The fascination Hayao Miyazaki has with planes and flight is evident from the poetic, sentimentalised treatment of the subject matter in The Wind Rises, his first ever film inspired by real people. However what becomes apparent from watching the film is Miyazaki’s respect for Jiro Horikoshi, the real life chief engineer at Mitsubishi Internal Combustion Engine Company Limited, on whom the central character Jiro is loosely based.
Horikoshi is best known for his design of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter, at its time considered the most accomplished carrier-based fighter plane in the world. Designed during WW2, Horikoshi’s measures to decrease the weight whilst reducing the wing span and maintaining maneuverability relative to previous models saw him win the respect of his peers not only in Japan, but also in America, where much his inspiration originated.
Miyazaki’s view of these planes (and, to a degree, the life of Horikoshi) is unapologetically romanticised, focusing more on the ability of the aircraft to soar freely through the air rather than the more sinister purposes they were designed for – although in interviews Miyazaki does stress that Jiro is a pacifist (a character trait Miyazaki himself identifies with). Miyazaki’s interpretation of Jiro is that of a dreamer whose life is framed by the desire to create a great piece of technology, which does not waver even for the love of another person.
Little is documented on the real life of Jiro Horikoshi, leaving us mainly Miyazaki’s interpretation to make of what we will. From an outsider’s perspective, the real life of Horikoshi is less tumultuous than as portrayed in the film – for example, the tuberculosis storyline in the film is inspired by The Wind is Risen, the short story by Hori Tatsuo (on which The Wind Rises is also loosely based). Horikoshi did however produce a memoir on his development of the Zero in 1970, called Eagles of Mitsubishi: The Story of the Zero Fighter, although those less interested in aviation dynamics might find the subject matter a little dry.
What is evident here, however, is Miyazaki’s ability to make a relatively dry subject matter into a whimsical, moving piece of cinema that will enchant the hearts of even those who have no interest in aviation. Horikoshi has long since passed, however Miyazaki’s tribute to him, however loosely based, will live on for future Ghibli-loving generations.
The Wind Rises.
Hayao Miyazaki’s Final Masterpiece.
In Cinemas Feb 27.