Language: Japanese, some German and Italian
Director: Miyazaki Hayao
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Screenplay: Miyazaki Hayao
Art Direction: Takeshige Youji
Animation Direction: Kousaka Kitaro
Soundscore: Hisaishi Joe
Theme Song: ひこうき雲 (“Hikōki Gumo”/”Contrail”) by Yumi Matsutoya
Cast: Anno Hideaki, Takimoto Miori, Nishijima Hidetoshi, Nishimura Masahiko, Steve Alpert, Kazama Morio, Takeshita Keiko, Shida Mirai, Kunimura Jun, Otake Shinobu, Mansai Nomura
Runtime: 126 min
Distribution: Studio Canal (UK)
Film’s official website: http://www.kazetachinu.jp (日本語),
Special thanks to Studio Canal for an invite to a press screening of Kaze Tachinu prior to its UK release. I also attended the BFI Preview Screening of the film on April 23. Both screenings were subtitled, I have not seen (nor do I intend to) the dubbed version. The film is now showing in select UK cinemas (from May 9, 2014).
Kaze Tachinu, Miyazaki Hayao’s apparent swan song, comes with a certain kind of echo of「長州ファイブ」(Chōshū faibu/Chosyu Five), in which a group of young, ambitious men – who later become the founding fathers of modern Japan – seek technological knowledge and progress abroad but soon realise that they, and their nation, are years and years behind. Like these men, Horikoshi Jiro (Anno Hideaki), the hero of Miyazaki’s film, desires to know and create for the sake of knowing and creating, although, several decades on from the Choysu Five, he now envies the Germans, not the English, for their advanced know-how.
The times are different ones too: while we commence in the childhood years of Horikoshi when his fascination with everything airborne is an innocent dream, the eagle-eyed will notice the year (1918) on the airplane magazine the young boy is devouring – World War I has only just ended. More dark threads are soon woven into the tale, foreshadowing that Horikoshi’s ambition is not quite so harmless and that a more terrible future is yet to come. The fighter planes in a dream at night are a first sign, the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake that follows in a subsequent scene is another – and all these appear within the first ten minutes of Kaze Tachinu. With Studio Ghibli films generally falling into one of two categories – lighter fare of delightful, magical tales that equally charm young and old and productions that tackle serious issues ranging from environmentalism to war – there is no doubt that Kaze Tachinu belongs to the latter. However, unlike some of the other serious films [「風の谷のナウシカ」(Kaze no Tani no Naushika/Nausicaä, 1984),「もののけ姫」(Mononoke-hime/Princess Mononoke, 1997),「ハウルの動く城」(Hauru no Ugoku Shiro/Howl’s Moving Castle, 2004)], Miyazaki’s final work does not base itself on fantasy. Although it is a fictionalised biography of Horikoshi and features some flights of imagination (primarily through dream sequences involving the Italian airplane designer Caprioni), it is very much set in reality: there are no Ohmu, no kodama, no wizards or witches. Instead, Kaze Tachinu references real people and actual historical events, making the tale more unsettling and hard-hitting than the much more narratively symbolic Nausicaä & co.
On the fateful day of the earthquake, Horikoshi, now a university student, is on his way to Tokyo by train, when his path first crosses with Satomi Naoko (Takimoto Miori), a young girl travelling in the company of her maid. The disaster strikes when they are still aboard the train, forcing it to a sudden halt. Horikoshi carries the injured maid to safety on his back, but parts with the pair without exchanging names. Years pass – Horikoshi begins to work for an airplane manufacturer, Naoko grows into a woman – before they meet again and their love story begins.
Somewhat unusually for Studio Ghibli, the hero of Kaze Tachinu is a man, surrounded mostly by other male characters – his long-time friend Honjo (Nishijima Hidetoshi), his comically grumpy superior Kurokawa (Nishimura Masahiko) and the rather mysterious Mr. Castorp (Steve Alpert) in particular. The most significant female character, meanwhile, is Naoko (the only other woman worth mentioning is Horikoshi’s younger sister, who, despite a delightful scene in the brief childhood section of the film, plays a very peripheral part). Naoko is different from other Ghibli heroines as she is very much a woman of her time. Although she is determined and strong-minded (she insists on marrying Horikoshi, barely giving her surprised father a choice in the matter), she is also quite passive, obediently waiting for her husband at home and, when he finally shows, watching him work through the night. Naoko accepts that Horikoshi’s passion for airplanes comes first – before her own, suffering health – and, because the couple does not wish to be parted, remains with him rather than seeking a cure for her illness in a sanatorium. While Naoko is not exactly a damsel in distress, she is a dutiful wife that sacrifices herself for love. There is no denying that the bond between Horikoshi and Naoko is strong (indeed, the couple’s re-encounter and the development of their relationships infuses life into the later parts of the story with both heartwarming and heartbreaking scenes), Naoko’s self-sacrifice makes Horikoshi into a rather ambiguous kind of hero. Although he can be kind and loving, there is also an undeniable selfishness in the relentless pursuit of his dream – a contentious quality that magnifies the question of personal responsibility not only with regards to his wife’s fate but the fact that he is creating killer machines.
