Posts Tagged ‘The Wind Rises’

As my first year in film review blogging draws to a close, it’s time for me to  list my Top Ten of the year. I’ve restricted myself to films that went on general release in the UK in 2014, which means I can’t list one of my favourite films – Nothing Bad Can Happen (see April 5th review), directed by Katrin Gebbe and shown as part of the Bird’s Eye Film Festival. As a non-professional blogger I also can’t claim to have seen all the good (or bad) films released this year. Some of the films that have popped up in lists such as the Sight & Sound Top 20 or the Guardian Top Ten, but which I haven’t seen, are The Lego Movie, Ida, and Leviathan.

But with no further ado and in reverse order, here are my ten favourites of the year.

10. The Wind Rises.

9. Inside Llewyn Davis.

8. Pride.

7. 12 Years a Slave.

6. Kajaki.

5. Citizenfour.

4. Tom at the Farm.

3. Nightcrawler.

2. Boyhood.

1. Under the Skin.


10. The Wind Rises.

The Studio Ghibli animation genius, Hayao Miyazaki, has said this will be his last film. But I will not be alone in hoping that he has a change of heart. In my review (May 24th) I said that this was “one of my favourite films of the year so far and one of the greatest animated movies I have ever seen”. Pursuing a more adult theme than most of Studio Ghibli’s output, The Wind Rises tells a fictionalised version of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the airplane designer who opposed Japan’s involvement in World War 2 but was also responsible for two of that nation’s greatest fighter planes used in the conflict. Miyazaki masterfully conveys how a child’s wonder at the marvels and mystery of flight never leaves Horikoshi as an adult, “although ultimately it is a very melancholy tale too”.

9. Inside Llewyn Davis.

Like The Wind Rises, Inside Llewyn Davis also has a rather melancholic feel, albeit balanced by the dry wit and colourful characters typical of Cohen brothers’ scripts. It tells the tale of a struggling sixties folk musician giving one last attempt at breaking into the big time. Some found the character of Llewyn Davis too unsympathetic to identify with, but I disagree. I found his increasing resentment all too easy to understand. A merchant seaman by trade, Davis finds himself watching inferior musicians dressed in chunky sweaters, singing songs about life at sea, and receiving warm applause from their audiences. The ending is rather splendid.

8. Pride.

The closure of industries during the Thatcher era of government, and especially the miners’ strike of 1985-6, has formed the backdrop for several British feelgood movies, including Billy Elliott and The Full Monty. In Pride, however, the politics of the time is much more to the fore. This is essentially a culture-clash story in which two very different beleaguered groups find they have a common cause. Based on real events, when the London-based group Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners make contact with a South Wales colliery, they find that acceptance doesn’t happen straight away. Eventually, though, strong bonds are formed, culminating in a group of miners leading the Gay Pride march in London. Pride features one of the year’s best supporting performances, from Bill Nighy as a closeted former miner who quietly comes out.

7. 12 Years a Slave.

Deservedly picking up the 2014 Best Picture Oscar, 12 Years a Slave is based on Solomon Northup’s harrowing account of his own abduction into slavery. It’s power lies not only in the terrible sense of injustice that is conveyed, but in the graphic depictions of cruelty that have a visceral impact on the viewer. Lupita Nyong’o collected the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, but powerful performances are also given by Chiwetel Ejiofor (Solomon Northup) and Michael Fassbender (as the brutal slaveowner, Edwin Epps).

6. Kajaki.

Despite the fact that British forces have been engaged in conflict somewhere every year for the past 100 years, it is hard to recall any British war films in recent times. As it happens, Yann Demange’s ’71, released in October, was a very exciting story set in Northern Ireland’s “troubles” in the early seventies. But the film that makes this list is surely one of the best British war films ever made. Kajaki is a crowdfunded movie, written by Tom Williams and directed by Paul Katis. It is the true story of a group of elite soldiers (3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment) who get caught in a Soviet-era minefield whilst serving in Afghanistan. Realism is the watchword here, from the boredom of guarding the dam (which may have motivated what was actually an unauthorised mission to engage a Taliban roadblock) to the depiction of bloody wounds and the earthy squaddie humour. Rather unflattering depictions of equipment failure and of the RAF sending the wrong type of helicopter for the rescue mission may have been the reason for the Ministry of Defence withdrawing their support. Political questions are deliberately not overtly addressed in Kajaki, but viewers might nonetheless be prompted to wonder whether we should really have been in Afghanistan. Not for the squeamish.

