The Wind Rises, the most recent and perhaps final film from animation master Hayao Miyazaki, opens with this Paul Valéry quote: “The wind rises… You must attempt to live.”
Also, characters in the film quote Christina Rossetti’s poem:
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.
Jiro Horikoshi has dream meetings with the famous Italian aeronautical engineer Caproni, and in each dream he is asked, “Is the wind rising?” I interpret this repeated question to be asking, “are you living?” For a creative person, this is the same as, “are you creating?” The Rossetti poem provides the urgency, we have limited time, we face mortality. We don’t know what life is, but we can see its effects. Caproni also states that an artist or engineer will work at peak for ten years. That time is precious.
This film, it should be noted, is not necessarily an accurate portrayal of Horikoshi’s life. Miyazaki uses plenty of creative license in order to tell that story that he is interested in telling. What is creative inspiration? What is life? What to do when creative inspiration and life are at odds? These as the questions the film asks, the main character grapples with, and Miyazaki seems to be mulling over himself.
Jiro’s dreams seem to be synonymous with his creativity, and his desire to fly. Flying in dreams indicates personal fulfillment. His dream to create a beautiful airplane is representative of each person’s desire to find their own fulfillment. But what if the only way to realize his dream is to design a machine of war and death? Caproni posits this question directly, and essentially says he prefers a world with the beautiful creation, even if the result is suffering. Jiro doesn’t give a verbal response, but does continue designing airplanes, knowing their ultimate use.
Meanwhile he falls in love with Naoko. The brevity of life and love is highlighted by this relationship. By the time he declares his love, she is already dying of tuberculosis. His love might even have been inspired by the knowledge that her time here is brief. He doesn’t sacrifice his work for her, he doesn’t need to, and he perhaps is inspired by his love for her to be a better designer (as is suggested earlier in the film by the sardonic Honjo).
Jiro’s relationship with Naoko is paralleled with the development of the Zero Fighter, from the paper airplane that cements their relationship, to the the test flight, that takes him away from home, and provides Naoko with an opportunity to leave, before her illness gets worse, so he can remember her the way she was.
Miyazaki wisely balances the Naoko character, a victim of illness, with the invented character of Jiro’s sister, Kayo. Kayo is a strong and independent female character, who at an early age decides to become a doctor. Instead of dying, it is her vocation to help people live.
Hayao Miyazaki cites declining eye sight for his retirement from animation. But also, he has “retired” before, after Princess Mononoke (1997). Ever since Mononoke, he’s been on a streak, maintaining the high bar he set with that film. He is still creating manga, though. The wind still rises.