Movement is critical to Miyazaki, and the heart of animation and all film, but with animation it is extremely important that the images match the rhythm of movement, and this is where Miyazaki is a genius. The movie opens with a faint mist on the land in a rural area with some houses, and then the mist rises, and you can see more clearly what it is that was veiled. He lifts the scarf of morning to reveal the plain day set before you.
A boy, Jiro, dreams of flying in 1918 in Japan. He has just been reading an aviation magazine, and learning about the Italian aeronautical engineer, Caproni, whose steel sheathed planes are capable of carrying greater weights and flying at higher velocities than before. Caproni becomes Jiro’s guiding spirit, and recurs in several other dreams where he and Jiro walk on top of the wings of planes which are in mid flight.
Even though the story of The Wind Rises, which begins with the quote from Eluard, “Le vent se leve. Il faut tenter de vivre.” “The wind rises. One must try to live,” traces the progress of the boy with a dream of designing planes to the fruition of that dream, it encompasses many other threads, including the relationship of the boy to his sister, and his falling in love with a girl on a train who rescues his hat. But most of the movie is devoted to the rigorous process of designing a machine that can fly. It is grueling, and sometimes even a tiny bit boring, to watch Jiro recalculate on his slide ruler what the equations are that will allow the thing he needs to make go at the speeds required of it.
Jiro has a demanding, somewhat comical boss, Kurokawa, whose hair jumps up and down to match the movement of his yelling his demands. Jiro has learned to observe nature closely and discovered the beauty of a mackerel bone, its arch making a good model for the curve of the wing. The aeronautical engineers in the movie are all based on historical figures: Caproni, Junker, and Jiro Hirokoshi were all real men who were working right after World War I, and leading up to World War II when planes were used to devastating effect.
Miyazaki lays bare the disappointment of Japanese engineers when they discover that their brilliant designs will not be used for peaceful means but to wage war. Hirokoshi’s letters reveal his feelings about this. It is one of the complexities of the movie, that something so beautiful could be used for something so ugly.
I consider Miyazaki a great artist. At one point the earth lifts all of the buildings in Tokyo and you realize that you are witnessing the earthquake of 1923. The animation is breathtaking. His compositions of nature are extraordinarily beautiful. In this movie, he shows how the wind works across a field of grass, across water, and how the simple lifting of a hat has elements of mystery. He has achieved a touching love story in this movie, both between two people, and between a person in love with a vision of a beautiful machine that can fly.