5. Citizenfour.

In January 2013 the journalist and film-maker Laura Poitras was contacted via encrypted email by someone using the name “Citizen Four”. This was the codename adopted by the whistleblower, Ed Snowden. Poitras makes documentaries around political themes and, at the time of Snowden’s approach, was making a film about surveillance in the wake of 9/11 (actually the third part of a trilogy, the first two being My Country My Country and The Oath). She went to visit Snowden during the period when he was holed up in a hotel bedroom in Hong Kong, and filmed Snowden’s conversations with the journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill. These conversations, during which Snowden reveals the scale of illegal surveillance undertaken by the National Security Agency and others, form the basis of Citizenfour, but are intercut with various courtroom scenes and interviews with other key figures, such as whistleblower William Binney and computer security expert Jacob Applebaum.

The film is a riveting piece of history. More than anything, the thing that sticks with me from Citizenfour is the bravery of Ed Snowden, who was fully aware of the trouble that he was bringing upon himself.

4. Tom at the Farm.

At age 25, Tom at the Farm (Tom à la Ferme) was the fifth feature film to be directed by French-Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan. It is a Hitchcockian psychodrama about a young man, Tom (played by Xavier Dolan), who travels to the rural home of his dead gay lover’s family, in preparation for the funeral. The mother turns out to be unaware of her deceased son’s sexual orientation, and Tom is bullied into silence by psychotic Francis, the brother of the dead man. The two men then become involved in a dark and complicated fashion. With its strong imagery, complex characters and bold storyline, this is a film that has really stuck in my mind.

3. Nightcrawler.

There is a long Hollywood tradition of depicting the dark side of the American Dream in its movies. The protagonist grafts hard to work his way up the ladder, but also transgresses the law by taking dodgy shortcuts (e.g. Nightmare Alley, Wall Street, The Wolf of Wall Street). Typically this figure will eventually be brought low and there may or may not be some element of remorse and redemption. Written and directed by Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler is possibly the most uncompromising film in this tradition. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom progresses from filming car crashes on his camcorder to rearranging crimes scenes in such a way that they will obtain a higher price from the news networks he is selling to. Bloom is not brought low. There is no remorse or redemption. On the contrary, Bloom corrupts those that he comes in to contact with. Human transactions become purely economic transactions. This is Ayn Rand’s philosophy writ large and all the more terrifying for it. Gyllenhaal is one of the best actors in Hollywood right now, and his performance in Nightcrawler ought to propel him towards an Oscar nomination.

2. Boyhood.

The top of many people’s end-of-year lists, Richard Linklater’s growing-up drama Boyhood is – as the trailer states – unique in the history of cinema. The film was made over a 12 year period and traces the childhood of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) over this space of time, so we see him genuinely age twelve years (as well as his movie parents, played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette). Mason Jr’s parents are separated, and much of the drama comes from growing up with a mom who keeps meeting unsuitable men. It is the ordinariness of the events that matter here which, because they are covered in such detail, enable viewers to identify with and be moved by them. In retrospect, my review (June 16th) was a little ungenerous in its rating: this is ten out of ten.

1. Under the Skin.

In compiling this Top Ten I changed my mind about the rankings on several occasions, and it is quite likely that I will change my mind again once this is posted. The one film I’ve had no trouble placing, though, is Jonathan Glazer’s phenomenal Under The Skin. This is not just my film of the year, but also of this century so far. Light on dialogue and heavy on incredible imagery, it is the story of an alien (Scarlett Johansson), constructed in the guise of a female human, who is sent by mysterious handlers (men on motorbikes) to find and kill people who won’t be missed, presumably as luxury food for beings on another planet. However, certain events lead the alien to develop empathic feelings for the people she is preying on. In one of the most extraordinary scenes in any film, the alien, whilst driving around nighttime Glasgow in search of victims, engages a severely disfigured man in conversation. The encounter is variously funny, uncomfortable, and touching. Eventually, the alien gives her handlers the slip and disappears into the Scottish countryside, where she faces new challenges.

Comparisons with Kubrick are entirely justified and the title is open to various interpretations. Johansson’s performance is terrific, switching between warm seductress and dead-eyed killer, and in my opinion should make her an Oscar contender. The scenes of her driving a van around Glasgow and talking to Scottish men, some of who were genuine passersby, are terrific and not easily forgotten.

