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The Wind Rises Blu-ray Anime Review

13 min read

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The pursuit of dreams can have its serious downsides as well.

What They Say:
In “The Wind Rises,” Jiro dreams of flying and designing beautiful airplanes, inspired by the famous Italian aeronautical designer Caproni. Nearsighted from a young age and unable to be a pilot, Jiro joins a major Japanese engineering company in 1927 and becomes one of the world’s most innovative and accomplished airplane designers. The film chronicles much of his life, depicting key historical events, including the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the Great Depression, the tuberculosis epidemic and Japan’s plunge into war. Jiro meets and falls in love with Nahoko, and grows and cherishes his friendship with his colleague Honjo. Writer/director Hayao Miyazaki pays tribute to engineer Jiro Horikoshi and author Tatsuo Hori in this epic tale of love, perseverance, and the challenges of living and making choices in a turbulent world.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release is a bit unusual as we do get the original Japanese language track and the English language adaptation, but both are done using the lossless DTS-HD MA codec for the mono design that was intended. Miyazaki wanted it this way for the theatrical release, which naturally translates into the home video release. This serves to in some ways really undercut certain sequences, such as the earthquake and some of the dream sequences, but for the most part it has just a minimal impact since so much of it is dialogue driven with ambient sounds about it. It’s obviously not a very dynamic mix, even if your equipment splits it into the two channels for a possible faux stereo, but it presents things as intended. There are some decent moments, and it sort of fits in trying to capture the essence of the past, but it feels like it could have been a much richer mix.

Video:
Originally in theaters in 2013, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The film is one that really does hew to the “standard” of Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films with its richness and fluidity, though with a few nods to camera styles at times that can be a little disconcerting, such as the canal piece in the opening minutes of the film. The transfer itself captures the richness and detail of the film in a beautiful way, bringing the colors to life, showing the dark and murky areas in the right way with no issues and having the proper kind of pop to the dream sequences that helps to set them apart in a subtle way. The look of the film may be familiar, but seeing it in such rich detail and being able to slow it down and soak it up is certainly wonderful. With it largely mirroring the Japanese release, there’s little to have issue with here.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release follows the standard that Disney set with previous installments, which is very welcome, as we get the blue slipcover and border design that presents the Studio Ghibli banner along the top in embossed form. The rest of the front cover works the familiar image that has accompanied the film for so long with Jiro leaning in to kiss Naoko under the umbrella with some clouds in the sky and a nod to the paper airplane. The logo is straightforward and we naturally get the English language cast as the main thrust here, as well as its various wins and nods at film festivals. The back cover mirrors previous releases as well with a section focusing on the extras and language options along the top left while the right has several images from the film as well. The premise is well covered and the technical features are laid out well enough, though I still continue to prefer an easier to read grid format. The rest is rounded out with the usual production credits and required logos and the like. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
The menu design for this release mirrors other recent Ghibli films, which means it’s a minimal effort affair, though I can appreciate the way they’re being done the same. With a faded front cover visual as the background against the soft off white blandness around it, we get three images to the right that provide some pop and color of other characters in the film while the lower left gives us the navigation, which isn’t bad to navigate but requires several steps to set up the languages and subtitles how you might want. Submenus load smoothly and without problems, but it’s a very bland menu that doesn’t really set the tone for the film all that well.

Extras:
The extras for this release are definitely strong, particularly for the nearly 90 minute long press conference piece that involves Miyazaki talking about the completion of the film. While it’s titled as the announcement of completion of the film, it’s a pretty involved and relatively wide ranging piece that talks about the work with a few people and provideS Miyazaki plenty of time to opine about it and other things in general. The release also includes an array of original trailers and TV spots in Japan as well as the always included storyboards piece, which gives us a look at the film in an interesting way to see how it was roughed out and how it mirrored it in the final product. The extra that I always like though is the US production side, which sadly clocks in at just eleven minutes, as it lets the actors talk about their involvement in the film as well as some of the production team.

