Written by Sarah Yoon
Throughout his career, Hayao Miyazaki changed the realm of storytelling. He had a fruitful “ten years in the sun,” and brought it to a close with one last masterpiece. The Wind Rises is his beautiful farewell to animation, leaving his audiences with the bittersweet tang of achieved dreams.
Differing greatly from Miyazaki’s previous films, The Wind Rises engages silence and sounds with increasingly emotive effects. The protagonists, Jiro and Naoko, are older than many of Miyazaki’s characters, such as Sophie, Chihiro, Kiki, and Mei. With their age comes weightier themes, such as chasing perfection and embracing love, whatever pain each may bring. Joy and grief blend into the narrative, making more viewers than myself—I’m not the only one, I’m sure!—tear up.
The Wind Rises has deeply emotional themes, but the quiet film never manipulates its audience. I witnessed a sharp contrast to Miyazaki’s emotional integrity when my husband turned on the TV and stumbled upon a ‘safe for the whole family’ boy-and-his-dog movie. The music dripped with oil and syrup. They added violins and invasively close shots of a tear rolling down a cheek, hoping to guilt us into feeling sorry for the characters. It demanded a reaction, souring the art of Longinus’s sublime and making me feel a little queasy.
Many storytellers fall into the crocodile infested swamp of manipulation because they desperately want their audiences to engage. Desperation leads to twisted stories, where they grasp at the lowest denominator, shocking their audiences and beating the dead horse of lost love with all their strength.
Unlike that dripping mess of sentimentality, The Wind Rises is brisk and honest, with a purity of character, emotion, and storytelling. Miyazaki builds trust with his audience. And though he doesn’t promise a cheery finis, he faithfully follows through to the end. When the able artist shapes this deeply emotional story, the characters’ tears aren’t sappy. He draws the audience into a state of belief by expressing vulnerability. The audience can feel Miyazaki’s heart throughout the film.
The Wind Rises follows two love affairs; (Spoiler Warning) Jiro dedicates his life to designing airplanes and is later swept up with the beautiful Naoko. Each love does not come without struggle. Though the airplanes must carry bombs, Jiro decides that the art of aerodynamics is worth pursuing—it is his life’s dream. In his marriage to Naoko, love is a sweet burst of joy, tainted by an inevitably early end. As these love stories progress, Miyazaki doesn’t shy away from tears and frustration. Storytellers needn’t be afraid of expressing deep emotion. Tears can tastefully and honestly encourage—not demand—empathy:
- Invoking the senses greatly affects the sentiment, but you don’t need weeping violins. Miyazaki uses startling silence to heighten visual impact, along with sharp juxtapositions between happy tunes and devastating images. Surges of energy create powerful moments; all it takes is a delicate balance between each element.
- Building emotional connections through subtle moments causes you to care and fear for Naoko far before you know about her condition. When Jiro launches the paper airplane to her balcony, she reaches out and flounders over the edge of the rail. Her hat falls. Your stomach drops. But the next shot dissolves that slight disturbance of dread as she laughs and pulls herself back. In this playful moment, Miyazaki builds the relationship between his protagonists and makes his audience fall in love with the beloved Naoko.
- Fight emotion instead of staring mournfully into the distance with a single, cliché tear. People wrestle, stifle, ignore, snuff, and hide their emotion—often poorly. When Jiro rides the train to see Naoko, he tries to keep working even though tears splash on the page. His strength mixes with love and fear, bringing a deeper dimension to the moment.
- Believing in the story allows personal values to shine through and keep the storyteller from turning to propaganda tactics. The best religious novelists understood that belief comes naturally into their work, because pushing an agenda only weakens the story—the same goes for any storyteller. Miyazaki deliberately crafts each emotional connection by believing in his story.
If you haven’t seen the film, please remedy that quickly! Miyazaki’s storytelling is a powerful lesson in honesty that is bound to sweep you away. For more on The Wind Rises, listen to Critical Hit’s podcast to hear more about the historical tension that rides alongside the story’s beautiful dreams.
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