Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Wind Rises (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“The Wind Rises”
From Japanese Manga

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Some years ago I flew to Tokyo to meet with a publisher who had the license to turn Marvel superheroes into manga (a Japanese style of comics). The hotel stay was like a rerun of “Lost in Transition.” But I quickly learned that the people of Japan take their comics seriously. It was not unusual to see businessmen reading comics on a train. The streets were lined with vending machines that dispensed comic books.

So when I saw “The Wind Rises” -- the Academy Award nominated animated feature film that’s now playing at the Tropic Cinema -- it wasn’t surprising to learn that it had been adapted from a manga graphic novel.

Hayao Miyazaki, the film’s director, had written the manga himself, based on a novel by the late Tatsuo Hori. Hori’s story told about a woman’s bout with tuberculosis. But in Miyazaki’s retelling it became the fantasized biography of Dr. Jiro Horikoshi, the engineer who created many Japanese fighter planes, in particular the deadly Zero.

As a young boy, Jiro Horikoshi had a dream about climbing onto the roof of his home, donning goggles, and flying away in a bird-like airplane. In another dream he meets the famous Italian aircraft designer Caproni, who tells the boy he cannot fly planes with his bad eyesight but would be better suited to building them.

Later on, Jiro studies engineering, goes to work for an airplane manufacturer, gets promoted to chief designer, and after a number of failures invents the Mitsubishi A5M  (Type 96 carrier-based fighter), the prototype of the A6M Zero.

During this time we follow Jiro through the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923, the Great Depression, and World War II. Threaded through these years is the bittersweet story of how he meets a young woman named Naoko, becomes engaged to her, and shares a love even as she is dying from TB.

Don’t worry if you don’t speak Japanese -- the film has been dubbed into English. The new cast includes the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Jiro), Emily Blunt (Naoko), as well as Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Grey, Elijah Wood, John Krasinski, Martin Short, William H. Macy, and Mandy Patinkin, among other notables.

“Kaze Tachinu” (translation: “The Wind Rises”) was the highest-grossing Japanese film in Japan in 2013. A nice piece of animation, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures is distributing the film in the US.

To be politically correct, the character of Jiro Horikoshi ends up regretting the deaths caused by his fighter planes. But the fantasized Caproni is on hand to reassure him that he achieved his dream of building airplanes.

Somehow it doesn’t seem like an achievement.

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