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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: The Wind Rises




Japan: Hayao Miyazaki (Disney)

“The wind rises; we must try to sing.”

                                 — Paul Valery

Miyazaki‘s The Wind Rises. A lovely name. A lovely film.  A poem to flight, as soaring and lyrical as  those of the sometimes heart-piercing French writer/artist/pilot Antoine de St. Exupery.

In Wind, we’re in a long-vanished Japan, in a world made of drawings, and the artist is a sort of god — a boyish god named Jiro, who wears glasses and adores biplanes and dirigibles and lovely old flying machines. Jiro’s  line, the pen in his hand, brings machines alive. And the hand of Miyazaki, his pen and line, brings a whole lost world and its lost people to life.

World War I has ended. The earth quakes. Jiro dreams of flight, but he is too near-sighted to fly. An Italian airplane designer named Caproni inspires him. His friend Honjo walks with him, joking. There is a girl who paints, named Nahoko. She bends from a balcony in the sunlight and laughs. There’s an angry goblin of  a boss named Kurokawa. There are Germans,  Nazis, obsessed with war, with mastery, with the best way to kill many people. Bad men  and bullies, says a man named Castorp — with smiling eyes and a huge hook nose.

The hills are green. The sky is blue. The clouds billow like white sails full of wind. Down below, Jiro walks in the tall grass, in the sunlight, with Nahoko. And Jiro and Honjo design planes. Jiro draws so beautifully…

The drawings come alive. The pilots fly and soar.  War breaks out. The Bombs drop. There is a drop of blood on the pillow. Love and war.  Flight. The pictures move. The wind rises. WWII.  Storms of fire lie beyond the clouds. Riders soaring in the beautiful, damned sky. The boy in the glasses become the man who draws planes, on the ground below.

All of it is Jiro’s dream, Miyazaki’s drawing: clouds piled high in the sky, masses of white, like heaps of ice cream, the planes scooping through them. The Earth far below. The ruins piled up. Death falling. A dream…of Jiro, of Caproni, of Nahoko, of the sky, of the planes and, behind that rim of clouds, of what will be Pearl Harbor, with Jiro’s Zero fighters flying far above. The Zero fighters, the A6M, designed by Jiro. The planes. The glasses.  The waves of grass. The wreckage. The clouds. The drop of blood. The Sky.


“I just wanted to make something beautiful,” said the real-life  Jiro Horikoshi, the aeronautical expert who designed some of those planes, the best of them maybe, so they could fly perfectly on their missions of death.  That strange and disturbing remark  of Horikoshi‘s was the thing, said Miyazaki, that made him want to make this movie — supposedly the last feature film by one of the world’s great masters of the animated film. So he wrote and drew a manga, a Japanese comic book, about Jiro — not the true story of what really happened between the two World Wars, but a poem, a romance.  And then he turned this manga, this poem, into this movie. His last movie he says and his last poem: the last animated feature of Hayao Miyazaki, who wrote, drew and brought to life Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service and Howl’s Moving Castle.

Most of those films were stories about people and children who flew, or who explored, or who entered a dream world — adventurous little girls or boys (more often girls), or spirits or a mustachioed pig of an Italian star pilot named Porco Rosso. They were drawn and animated largely in the old-fashioned way, with lines that emphasize the paradoxical flatness and depth of Miyazaki’s tableaux and compositions, lines that make each character, however small, look like a work of art, or part of a great, beautiful drawing  — those memorable movable lines that define Miyazaki’s style, which almost eschews the rounded contours, three-dimensional depth or the quick pace and cutting that define the dominant feature cartoon style today.

Miyazaki’s cartoons are resolutely old-fashioned, unabashedly artistic, defiantly slow, often dazzlingly pictorial, heart-breaking, exciting  and whimsical. They are pictures that move, full of drawings that live. I would rather watch one of them than 90% of the cartoons, or movies, being made today. So would many other people and children, I suspect, which is probably why John Lasseter, the generous, brilliant, warm-spirited head of Pixar and Disney, is trying so determinedly to give us all the chance.   `

Lasseter has packaged The Wind Rises lovingly and given it a wonderful English-speaking cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the eternally boyish Jiro, Emily Blunt as the tragic Nahoko, John Krasinski as  the lively, witty Honjo, master musical player  Mandy Patinkin as Hattori, Martin Short as the bumptious little Kurokawa (a fuming little mad elf of a guy, so he couldn’t possibly be inspired by the six-foot-plus-tall and very anti-war Akira Kurosawa), German cineaste/wanderer  Werner Herzog as  Castorp and Stanley Tucci as the real-life designer Giovanni Battista Caproni, Jiro’s youthful idol. (I wasn’t able to see the subtitled Japanese-language version with Japanese actors, and I hope Disney includes it with their English language version in the DVD.) Miyazaki’s script, a fine sturdy one, was inspired by Horikoshi’s life (which it considerably alters) and also by the novel “The Wind Rises” by Tatsui Hori, who took his title from the French writer Paul Valery’s line quoted above and who, like the fictional Nahoko, had tuberculosis. The music, as so often for a Miyazaki film, is a poppish lyrical score by Joe Hisaishi, whose sprightly melodies  and dancing rhythms fit Miyazaki as well as Nino Rota’s fit Fellini.

.The movie’s politics have been questioned, wrongly, I believe — but understandably, considering the sympathy that Miyazaki shows to  his Japanese WWII era countrymen  who were also America‘s old WWII Japanese combatants, and especially to the man who designed the planes that struck without warning and rained down death on our boys at Pearl Harbor.  I think it’s clear that The Wind Rises is a movie made by an artist opposed to war. But just as the anti-war, anti-militarist, anti-nuclear bomb Kurosawa could find wild, brawling, breath-taking  beauty in the extraordinary battle scenes he created for war movies like Seven Samurai and  The Hidden Fortress, so Miyazaki finds disturbing  beauty and artfulness in the creation of the Zero fighter planes, the carriers of death that Jiro draws and makes possible — and he finds beauty as well in the wind that rises, in the earth that shakes, and in the people who persevere as their world falls apart. But not in the bombs that fall and kill, or the monsters who unleash them.

I hope that Miyazaki’s “retirement,“ like his retirements before, and many of Ingmar Bergman’s, proves  prematurely announced. Three of his last movies — Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and The Wind Rises — have been very ambitious, staggering really, especially since he plans the films, writes the scripts, and does much of the drawing himself. But not every work of art has to be an epic. Miyazaki could make a little film, like his little heroines, made with large talent and a large heart, which he has shown repeatedly. We would welcome it, I think. Anyway…All our praise to Miyazaki for a film, and a life, well made. That war, thank God, is over. That drawing is done.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon