Full disclosure: for various reasons, I watched the English dubbed version, not director Hiyao Miyazaki’s original Japanese cut.
The dub does not prevent The Wind Rises from being a quality film.
The animation is strikingly beautiful, in no small part because characters are realistically created.
Light sources and the shadows they create are visually impressive, as well.
So are the natural landscapes.
And the planes and buildings, amongst other objects.
But the best part is the details: the ways characters light matches, exhale cigarette smoke, write, hold the phone, catch objects from the air, and so much more.
The Wind Rises’ audio is as impressive as its imagery. Like directors of bygone eras, Miyazaki revels in natural sound effects like footsteps.
When he does play musical accompaniment, it is astoundingly well composed. Plus, it compliments his visuals. This is one of my favorite scores from 2013.
Too bad Miyazaki’s narrative doesn’t quite equal his filmmaking technique, though the story is far from bad.
Jiro (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is well developed and sympathetic, all the more so because he’s increasingly regretful of the havoc he knows his inventions will facilitate.
Therein is why the film resonates thematically. Through Jiro (primarily) Miyazaki highlights the ways humanity corrupts what ought be beautiful.
The director touches on several other themes, as well, many of them in his note-perfect resolution. This is one of the best endings of 2013.
Many of Miyazki’s secondary characters prove effective, especially Kurokawa (Martin Short), who provides much comic relief and is more compassionate than he first appears.
Horikoshi (Warner Herzog) is the weakest character. Not only is his introduction too dreamlike, but his departure is too sudden.
The other character that needed better development is Nahoko (Emily Blount). Despite the touching and amusing montage that starts her romance with Jiro, we do not see the characters’ love develop, which makes it hard to accept its supposed depth. Nor do we truly know Nahoko, at least not beyond her superficial characterization as a tuberculosis patient and loving wife.
Of course, it is hard to know exactly what is lost in translation.
No matter the flaws in Jiro and Nahoko’s romance, The Wind Rises is always captivating. It mightn’t be Miyazki’s best work, but it is good.