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The Wind Rises (1)

Japan 2013

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Writer: Hayao Miyazaki

Runtime: 126 mins

 A beautiful, epic, melancholy animation

The latest, and apparently the last, animation from Studio Ghibli’s great Hayao Miyazaki, The Wind Rises takes its title from a couplet in Paul Valéry’s poem The Graveyard by the Sea: “The wind is rising / We must try to live!”.  These lines appear at the end of the opening credits and what follows is, to some extent, an examination of the challenge of living a life in dark times. The Wind Rises is in fact a fictionalised account of the early life of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of two great Japanese WW2 fighter planes – the Mitsubishi A5M and the Mitsubishi A6M Zero – but a man who also opposed Japan’s involvement in the war.

The tone of the film is set right at the start. A young Jiro (Hideaki Anno) dreams of taking to the air in a plane that sits atop his house. As he soars above the ground, this scene appears a classic example of flight as a metaphor for personal freedom and liberation. However, the mood of the dream changes as, from behind a cloud, a huge airship appears, with bombs and sinister dark figures hanging below it. Jiro’s airplane is struck and crashes to the ground, at which point he wakes from his dream. Later, at school one of Jiro’s teachers lends him an English aircraft magazine. It contains a photograph of Count Caproni, the famous Italian aircraft designer. Jiro subsequently dreams of meeting Caproni. Jiro’s poor eyesight precludes him from being a pilot, but Caproni tells him that it is better to design planes than to fly them. He tells Jiro that airplanes are “beautiful dreams”.

Jiro’s dreams and daydreams recur throughout the movie. As a young man he goes to work for the Mitsubishi corporation, who are busy trying to build warplanes for the Japanese navy. In a dream, Caproni tells him that airplanes are “cursed dreams, waiting for the sky to swallow them up”. However, both agree that a world with airplanes is better than one without or, as Caproni puts it: “Do you prefer a world with pyramids or no pyramids?”. We see that Japan’s technology is lagging behind that of Europe, the most potent illustration of this being the way that oxen are used to pull new airplanes out to the airfield. With Japan committed to a war that Jiro doesn’t want, he nonetheless strives to build better aircraft for his country, eventually producing machines that far exceed the navy’s specifications.

Throughout all this there is the romance between Jiro and Nahoko (Miori Takimoto). The two first meet in 1923 when, during a train journey, she catches his hat after it is blown off by the (rising) wind. Shortly afterwards, the Great Kanto earthquake strikes and Jiro carries Nahoko’s maid to safety after she breaks her leg. He leaves without introducing himself but, a few years later, they meet again when Jiro catches her parasol which has been blown away by the wind. Their romance is not straightforward, to say the least, and there is a certain ambiguity about Jiro’s character as he leaves his sick wife alone whilst he devotes himself to his work. Could he have behaved differently or was he effectively compelled to work for Japan’s war machine? (at one point, for reasons he does not understand, Jiro finds himself wanted by the “thought crime boys”).

One of the most beautiful scenes in the film occurs when Jiro entertains Nahoko by launching a simple paper plane into the air, and the two then take turns sending the little white creation between them. This moment, more than any other, captures the purity and beauty of the dream of flight. When we later see a white Mitsubishi Zero take to the air, it is possible to forget – if just briefly – that this is a deadly machine, as it takes us back to the flight of the paper plane.

In Japan, The Wind Rises has caused political controversy. Nationalists are unhappy about references to the “futility” of war, whereas left-wingers wonder why a positive picture should be presented of someone so closely associated with the war machine. From a British perspective it is worth reflecting that the inventor of the bouncing bomb, Sir Barnes Wallis, is widely regarded as a heroic figure, and The Dambusters is a much-loved film – despite the fact that this raid killed thousands of people (including allied POWs), and would nowadays be classed as a war crime. But another war film that came to mind as I watched The Wind Rises was Empire of the Sun. That film’s protagonist, the boy Jim, is imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp. However, he – like Jiro – is obsessed with flight and airplanes, and sees both Japanese and American pilots as heroic figures. In one scene, Jim is walking near the perimeter fence when a model airplane thrown by a Japanese boy on the other side lands nearby. Jim throws it back and is thanked by the other boy. It is another great cinematic illustration of the beauty of flight and the way that it captures the human imagination regardless of nationality.

As with all the films from Studio Ghibli, the artistry of The Wind Rises is gorgeous. The story is a more adult one than is normally the case, but certainly none the less powerful for that. Indeed, as someone who rarely watches animated films I was absolutely caught up in the lives of the characters, and was moved emotionally. It is a film that stirs us and makes us appreciate the beauty of flight, although ultimately it is a very melancholy tale too. This is one of my favourite films of the year so far and one of the greatest animated movies I have ever seen.

Rating: 10/10