Content:
When it was released theatrically, The Wind Rises has garnered a lot of attention for it supposedly being the final Hayao Miyazaki directed film with him retiring from that, it’s also one that has gotten some critical attention because of what it presents. Miyazaki has never shied away from difficult themes or serious concepts for his films and he’s done a decent job over the years in alternating what he works on. Coming off of Ponyo to this, now with word that he originally wanted to make a sequel to Ponyo instead, The Wind Rises brings us a film that definitely fits within the director’s body of work as a whole but will likely leave a sense of unease among many of his admirers, particularly Western fans, because of the choice of the work itself and the kind of glossing over of some of the more serious aspects of it.

Based on the short story The Wind Has Risen by Tatsuo Hori, Miyazaki initially adapted it into manga form and then went in this direction to show us the life of Jiro Horikoshi. Like most works that are based off real events and people, it takes a lot of liberties and there’s all sorts of criticism in Japan about the accuracy and portrayal in some parts, but I’m far too disconnected from that to make any sort of judgment on that part. And unless it’s a documentary, and even then you can’t always be sure, liberties will be taken. The story of Jiro is certainly an interesting one as he born in the early part of the 20th century and grew up in the 1920’s with a dream of being an aeronautics engineer. We see the passion of his dream early on in the film through dream sequences with an Italian designer Giovanni Caproni, which allows Jiro to see fantastical shared visions of flight while also realizing that even though he can’t pilot planes due to his vision deficiencies, he can still design them. And that’s where his real passion is anyway, so it works out nicely once he realizes that Caproni has never flown any of his own impressive designs.

Jiro’s journey starts young as he’s been involved in reading what he can from overseas designers and he works hard to achieve his dreams, which gives him the opportunity upon graduation to move to a job designing aspects of planes. But before then he sees parts of the country that he hadn’t visited before and even got caught in one of the biggest natural disasters of the country with the Great Kanto Earthquake. Though it’s a small part of the first act, it’s a critical one as it introduces him to a young girl named Naoko that he helps out in getting her and her maid back home. There’s a lot of smaller moments taken to different parts of the time period here and it’s used to show us how the country is at the time. Things feel impoverished, uncertain and without much in the way of hope. Jiro’s main connection to other people during this period is with fellow aspiring and then engineer Honjo. He’s a bit more cynical in a way, but the personality we have for Jiro is largely consistent throughout. He’s focused on his dreams, he’ll do the right thing in the right situation, but mostly his life is focused on achieving his goals. He seemingly has little life outside of work itself.

Moving from childhood to school and then to the job itself where he gets to do the work he’s long dreamed of for real, the technical aspects airplane design are made real as are some of the challenges but also the beauty of it. But what we see also figures into the state of the country itself where both Jiro and Honjo talk about how they’re a decade behind others, two decades in some cases, and that they’ll always be behind because of the poverty of the nation. Airplane design is one of the few areas where one can make a really good living, which is partially why Honjo is in it, as are some others. The way they admire others with how far ahead they are is interesting to watch and the time spent in Germany where they’ve gone from the first stage wood designs to metal has them in awe, wishing they could do the same and trying to figure out how to achieve it. Because of Jiro’s talent, he’s given more latitude by the company and is able to explore more and is even sent on a bit more intentional travel in order to expose him to more ideas from Europe that can shape his thought and creative process. It’s surprisingly relaxed in a way, but it helps nudge him towards the things he needs to figure out in order to provide Japan with the aircraft it needs, which eventually leads him to the design work of the Mitsubishi ASM.

The Wind Rises doesn’t feel like it works in the traditional theatrical act format as it’s more laid back, more blurred in a way. There’s an almost languid approach to achieving the end goal with a few dream sequences interspersed throughout that just adds to this kind of off feeling about it. Jiro’s not the easiest protagonist to get behind as well which adds difficulty to the film. We get some of his family side, largely through his younger sister Kayo that wants to go into the world herself in order to learn medicine, something that he helps her achieve. But beyond that, there’s a disconnect for Jiro and most everyone else as only Honjo is a friend. That puts a lot of the burden on Naoko when, a decade or so after they had first met, they come into contact again and begin a romance that puts the two of them very much in love but with the usual kind of restrained style and feel that comes from a lot of Japanese cinema. Naoko has her challenges as well, dealing with medical issues that makes their love more profound and more difficult, but there’s always that distance as well that comes from Jiro and the way she doesn’t want impact him achieving his dreams.

