On this addition of Creations of Chaos, it’s the Alexander Hamilton of the Studio Ghibli world. Meet the ambitious, goal achieving Jiro, in The Wind Rises.
Jiro wants to fly airplanes. Unfortunately, his eyesight is poor, so he must turn his ambitions to designing airplanes instead. He sets out in full force, and though there are doubts, especially concerning his airplanes being used for war, he always hurls himself forward in the effort to achieve his dreams.
Jiro Dreams of Airplanes
Jiro is the Alexander Hamilton of Japanese aviation engineering (though he looks more like a Studio Ghibli Harry Potter). If there was a The Wind Rises musical, Jiro would rap about wing span and struts. Unlike Mr. Hamilton however, Jiro is a seriously nice, virtuous guy, and the film wants you to know it. It goes so far as to have a line of dialogue where one character comments, “What a great guy.”
Jiro is ambitious, but he never cheats or steps on others to make his way to the top. Always polite and respectful, he strives to exhibit a commendable work ethic.
It was not until this film that I realized there was a common male character type in Studio Ghibli’s non-fantasy films, the exceptionally moral, determined, dreamer guy.
In Only Yesterday, Tashio was passionate about his organic gardening. In From Up on Poppy Hill ,you have Shun the writer, who helped save the Latin Quarter. Seiji, from Whisper of the Heart, labored to achieve his dream of becoming a violin maker.
As a writer, you observe these characters and ask, are they too perfect? Sure, they have flaws, but the flaws are minimal.
For me, I like the upstanding Ghibli guys. They are the Jimmy Stewarts of the animation world. In the current entertainment atmosphere where there is such an emphasis on and perhaps even a glut of edgy, extremely flawed characters, it’s nice to change things up with a character who doesn’t slack off at work, who walks the girl home with no ill intentions, and who remains positive even when the world, literally, is burning down around them. I think there is room for incredibly flawed and incredibly good characters in storytelling.
I saw The Wind Rises when it was first released. In the theater, a group of college girls settled in the row in front of me. It was apparent they were there for some sort of class assignment. They didn’t take the film seriously, and giggled uncontrollably during the romantic moments. This influenced me, and I walked away thinking that the romance portions of the film were a bit cheesy.
In subsequent viewings, sans giggle girls, I discovered I was wrong. The romance in The Wind Rises is handled with a pure, delicate beauty.
It starts with wind, which ties in so well with the main line of the film. “The wind rises. We must try to live.”
When the wind rises, and carries Nahoko’s umbrella away, Jiro realizes that there is more to life than airplanes.
The two do not have an epic, fairy tale romance. Things are complicated. Nahoto has tuberculosis. She is sick, weak, and contagious. Their relationship is doomed from the beginning, but this does not deter the lovers.
As an independent girl, I at first questioned Nahoto’s decisions. She seemed to lose herself in Jiro.
Nahoto left her sanitarium, where she was receiving treatment, to be at Jiro’s side. She and Jiro have an impromptu wedding and she spends her days supporting and encouraging her husband’s dreams.
But what about Nahoto’s dreams? She was a talented artist. It was depressing to think that a girl would give up her aspirations for a man.
It’s not until Jiro’s sister comes for a visit, and informs Jiro that Nahoto is sicker than she lets on, that I realized Nahoto’s strength. Nahoto’s mother died of tuberculosis, so Nahoto was aware of the time that she had left. Knowing that her death was imminent, she decided to spend the tendrils of her fleeting time with the person she loved the most. She then showed a great deal of strength, when she returned to the sanitarium, because she knew her time was officially up, and she wanted Jiro to focus on his dreams instead of having to watch her die. Though Jiro is saddened, he respects his wife’s wishes as she had respected his.
It’s a sweet, lovely, and unique romance. One that I now appreciate.
Only in Animation
My favorite piece of animation is the earthquake scene.
It has a mythical quality. The ground waves, the houses jump in succession as though they are alive.
The view focuses on the details as the shaking earth threatens to break apart the train Jiro is on. During the aftershocks, the ground bellows and growls. It feels like more than just an act of nature. The earthquake is a villain, an evil creature, a beast that has set out to destroy. I don’t think that feeling could be conveyed as effectively if it was a live action scene, even with CGI. It is a moment that is meant for animation. It’s some of Studio Ghibli’s most brilliant art to date.
Not The End
I learned while watching The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, that Hayao Miyazaki intended to have Jiro die at the end of the film. It wasn’t until the very end of filmmaking that he decided that not only would Jiro not die, but the message of the film would be that, no matter our circumstances, we must continue to live.
It’s clear that the director put a lot of himself into this film. It was supposed to be his final project, and I wonder if that was why initially he chose to have the main character die. I also wonder, even if he wasn’t yet aware of it, if he let Jiro live because there was still a glimmer that The Wind Rises wasn’t really the end.