Talent makes peace, genius makes war. Great artists are unafraid of raining their nightmares on people along with their dreams. They’re unafraid of outraged responses – or carry on even if they are afraid. A merely gifted animator would never have made The Wind Rises. Hayao Miyazaki’s animated feature, which the creator of Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle says will be his last, risks offending – has already offended – just about everyone not born to the Japanese imperial impulse in the early 20th century.
It’s a conflicting masterpiece about conflict. Even the characters’ dreams are conflicts. This brush-and-paint biopic of pre-war and wartime aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi, who built the murderous Mitsubishi A5M and A6M Zero fighter-planes, begins with the young hero’s dream of meeting Italian plane designer Caproni. Caproni is territorially angered by Jiro’s trespassing into his waking sleep. It’s the first outbreak of apocalyptic absurdism, and oneiric logic, in a film with countless such.
All is surreal in love and war. Life, history and imagination are mapless zones. Every human being signposts them in a different way. Every zone trespasses on every other. The most vexed extreme, as the film shows, is when good and evil themselves can’t determine their proper boundaries.
Miyazaki takes his script from a story, author Tatsuo Hori’s imaginative recounting of Horikoshi’s life. So this biography is already tinted with art. The film loves Jiro. It loves his passion for gorgeous air monsters, a passion manifested in every Miyazaki film. It even embraces the guilt and dread Jiro feels – for they are living and human – when he knows, near the film’s close, that he has been an agent of doom and death as well as of transports of delight.
The Wind Rises won’t please the unforgiving and it’s their right not to forgive. But the film’s power comes from its blend of joy and horror. The 1923 Kanto earthquake sequence, stunning and spectacular, sets out Miyazaki’s tragic ambitions. Other passages, including the romantic subplot (fictional) with a tubercular girl, gather a poignancy and poetic density – allusions to The Magic Mountain, a windblown white umbrella that serves, surely, as a fleeting symbol for the human lung – which other animators can only dream of.