But there’s something that’s just unsettling about the film, and it’s not in that I’m coming from it with a Westerner’s point of view with all sorts of angry baggage about Pearl Harbor or anything. It’s more that Jiro has such an indifference as to what his machines will achieve that makes it difficult since there’s no real wrangling of a conscience about it. When talking about his designs at one point, he tells the design team that they only way they can achieve their goals is to eliminate the weapons. The team has a good laugh about it and he just sort of smiles and nods, putting that design away and starting from scratch again. It’s a given that someone will design these things and we get some dialogue about it from Caproni who goes on in the dream sequences about how one had to work through the war machine design aspect in order to get to the period where you can design the dream airplanes meant to transport people around the world in bliss and harmony. You at least get that acknowledgment from Caproni, which is really just Jiro’s subconscious, but it always felt like Jiro never really accepted responsibility in the film for what he created. Even in the end dream sequence where it talks about how many of his machines were built and how many were lost.

With that and the lack of real connection between Naoko and Jiro, especially early on in their relationship that progressed so fast, that left me looking more for other areas to draw on for enjoyment. And there is a lot. Miyazaki has been a pioneer in showcasing the beauty of flight in anime and the film truly is no exception. In a technical sense, it’s likely the pinnacle of his career in creating it in this form, but there are so many instances over the decades that fans will have plenty of aerial moments to choose from as to what they feel defines his work the best. But there is a real beauty here in the designs, the detail and the way it’s given such a humanized form in a way. This is best represented with the sound design for it where, mostly through the way Jiro looks at the world, the aircraft sounds are done with human voices rather than recordings or samplings. Trains have a very interesting sound about them, the way a plane takes off or churns along is engaging, though it was off-putting at first. The moment I noticed it was with the low growl that came as the wave of the Great Kanto Earthquake hit, which gave it a lot more menace. The use of sound and voice in this way across the film really felt radically different, at least for a non-kiddie film, and I really enjoyed it because of how it fits with Jiro’s view of technology related to his dream.

One of the things I do enjoy with the Ghibli films that Disney brings over is that we do tend to get a pretty interesting cast. This one doesn’t feel as star studded as some of his classics, which can draw in some impressive talents, but it does work well. Joseph Gordon-Levitt presents a very calm and almost monotone Jiro, which is what the character feels like from the script itself. Beyond that character though, few people really make an impact. Emily Blunt does fine as Naoko for what little real attention she gets and John Krasinski has the right kind of disdain for things with Honjo. Martin Short really shined in playing Kurokawa though, and he made that a more enjoyable role than I thought it would be based on the character designs and the stereotype of it all. And I rather enjoyed what Stanley Tucci brought to the role of Caproni, which does some decent Italian at times and has an amusing role to play as Jiro’s subconscious with how he talks to himself. But the role itself is kind of off in its own way at times, making it just a bit more surreal in the overall experience and Tucci works that well enough.

In Summary:
The Wind Rises can be a really conflicting film and it’s one that should lead to interesting conversations among fans. As a final work, it’s a difficult one in a way that tends to happen for a lot of directors when they get into their golden years and become more passionate about leaving a statement in a way. There is a lot to admire here about the technical aspects of the film and the simple visual beauty of it all as it comes across. But there are also things to take issue with in terms of the characters, their motivations, the awkward shifts across the years and just how much doesn’t connect with the reality of Jiro Horikoshi. I’m also not enthused about the structure of the film, though a break from the traditional act aspect isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just the execution more than anything else. Miyazaki has produced so many fascinating works over the years that seeing him taking the turn here that he does definitely makes it engaging, and there’s an appeal for me in walking out of a theater or stopping the Blu-ray player and feeling unsettled about a film. I suspect it’ll be a fascinating film to watch in the years to come to explore it more and see what comes from that experience as well. It’s definitely worth seeing though, no matter what.

Features:
Japanese DTS-HD MA 1.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 1.0 Language, English subtitles, French Subtitles, The Wind Rises: Behind the Microphone, Announcement of the Completion of the Film, Storyboards, Original Japanese Trailers and TV Spots

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Disney
Release Date: November 18th, 2014
MSRP: $36.99
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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