The Wind Rises is director Hayao Miyazaki's swan song; the final chapter of his illustrious film career which features such captivating tales as Spirited Away. Inevitably, his last motion picture is going to be filled with sentimentality and tearful scenes.
The Wind Rise is captivating, but it does not reach the level Miyazaki's other works have.
Story (7/10): The Wind Rises details the journey of Jirou Horikoshi as he walks through the many stages of life. His central goal is to become an airplane designer, and much of the plot is spent detailing this process. Through flashback sequences where Jirou talks with a famous Italian designer in his dreams, the story reveals the philosophies on life our lead entertains, and what goals he hopes to achieve. This is an excellent narrative device that makes the main character compelling without needing to tediously recite aspects of his character in bland conversational segments. These dreams also contain hints of the themes which (unfortunately) are marred by issues that occur in the latter half of the film.
While the first half of the tale does a great job of showing our main character's growth, his pitfalls, and his background, the second half feels a bit lost. A lot of time is spent of a romance that blooms between him, and a girl he helped during an earthquake in their childhood. This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing were it not for the fact these scenes don't really sell the female character very well. While their relationship is charming in a very earnest way, I never got a feel for their chemistry or the character of Naoko Satomi, and this is a big strike against the film because much of the second half is focused on the main character's connection to her.
What's worse, the film wraps up in a rather confusing segment that looks back on the events in the past in an abridged, surprisingly un-insightful. This comes right off the heels of a tear-jerking scene, so it feels even more abrupt than it normally would. While there is a sense of thematic resolution here, the focus of the themes is directed towards a conflict that doesn't get any screen time in the film. Meanwhile, the aformentioned tragic scene lacks a lot of weight beyond the scene's execution (which is excellent) because the character involved isn't developed well-enough.
It's almost as if Miyazaki was so satisfied with the first half of his film that he decided to play the second half of the film very close-vested. If he had given the latter portion of the film more balance in its focus, it may well have turned out better in this department.
Art (9.5/10): Studio Ghibli delivers an A+ effort here. The animation is exceptionally smooth, and the colors are strong and vibrant. The backdrops are grand yet simple, poignant but grounded. The animation work on aircraft in particular is a lot better than some of the work that animation giant Walt Disney has produced.
The only reason I gave this a 9.5 was because Studio Ghibli's designs are very average. This works thematically, but the lack of fantastical creatures to shake up the art design makes it feel like a very standard effort, while the rest of the film's visuals are exceptional.
Sound (8/10): This is a film where the dialog and on-screen visuals can usually carry the weight of a movie. However, a good score that compliments the themes and the story rather than overshadows it can make it that much better. The Wind Rises does just this. Each tune, whether whimsical, nostalgic, or tragic syncs up to the bullet points of the scene perfectly. Never once did I feel the music in a particular scene was out of place. The individual tunes rarely stood out (which is a bit of a flaw), but they served their intended purpose and did so perfectly, so I'm not going to gripe them too much for that.
The film's couple vocal tracks are fitting, but they aren't as effective as the score.
I only saw the English dub for this film, and it was decent. Despite it being generally well-acted, however, the writing doesn't always match up with the lip-syncing terribly well. Not all of the script is smooth, and there are a couple awkward deliveries here and there. Nevertheless, it is well-cast, and captures the spirit of the film well.
Character (6/10): Jirou is an excellent lead. Miyazaki not only comes up with clever ways to expose his ideals, detail his background, and portray his growth, but he is a solid character from beginning to end. He's kind, earnest, and determined, but still doubts himself on multiple occasions. He's overwhelmed from his job sometimes; he doesn't think he'll be able to meet a deadline; he doesn't know whether he's catching the eye of his crush; he smokes often just to keep his calm. Miyazaki often crafts relatable leads, and he does an exemplary job with Jirou.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast pales in comparison. While I liked them okay, and did find their quirks realistic, I found the Italian plane designer, portrayed only in Jirou's dreams, more convincing than Naoko. For a lead heroine who steals the spotlight in the second-half, she just came off as awfully bland. This isn't because she's normal, either, because Jirou is very normal, yet is simultaneously compelling, so I think the central problem is that the film never elaborates why Jirou grows to like her or what specific traits she has. Because of that, she feels like a broad strokes canvas waiting to be filled with color and detail.
As for the rest of the cast, they suffer similar problems (though, they do at least get specific quirks). Jiro's best friend who he tackles much of flight school with has his moments but doesn't come into his own, Martin Short's character is very relatable, but not particularly convincing. The same goes for the one-scene-wonder characters as well. Perhaps the film was trying to convey that sometimes, we don't ever know as much as we'd like about the people who influence our lives, but I don't think it comes off strongly enough here to be meaningful.
Giovanni, as I mentioned earlier, is interesting. Not only does he represent Jirou's ambitions and his reasons for being so determined, it also gives us a peek into the eccentricities of the man, as well as his "anything is possible" attitude. The biggest reason each dream sequence of Jirou's really worked was because of him.
Enjoyment (7/10): I did enjoy watching this film. I loved the lead character and his mentor, the fabulous art direction, the complimenting score, and the well-structured first half of the story.
But, because of how uneven in focus the second half is, how little it made me care about the lead heroine, and how it failed to address it's themes properly . . . I couldn't enjoy this as much as I would. I didn't find the scene before the rolling credits satisfying; I was disappointed by it. At the very least, the lack of development in the second half could have been resolved by a beautiful final scene, but instead, we get another scene that lacks build-up. It was sad for me, especially because this is the last film the wonderful Miyazaki will ever direct.
However, that doesn't mean I stopped caring. I wanted to find out what happens in Jirou's life, I wanted to see where his relationship with his girlfriend left, I wanted to see how the other people in his life played a role, the film did just enough to keep me watching this film, even when development became very sparse.
Besides that, the grand, balanced viewpoint the movie has on ambitions, dreams, and nostalgia is heart-warming and well-executed. It's a hard film for me to watch because of how tear-jerking these things are, but they're given so much respect here by Miyazaki, a man obviously passionate about this film, that they're still effective despite this movie's flaws.
Overall (7/10): The Wind Rises is not one of Miyazaki's better films, neither is it even a great movie, because of its failure to develop most characters aside from the lead, and its lack of resolution. However, the heart-wrenching themes, beautiful art design, and compelling lead character are certainly enough reason to watch this film. For these reasons, it's a film I believe fans of Miyazaki's works, and those who aren't, should watch.