In my less than humble opinion Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises” is the best engineering movie ever made. I will admit to a certain degree Of bias in this. I have been a Studio Ghibli fan since I saw Kiki’s Delivery Service in the raw Japanese at a convention back in the early 1990’s. I bought the first Disney release of Kiki’s when it came out and ever movie since. I have copies of every Miyazaki movie and have seen even the stuff that was never officially released here in the US. I’ve been to the Ghibli museum, twice. I have all the art books for the Miyazaki movies. So I think that Miyazaki is one of the greatest film makers of all time. But I’m certainly not the only one in the world with that opinion.
Miyazaki’s reputation and my fan slobbering not withstanding, “The Wind Rise stands on it’s own. It’s not a children’s movie essentially like most of Miyazaki’s movies and deals with themes such as drive, persistence, death and achievement that you don’t see in say Kiki’s or Spirited Away. The characters in “Wind” are adults in an adult world, doing adult things. The main character, Jiro has to deal with illness and loss, all the while pursuing his dream. He experiences failure and triumph, turned to bittersweet by life. This is a beautiful work with a foot in what we experience in real life. Here’s the trailer, beautiful in it’s own right.:
Beyond Miyazaki’s usual fair of young people this reaches out of Miyazaki’s usual box of story tricks. And he doesn’t reach for comedy to blunt the edges like he did with Porco Rosso. No fascist hating pigs here. Just young engineers trying to understand a world seemingly going slowly mad. And the relationships are not perfect fairy tails with happy endings. Jiro’s love interest Naoko is carrying the burden of fatal disease, something that was common in a world without antibiotics. This was our world, but in many ways it’s as alien as the world of Spirited Away. Miyazaki presents that brilliantly.
The film captures the essence of the creative process that engineering represents. Through Jiro we see an engineer’s growth through simple project to visiting foreign lands to learn new technologies to his first aircraft and failure, followed by triumph. We also the failures. Aircraft are pranged and contracts lost. The foreign aircraft company that japan is buying technology from is uncooperative when it comes to sharing technical details. And the engineers struggle to overcome technical and production hurdles. We see the Mitsubishi company having to use oxen to cart the aircraft and out to the field and then cart the pieces back. We see Jiro’s first project airplane in pieces and Jiro withdrawing on vacation in depression, his dream seemingly in ruins. We also see his comeback in triumph.
In addition to all that is the detail. Miyazaki gets the details of the engineering office right. We see all the roles needed to make the project work. We see the stress of the contract meeting and the fun of the design startup meeting with it’s somewhat unrealistic goals. We also get to see how all the engineers can’t wait to get a look at the new parts even when the secret police is waiting outside. Miyazaki does a wonderful job of getting the feel of engineering right.
There are very few movies made about engineering. There’s the British movie about Mitchell and the Spitfire and that’s about it. Googling “engineering movies” produces lists of movies:
None of these touch on the design process the way that Miyazaki does. I don’t know why Miyazaki chose this as his last movie. It may be that he was resolving some issue in his past or it may be that he felt the subject was a story that needed to be told. He was right, this is a story that needs to be told, not just about the Mitsubishi type A6MJ Zero, but about the engineer and creative process that has changed our world in so many ways. A truly great film.