‘The Wind Rises’ Blu-Ray Review – Miyazaki Injects Wonder Into Historical Tale

In the world of anime, it truly does not get much better than the brilliant mind of Hayao Miyazaki. The legendary animator and filmmaker co-founded Studio Ghibli, a studio that is responsible for creating some of the most incredible works of art that the world has ever seen, be it in the field of animation or otherwise. From the stellar debut of Castle in the Sky to later beloved works such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, Miyazaki has always been the gold standard for what animation could achieve as an art form. With the release of The Wind Rises in 2013, Miyazaki announced that the film would be his last before retirement. While he has since announced the abandonment of said retirement, The Wind Rises nonetheless stands as an exemplary achievement from the master of animation. As GKIDS releases a new Blu-Ray of this critically acclaimed film, let us take a look back at what made it so special.

The Wind Rises finds Miyazaki taking on a more grounded subject than the fantastical worlds he typically inhabits. Based on his manga of the same name, the film serves as a fictionalized account of the life of aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi, who created several of the notable fighters employed by the Japanese in World War II. The film establishes Jiro as a young boy in 1918 with an intense desire to become a pilot, who pivots to obsessing over designs after being burdened by nearsightedness. Jiro has dreams in which he has conversations with the famous aircraft designer Giovanni Battista Caproni, who gives him the encouragement he needs to start down this new path. It is during these dream sequences where the film feels most like the classic Miyazaki films you know and love. While these dream meetings mostly take place in an open field, the way in which the waves of grass come alive within the wind is visually mesmerizing. Miyazaki takes every opportunity to make every element from the landscape to the parts of the aircraft pulse with an energy that he does not employ in the waking world. The Wind Rises is a pretty serious drama, and these moments of levity are some of the most energizing in the film. 

It is later in his life as a college graduate where we spend the majority of the narrative. During this time we follow Jiro down two equally compelling paths that eventually become entangled as the film develops. The first path is the actualization of his desire to design aircrafts. Following his graduation, Jiro finds employment with the Mitsubishi corporation where he quickly rises up the ranks with his commitment to designing the best fighter plane that has ever been. The fascinating thing about Jiro is that he has absolutely no interest in the destruction that these planes are set to deliver during the war efforts. If it were up to him, he would ditch the weapons completely just so he could have a more aerodynamically sound aircraft. His design aspirations are pure, but the world will corrupt his ideas with death. As a country that has been on the other side of Japan’s attacks in war efforts, it may feel a bit strange to be rooting for this character to succeed, but such feelings are not at the core of what this story is trying to convey. His career path takes him many interesting places from his home of Japan to Germany as he continues to grow creatively and as a human being. 

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It is along this journey that we delve a bit deeper into the aforementioned second path of the film. Straightforward historical drama may not be typical of Miyazaki, but having love at the center of the film is definitely par for the course. It is by happenstance that Jiro reconnects with Naoko, a younger woman who he met very briefly years ago during a catastrophic earthquake. The two have a lovely chemistry that gives way to a very moving portrait of love. Jiro is very focused on his work as a designer, but his love for Naoko is readily apparent throughout. It may not be a grand, all-consuming romance, but it feels real within the context of the narrative. Miyazaki has crafted a story that delivers some heart wrenching emotional beats alongside feats of wonder from a historical perspective. His animation style on display here ranks as some of the finest that has ever been committed to film, as subtle details are rendered so precisely that you feel that you are watching the art form reach a new level. Those who are used to supernatural or fantasy elements from the auteur may have to take a bit to adjust their expectations, but once you engage with the film you will feel that this would have been a worthy swan song for the master of animation. 

