REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST: THE WIND RISES and JE T’AIME JE T’AIME


the-wind-rises-theverge-5_1020_large_verge_super_wideIf one is Japanese, I suppose The Wind Rises, the latest and quite possibly lastest animated movie from celebrated filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki (of Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, et al.) is about an aviation engineer who brought Japan into the 20th century in his design of airplanes.

For anyone else, quite possibly the movie is more about the events leading up to the invasion of China, the Rape of Nanking, the takeover of Korea, WWII and Pearl Harbor, though you might never know it by the often wistful comments made at times during the movie that rather vaguely refer to these events at all, some of which were quite possibly happening during the time period in which the movie takes place.

In many ways, The Wind Rises is like Martin Scorcese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, which is a story that built up to events that helped devastate the U.S. economy and ruined the lives of many people, but also a story that manages to leave out all that unpleasant stuff at the end.

The Wind Rises revolves around Jiro Horikoshi, who as a child dreamed of making huge airships and as an adult created, instead, sleek, metallic fighter planes and bombers.  In Miyazaki’s version, Horikoshi is presented in terms of being a hero to youth everywhere, someone to aspire to, a biography that one might read when one is in elementary school of a celebrated role model, like a book about Edison and Carnegie that leaves out all the juicy parts.

There’s not a lot to Horikoshi, really.  There’s no real inner conflict and not much of an outer one either.  He wants to design and builds planes and very little stops him.  Any obstacles are small and annoying, or irrelevant, rather than crises to overcome.

Even the prospect of a coming war and that he is helping prepare for it is little more than a passing whimsy of an occasional thought that is less than dimly annoying.

Of course, I can’t really blame Horikoshi for that.  If I was in his shoes, and grew up where he did and when he did, I probably would have done the same thing and had as much inner turmoil over it as he does here.

So the portrait from that angle is probably an accurate one, but it’s not the most dramatic either and because of this, the story doesn’t always have a lot of forward momentum.  It’s just a series of events, often low key ones, in Horikoshi’s life that are interesting at times, at others, less so.

Even Miyazaki seems to realize that not only might Horikoshi’s life not be the most inherently involving, but that his lack of conflict over the upcoming Japanese military action might also be problematic from a dramatic point of view, as about half way through, he completely changes the course of the story and turns it into a Dickensian romance as Horikoshi falls in love with Nohoki Satomi, a young woman with tuberculosis (the literary reference in the movie is Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, but don’t let that fool you—the story line has Dora and David Copperfield written all over it).

Now, this has nothing to do with Horikoshi’s design of airplanes, but since that story wasn’t really going anywhere fast, why not change subjects and hope for the best?

But since the subject matter changes so abruptly, it takes awhile to catch on to the fact that a totally new movie has started with the result that it feels like Miyazaki is taking a bit too long to tell a rather simple story.

At the same time, The Wind Rises is still a must see and this is because of the magnificent and imaginative animation used to tell the story.  It’s filled with surrealistic dreams and visions on one hand and intense detailed realism on the other.   But even the detailed realism has a surrealistic edge to it as tears and sweat are as big as marbles and blood flows from a nose like it’s the Red Sea.

The look of The Wind Roses is exciting, stunning, at times transcendent.  Even when one is losing interest in the story, it’s hard to lose interest in the visuals, with the highlight coming early on in a terrifying and devastating earthquake that hits Tokyo while Horikoshi is arriving by train to go to school.  This is a series of scenes that are riveting, even searing.  You’re both amazed at the artistry of it all while being emotionally overwhelmed by the event itself.

The Wind Rises is one of those films that may not quite work the way one would hope, but at the same time is quite worth seeing.  It’s a visual triumph, even if it’s not quite a dramatic one.

jetaime2In 1961, Alan Resnais gave the world that classic mind fuck of a movie (that also inspired the look of commercials for years to come), Last Year at Marienbad, about a man and woman who may or may not have met before, but who knows because the story is told in a surrealistic manner where time and logic or not supreme, to say the least.

Last Year… is a great movie, riveting, even when one doesn’t know what is going on, or what anything means or if it even means anything.  I’ve seen it a number of times and each time I found it as mesmerizing as the first time I experienced it.

Well, in 1968, Alain Resnais, with a screenplay by Jacques Sternberg, tried to mind fuck one and all again in the movie Je t’aime je t’aime.  But this time round, they’re not quite as successful.

The basic plot of I Love You, I Love You (as they say in English) involves Claude Ridder, an author (I think) who just tried to commit suicide and because of that, has become the perfect human lab rat to take part with other literal lab rats in a time travel experiment at a research center just outside of Paris.

And since Claude has no interest in life anymore, he goes, sure, why not?  What have I got to lose, my life?  Well, maybe this time I actually will.

He’s put into a strange, muslin covered type structure that looks vaguely like a brain monster from a 1950’s B sci-fi film.  The idea is that he will travel back exactly one year for one minute, which will then prove that all those rats that did the same thing actually did do the same thing.

But something goes wrong and Claude is bounced all over the place, with no logic, rhyme or reason, over the past fifteen years of his life (for some reason, the movie doesn’t go far enough into his past such that a different actor would be required for the part).   We then sort of get an idea as to why he ended up trying to end his life.

I make the story sound sillier than it is and I shouldn’t.  It starts out very well, the whole thing written, directed and acted in a low key style that gives everything a certain realistic feel to it.  It’s also filmed with that certain flatness that was becoming popular at the time and that always gave films of that era a stronger feeling of reality as well.

And at first, the time travel jumping around is kind of interesting as one tries to fit all the puzzle pieces together.  But the story also eventually becomes more and more repetitious in tension and build, until it doesn’t always feel like it’s going anywhere.  It gets interesting, then tedious, then interesting, then tedious again.

However, what may really be missing here is that big build up to the revelation of whatever happened in Claude’s life that makes his life worth watching in the first place.  There’s no Rosebud here, or if there is, it’s so subtle that you’ll blink and miss it.

And without that, the whole thing feels a bit anti-climactic until one wonders whether Sternberg and Resnais were really interested in exploring what made this character tick, or if the whole thing was more just a set up with no purpose other than to tell a story out of linear order?

See this only if you have seen Chris Marker’s La Jetee first.  It’s a much better movie.

With Claude Ridder as Claude Rich, which must have been a bit convenient on the set.

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