It is at this point that Kaze Tachinu has stirred controversy: the real-life Horikoshi designed the Mitsubishi A5M and the Mitsubishi A5M Zero planes, two fighter aircrafts used during WWII for kamikaze missions and in the attack on Pearl Harbor. While Horikoshi’s conflict with building machinery that he knows will be used in combat is noted in the film, it is not exactly explored thoroughly, leaving Miyazaki’s Kaze Tachinu open to criticisms of glorifying the war. However, the argument seems a little far-fetched, certainly to anyone familiar with Miyazaki’s filmography – Nausicaä and Hauru no Ugoku Shiro being two of the best examples to illustrate that the director’s actual feelings about war are much more complex. Miyazaki’s own fascination with airplanes has been long documented (they feature in nearly all of his films) and the director has also defended Horikoshi as someone who “wasn’t thinking about weapons – really all he desired was to make exquisite planes” (quote). In Kaze Tachinu the protagonist clearly states that the war is futile, reflecting the views of the real-life Horikoshi who wrote as follows in his diary:
When we awoke on the morning of December 8, 1941, we found ourselves — without any foreknowledge — to be embroiled in war… Since then, the majority of us who had truly understood the awesome industrial strength of the United States never really believed that Japan would win this war. We were convinced that surely our government had in mind some diplomatic measures which would bring the conflict to a halt before the situation became catastrophic for Japan. But now, bereft of any strong government move to seek a diplomatic way out, we are being driven to doom. Japan is being destroyed. I cannot do [anything] other but to blame the military hierarchy and the blind politicians in power for dragging Japan into this hellish cauldron of defeat. [quote]
Kaze Tachinu is, perhaps more so than other Ghibli productions, also a tale of allusions. In addition to the prominently and suggestively title-giving lines from Paul Valéry’s poem “Le Cimetière marin” (“Le vent se lève! Il faut tenter de vivre!“/”The wind rises! We must live on!”) that weave themselves through film, there is Schubert’s sombre Winterreise and a second song, “Das gibt es nur einmal” (known as Just Once for All Time in English). The latter is left untranslated in Kaze Tachinu, somewhat surprisingly, as the lyrics are meaningful and forebode what is to come: the song, originally from a 1931 German film, advises people to seize the day, for no one cannot know what the future will bring. Miyazaki also make interesting allusive choices with the character of Mr. Castorp and the scenes involving a sanatorium. This watercress-munching Castorp is a freely re-imagined version of the protagonist of the sanatorium-set novel Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain), a masterpiece of German literature by Thomas Mann. The references mostly reinforce the darker sides of Kaze Tachinu but also remind us that the filmmaker at work is (possibly) at the end of his career, freely picking and choosing cultural elements meaningful to him from here and there, quite regardless of what (if anything) the audience may make of them.1
Last but not least, the visuals of Kaze Tachinu deserve mention, with Studio Ghibli offering some of its most beautiful and impressive animation yet. Not only is it obvious that much care was taken to accurately represent specific moments in time through character clothing, building architecture and many detailed drawings of airplanes, but there are several visually memorable scenes as well: the moment of the earthquake is profoundly haunting, the Horikoshi siblings gazing at a sky full of shooting stars is sweetly delightful (indeed, just about all scenes involving the sky and soaring object are wonderful).
Overall verdict: Very much a Studio Ghibli production, Kaze Tachinu is unusual in some aspects, including its basis in reality and the choice of a male hero – one that has stirred controversy. While it doesn’t manage to displace my personal favourite Miyazaki films from their top spots, its unsettling, thought-provoking, affecting and visually soaring quality makes it very much worth a watch – and more than once at that.
1 For example, Thomas Mann’s Der Zauberberg is actually mentioned by name in the film but few audience members are likely to have read the 1000+ page tome.
- Alternative reviews: The Independent, Roger Ebert (reviewed by Sheila O’Malley), Film School Rejects.
- Articles on the controversy created by Kaze Tachinu: Guardian, Yahoo! Voices, The Dissolve.
- Das gibt’s nur einmal in Kaze Tachinu.
- Kaze Tachinu theme song (short version).