The Wind Rises Is Historical Fiction by Way of Miyazaki

The Wind Rises anime screenshot

The Story of Jiro Horikoshi Represents a Change From Standard Ghibli Faire

Anyone who is even remotely familiar with the filmography of Hayao Miyazaki knows what to expect when they sit down for a screening. Magical, surreal settings, characters discovering new or hidden worlds, and animated food that somehow looks more appetizing than anything you’d find at a fancy restaurant are all hallmarks of the films of Studio Ghibli

So when The Wind Rises was announced, it seemed at odds with many of the themes from previous Ghibli movies and what Miyazaki had put out for his entire career. The trailers for The Wind Rises didn’t give much away or even explain what was going on. 

The decidedly real setting and issues that aren’t hidden behind metaphor or a river spirit were kind of jarring to fans.

The Wind Rises anime screenshot

As it happens, the story of The Wind Rises is a fictionalized biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, the aviation engineer responsible for the creation of the Mitsubishi A5M and A6M Zero. These planes, especially the Zero, were some of the most formidable weapons Japan used during World War II and were used during the Pearl Harbor attacks, as well as the rest of Southeast Asia. 

This subject matter has made The Wind Rises one of Miyazaki’s most controversial films, rousing ire from politicians and political activists. 

While Jiro Horikoshi was a real figure that did engineer the A5M and Zero for Mitsubishi, much of the details of his personal life were fictionalized, and somewhat adapted from Hori Tatsuo’s The Wind Has Risen, which is where The Wind Rises draws its title from. 

The story follows Jiro as he chases his dream to build an aircraft. As a boy, he’s shown being interested in becoming an actual pilot, but due to his nearsightedness, he’s unable to become one. Instead, he begins chasing his dream to instead build aircraft, going to college, and eventually getting a job with Mitsubishi. 

On his way to college to study aeronautical engineering, he runs across Naoko Satomi, but before they can get properly acquainted, a great earthquake strikes and Jiro helps her and her maid to safety without either of them finding out their names.

 As Jiro continues working on planes, he travels to Germany and questions Japan’s role in the war. While he spends time at a mountain retreat, he runs into Naoko again and learns of her chronic illness. 

The rest of the film follows Jiro as he struggles to pursue his dream of building fantastic aircraft knowing that they’ll be used as weapons in a war that he doesn’t support, and his love for Naoko while knowing that she may never get better. 

The Wind Rises anime screenshot

The Wind Rises Was a Phenomenal But Controversial Success

Like many Studio Ghibli movies, The Wind Rises was distributed by the Walt Disney Company, but due to its more mature themes, it was distributed by Touchstone Pictures. Despite the controversy, it was still met with critical acclaim for its animation and story. It’s currently Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Also like many Studio Ghibli movies brought to America, the English voice consisted of hugely popular actors. Jiro, for example, was voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who had just appeared in Looper and The Dark Knight Rises the year before, as well as Don Jon that year. Emily Blunt played Naoko Satomi, written in the English release as Nahoko Satomi. She had also performed in the film Looper the previous year. 

John Krasinski was also in the cast and was notable in 2013 primarily for the hit show The Office, which had ended that year. He had done a few other voice acting roles around that time as well. He provided the voice of Jiro’s friend Honjo. 

Other notable actors include Martin Short, Mandy Patinkin, director and actor Werner Herzog, Mae Whitman, Darren Criss, and William H. Macy, who played Naoko’s father. 

Stanley Tucci was also in the cast, playing the part of Giovanni Batista Caproni, an Italian aeronautics engineer and one of Jiro’s heroes. Caproni frequently appears in the film during Jiro’s dreams to reassure and inspire him. 

Fans may even be able to pick out the voice of notable voice actor Richard Horvitz, who provided the voice for a variety of popular cartoon characters in shows like Invader Zim and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy. 

The Wind Rises was not only an important film for what is discussed, but also for what it represented in terms of Miyazaki’s career. As it was being released, it was widely reported that this would be Hayao Miyazaki’s final film, and many reviews for The Wind Rises referred to the movie as his swan song. This film was actually supposed to be a sequel to Ponyo, a very much children-oriented movie, but Miyazaki was talked out of it by one of his producers, Toshio Suzuki.

The Wind Rises anime screenshot

The Wind Rises Was Supposed to be Miyazaki’s Final Film

Instead, Miyazaki was encouraged to adapt the manga he had written as an adaptation of Hori Tatsuo’s The Wind Has Risen. The story in the manga was very close to the film, and followed the historical account of Jiro Horikoshi’s life but included fictional meetings between Jiro, Caproni, and Naoko. 

Miyazaki had wanted to do a story about Jiro since 2008, the year Ponyo was released, and published the manga between 2009 and 2010. 

Initially, he refused to adapt his manga into a film because he saw the manga as a hobby of sorts, and because of Ghibli films like Ponyo, he considered the subject matter too mature. However, he eventually relented.

Since the release of The Wind Rises Miyazaki has come out of retirement, and Studio Ghibli is reportedly adapting another classic Japanese novel, How Do You Live? The film follows a young boy and his uncle as they attempt to live in the quickly-changing Japan of the 1930s. 

It’s unclear whether this will be Miyazaki’s final film, but given his almost legendary status, it’s sure to be one of his best.

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