up my reviews for all the films I have seen from 2014, this year's inductees into The Thin White Dude's Hall Of Fame (which will be starting to get published this coming week) and the The Thin White Dude's 8th Annual Best And Worst Of The Year. So, yeah, there's a lot to do before the night of the Oscars in three weeks time (good God, this is the earliest the ceremony has been since 2009; what I wouldn't give for a beginning of March scheduling!). With that being said, for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is The Wind Rises, the latest and reportedly the last film from the great Japanese animation filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. This film was nominated in last year's Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature, but because it wasn't released in the United Kingdom until May 9, 2014, it is still eligible for me to review. Anywho, for those of you who don't know, I'm a Miyazaki fan, and have admired his films for many years. The first time I encountered his work was when my parents bought my sister Spirited Away on DVD. At this stage, my interests in Japanese cinema primarily consisted of a lot of the contemporary horror/thriller films that came out from Tartan label under their Asia Extreme byline, so it was fascinating to see a whole untapped source of great movies. From Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind to My Neighbour Totoro to Princess Mononoke to his most recent film before this, Ponyo, a film which I had the pleasure of reviewing back in 2010, he is one of the few legitimately international filmmakers who has made his name entirely on the basis of work done in his home country. Of course, at that time when I was younger I'd seen Akira and other such anime, but Studio Ghibli, the studio co-founded by Miyazaki and behind his projects, have rightly been labelled the Japanese equivalent to Disney. The films that this studio puts out are delightful wonders which are highly entertaining and a joy the audiences, young and old, that they touch around the world. I say around the world because Ghibli ensure that any English-language dubbing of their work is done appropriately. So, The Wind Rises, adapted from Miyazaki's own manga of the same name, is a fictionalised biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Mitsubishi A5M fighter and its successor, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, planes used by the Empire Of Japan during World War II. Story goes that Jiro (Hideaki Anno/Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has grown up, having longed to be a pilot, but his poor eyesight  having curtailed that path, he is inspired, in a dream, by Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Battista Caproni (Nomura Mansai/Stanley Tucci) to design airplanes instead. Following Jiro over the course of several decades in his life as he studies aeronautical engineering at Tokyo Imperial University, helps a young girl, Naoko (Miori Takamoto/Emily Blunt) and her maid during the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, and graduates with his close friend Kiro Honjo (Hidetoshi Nishijima/John Krasinski) to work at Mitsubishi in 1927 and all manner of things in his long and colourful life. If it sounds like I'm making a crappy attempt at waxing lyrical, it's because I don't want to give away too many plot details before you see it, even if this is a biopic. Got that? Good!

