In a conversation with an acquaintance about The Wind Rises, I told her I was already inclined to love it (and I did) because I was already a big fan of Porco Rosso. Miyazaki is a man in love with airplanes and through both movies he imparts that love to his viewers. Both films are reminders that the real magic (and really all Miyazaki movies do this) is not in the world but in your choices and in your will.
(Contains spoilers for The Wind Rises).
Mid-way through Jiro Horikoshi’s life’s journey he has another dream conversation with his idol, Giovanni Caproni. The Italian designer of wooden planes asks Jiro a difficult question, “would you prefer a world with the pyramids or a world without?” Jiro pauses and supposes he would prefer the world with pyramids. But that pause is a wavering that pervades the rest of the film. As characters consistently point out, war is on the way. Japan will blow up. Germany will blow up. The world will blow up.
A major criticism of The Wind Rises has been the fact that the protagonist is a war plane designer, but the movie is hardly a whitewash or propaganda promoting war. Though it certainly is written with the foreknowledge that war is coming. That is the wind to which the title refers. The question of pyramids is a question of suffering and ambition. How do you achieve? What will you do to achieve? War plane designers are human beings and their stories are worth telling. The ambiguities are rich and worth exploring.
There is another kind of pyramid in Porco Rosso and the central conflict for its titular pig-man. Like The Wind Rises, Porco Rosso is set in another interwar period, and both films carry the undercurrent of elegy. Everyone has lived through a war and everyone knows another war is coming. But where Jiro ultimately chooses to work for his government in order to achieve his dreams, Marco (the human name of the Red Pig) knows his life fighting for glory is done. “Better to be a pig than a fascist,” he tells his IAF friend.
No, his pyramid is whether or not he has the capacity to live (and love) with his guilt. Underneath the adventure on the seas — and in the air over the Adriatic and Italy — is a love story of a guy who survived when his friend didn’t. Is there a greater pyramid to build than love?
For me this time and these places — interwar Europe and Japan — are as magical and awesome (in the full sense of that word) as the post-apocalyptic Earth of Nausicaä or the supernatural realities of Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke.
For that era has passed, and we can only know the shadows of it. Indeed, we still live in the shadows of it.