“I’m retiring. This is my last design. Artists are only creative for ten years.”
In a career spanning nearly 35 years, visionary anime director Hayao Miyazaki has brought a specialised form of cinema to the world stage. From his first film, The Castle of Cagliostro; to arguably his most well loved, My Neighbour Totoro; to the first film to earn $200 million worldwide before a US release, Spirited Away; Miyazaki’s trademark has been films that are straight out fantasy, sometimes social commentary, always have strong, independent female characters, and even if it isn’t fantasy, at least a heightened version of reality.
While Miyazaki’s latest still has hints of fantasy in the form of airplane designs that look straight out of Howl’s Moving Castle at times, on the whole, The Wind Rises not only signals a departure from the filmmaking profession, but also a creative one. From memory, this is the first film based on true life Miyazaki has made, and the darkest since Princess Mononoke. It is filled with vague, philosophical dialogue, repeated mantras, and a meandering, seemingly non-linear structure. The lead female character is not even feisty and powerful, she is weak and sickly damsel in distress, constantly relying on Jiro.
The main problem The Wind Rises faces, at least for international audiences, is the fact that the film is so, so rooted in Japanese culture. I was often confused, not knowing how much time had passed (one minute it was a week later, and the next five years had passed), and definitely felt that a viewer requires prior knowledge. It is substantially more stately than his previous works, retaining the common graceful direction and airy tone, but this time around, the dialogue is so intricate and dense and poetic, suiting the Japanese language so perfectly, that it would be incredibly out of place and odd for an English dub, it would be completely ineffective and sound very awkward. Furthermore, it felt much too long and rambling, overly meditative, and by the time it concluded in a confusing manner, I felt that it has definitely run its course.
There is one thing that cannot be denied though, and that’s the finality of the piece. Throughout the film, constant allusions are made to a ‘limited supply’ of creativity, and that one only has “ten years in the sun”. Miyazaki is definitely trying to communicate and enforce that this is his swan song and love letter to cinema.
While I wasn’t expecting it to be like his previous films, The Wind Rises was somewhat underwhelming. Despite being populated with the breathtaking, remarkable visuals that one expects from a Miyazaki film, I felt as though it just skimmed the ground, never really soaring to the heights of his previous work.
Is Miyazaki trying to tell us that he has run out of ideas, using his last film to take such a departure in an act of desperation, telling a story much different to any previous film, that he’s had his “ten years in the sun”, that his career has run its course, and it’s time to bow out?
Regardless, it’s a high, personal note to end a career on. Thank you for the magic, for ‘spiriting’ audiences away, Mr Miyazaki.
The Wind Rises will receive a limited national release from February 27.
PG (mild themes), 126 mins.