So, starting off with the good, as perhaps to be expected from a Ghibli film, the animation is superb. Differing from much of contemporary animation, the Ghibi team always make a point of pride drawing by hand every single frame that ends up in the movie, and that effort is up there onscreen. The colour palette is wide and varied, so that during the more action-oriented scenes we never lose sight of what is going on or the characters. I suppose this is also down to some of the tact shown in the editing suite by Takeshi Seyama. Seyama is an editor who has proven in the past that he can cut action in an anime; just look at how well-pieced together Akira, Princess Mononoke and Paprika, three very different films by three very different filmmakers (Katsuhiro Otomo, Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon), all containing a healthy amount of action and yet fully cohesive narrative pieces. The same can be said here for The Wind Rises, and this healthy marriage of animation and editing is part of what makes it so watchable. Speaking of watchable, most of my best experiences with Miyazaki's films is from viewing the work of someone who makes genuinely great films about children for children. Now, while part of this sees Jiro as a child, a lot of it follows him as an adult in an adult world, and what is most striking about Miyazaki's script is how well he is able to write what, for all intents and purposes, a straight biopic. Also, it's not just a murder-by-numbers straight biopic, it's a great one. Miyazaki builds all of his characters up, specifically protagonist Jiro, as a totally sympathetic and believable dreamer. We root for this guy, and it's hard not to feel your emotions stirred by some of his trials and tribulations. His relationship with Naoko, who he first meets during the Great Kanto Earthquake, is perhaps the best of onscreen romances I've seen in a film this year, Miyazaki playing it with such tenderness that you fear it could shatter in an instant. Regardless of it being a Japanese animated film, a label which would indicate to so-called marketers (more like racketeers!) that they decree it a film with a small audience, it's actually a rather accessible easy watch with a wide appeal. Part of that is that while the animation os glorious, it's all done without demanding our attention, the focus being on the story, which Miyazaki lets unfold rather gracefully. One of the things that's almost a given pleasure with a Miyazaki film is that we are nearly guaranteed a great score from composer Joe Hisaishi, and this is the case here. He has a unique and distinctive sound which combines minimalist piano pieces with the likes of European and Japanese classical compositions. He's the kind of composer who could hold an entire orchestra and concert hall captive with his compositions, and yet, most importantly, he's a classical film composer above all. Someone in the vein of Steiner, Waxman and Tiomkin, he crafts this very grand pieces which nevertheless fit the film. Recurring themes in A Journey (A Dream Of Flight) are aural pleasures reminding us of the dream at the back of Jiro's head that keeps him going. Not to sound rude, but many non-American composers have carved out quite the legacy for themselves in America: maybe it's about time an American independent extended their hand and got Hisaishi onto one of their projects? Another the aspects that is strong with The Wind Rises is the voice acting. Now, I can't comment on the English-language version, as the one I reviewed was the Japanese-language one, but what I can say is that I was greatly impressed by Hideaki Anno in the lead part of Jiro. Best known as an animation director who got his break working on Miyazaki's Nausicaa and making his own name as the creative mind behind Neon Genesis Evangelion, it's interesting to hear him convey emotion with as much conviction as someone who acts for a living. This is an occasional side-job for Anno, and yet you'd think it was his profession. The rest of the primary voice cast, Miori Takimoto, Hidetoshi Nisijima, Masahiko Nishimura, Stephen Alpert and Nomura Mansai are fine, but Anno stands out. Finally, if this to be Miyazaki's swansong (given that he has announced retirement from film on nearly as many occasions as Terry Funk has from professional wrestling) then it's a fitting note to go out on: a romantic paean to achieving one's dreams and living life to the fullest through his love of aviation, The Wind Rises is an accomplished piece of filmmaking and a very entertaining biopic to boot.

However, while I'm sure you've gathered that I adored The Wind Rises (especially in light of this being a way better 'epic' than the previous two films I reviewed, the final Hobbit film and Exodus: Gods And Kings), I unfortunately cannot say it's a masterpiece. This isn't another one of those slightly poxy 'feeling' arguments I've been in the habit of recently making, all perfectly valid, I might add, but in the case of The Wind Rises, I do have a couple of issues. The first of these is the fact that I feel the film to be too long. I know it's meant to be an epic of sorts, a decade-spanning biopic, and so perhaps the running time is understandable. That said, it brings me back to comments Roger Ebert (who is the subject of Steve James' documentary, Life Itself, which will be reviewed in the coming weeks) made in relation to the epic genre: "The word epic has become synonymous with big budget B picture. What you realise watching Lawrence Of Arabia is that the word epic refers not to the cost or elaborate production, but to the size of the ideas and vision." Ebert then goes on to cite Werner Herzog's Aguirre, The Wrath Of God as being an epic, while Michael Bay's Pearl Harbour is not. The ideas and vision in The Wind Rises do have legitimate scope, but I do feel that at over two hours it runs on too long. What that emerges from, and brings me to my second point, is Miyazaki's screenplay. While Miyazaki treats his characters with dignity, certain segments of the film waffle on and seem lightweight by comparison to the rest of the film. As such, I cannot but look upon them as relatively dispensable, and that Miyazaki should have realised that there is about fifteen to twenty minutes worth that could have been excised. Miyazaki is after all directing an adaptation he scribed from his own manga. Perhaps a second opinion might have been welcome. It's an awful lot of words used to express this viewpoint, but it is a true reflection of what I think about the film.

Now, while I certainly took issue with the length of the film, a problem that emerged from the flaw in that some scenes in Miyazaki's script could have been trimmed or excised altogether, my opinion is still largely positive and I really fell for The Wind Rises. It's a beautifully animated picture, as is to expected from Studio Ghibli, action and drama are edited together seamlessly by Takeshi Seyama, Miyazaki treats his characters with real dignity, respect and sympathetic pathos. It also boasts a terrific score from Joe Hisaishi and has strong voice acting, specifically from Hideaki Anno. If this is to be Hayao Miyazaki's swansong, it's a fitting note to go out: vividly expressed through his love of aviation, The Wind Rises entreats us to follow our dreams, accomplish our goals and live life to the fullest, a heartwarming message which has a powerful resonance. Arigato, Miyazaki-san.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool (all things concerned)

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