Video Quality

The Wind Rises comes to Blu-Ray from Shout! Factory and GKIDS with a stunning and vibrant 1080p transfer. The colors present in this transfer are practically leaping off the screen with the wide range of hues permeating every inch of the frame. The textures, from the character designs to the environments, are extremely impressive and give the film a real sense of depth. One of the areas where the film really shines is the fluidity of the character designs. The subtle touches that are added to each individual is quite striking. The level of detail these animators put into each environment shines through here. Black levels are incredibly strong with no hint of compression artifacts or digital anomalies of the sort. When comparing this to the previous Disney release, there are no discernible differences between the two. The bit rates occasionally run a bit higher on the Disney release, but any variance was not noticeable to my eye. This is about as close to perfect as a Blu-Ray disc can look. 

Audio Quality

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 lossless track is presented here in its original Japanese and an English dub with optional English or French subtitles. As far as I can tell, the English subtitles provide a direct translation of the original Japanese audio. The Disney release employed a 1.0 track that sounds slightly less lively than this one. The track is an immensely satisfying experience that brings the movie to life in such a measured, joyous way. The film is primarily dialogue driven with a beautiful score courtesy of Joe Hisaishi. Dialogue comes through crystal clear at all times without being overshadowed by any of the environmental or aircraft sounds. The score provides a nice foundation for the story that is rendered lovely in the mono presentation. There is also a good amount of sonic detail in the mono mix that fully realizes Miyazaiki’s world. The English-language cast is full of immensely talented Hollywood stars, but stick with the original Japanese language for maximum enjoyment. This is a stellar sounding release that should more than please fans of the film. 

Special Features

The Blu-Ray comes with an exclusive booklet featuring a short statement from Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki discussing Miyazaki’s beliefs and development of the film, along with a statement from Miyazaki himself discussing what he intended to accomplish with the film on a narrative level as well as the film’s look. These are both very entertaining reads.

  • Behind The Microphone: An eleven-minute featurette with English-language director Gary Rydstrom and voice-cast including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Stanley Tucci and William H. Macy. The participants discuss the themes of the film, character traits and what it is like to try to sync with the film without corrupting the acting process.  
  • Original Trailers & TV Spots: Nine-and-a-half minutes of trailers and TV spots in the original Japanese that do a nice job of selling the film while paying respect to Miyazaki along with the historical importance of the film. 
  • Film Completion Press Conference: A 1 hour and 23 minute press conference that offers some wildly in-depth thoughts on the creation of the film with director Hayao Miyazaki, Japanese voice actor Hideaki Anno (Jiro) and singer Yumi Matsutoya (who sang the theme song, “Hikouki-gumo”). There are some really fun and engaging anecdotes from all of the participants concerning the development of the film, animating the film, voicework, what it was like to tell this story and more. I wish more films would get extras this engaging. 
  • Storyboards: You can watch the entire film in storyboard form, which is quite wild. It is fascinating to see where the scenes started out visually and how it compares to the final version. These Japanese storyboards take up the full 16×9 frame, just like the finished film, and the presentation provides the option for either language track. 
  • 10 Years With Hayao Miyazaki Documentary Episode: The final 50-minute episode of the four-part documentary series is provided here which shows Miyazaki during the production of The Wind Rises. The episode shows the director struggling during production, gives background on the narrative, explores collaboration with his team and more. It is so amazing to get such access to his process and see how some of the magic is made. This has English narration with Japanese subtitles when the subjects are speaking. 
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Final Thoughts

The Wind Rises saw Miyazaki tackling a historical drama for the first time, and the result is a staggering work of beauty that highlights the creative process and the corruption of war. The director also draws you in with a lovely romance that is bound to have you shedding a few tears. While it is heartening to know that the director is working on a new project, this film would have served as a worthwhile capper to one of the strongest careers any creative figure has ever had. Shout! Factory and GKIDS have delivered a Blu-Ray with improved audio and some worthwhile additions to the special features that makes this one easy to recommend. This one is worth a spot in any anime fan’s collection. Highly Recommended 

The Wind Rises  is currently available to purchase digitally. The film will be available on Blu-Ray + DVD Combo Pack and DVD on September 22, 2020. 

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Shout! Factory and GKIDS have supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

 

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