March Movies: The Wind Rises and The Grand Budapest Hotel

Falling behind again with life in general.  But in the interest in not leaving a month gap in my blog history, I give you my thoughts on the movies I saw in March 2014.

Thoughts on The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises is the latest (and purportedly last) film from Hayao Miyazaki, the animation genius who gave us everything from Totoro and Nausicaa to Mononoke and Ponyo.  While this movie is as visually beautiful as one might expect of a Miyazaki film, it was not the lighthearted romp I have come to expect.

Part of that has to do with it being a fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the legendary Zero fighter use by the Japanese in World War II.  While Jiro himself is portrayed as a visionary who loved flight, it is impossible to forget that for most of the film his work is exploited as a weapon of war.  There are aspects of his personal life, too, that do not go in happy directions.

Thus, though The Wind Rises flirts with the traditional sense of wonder found in all of Miyazaki’s films, there is always a feeling of tension pervading the film.  It can never quite make you forget that layer of darkness.  This is fully in line with the thematic elements of Jiro’s beautiful dreams being ultimately corrupted by war, but it is still unsetting.

All of this is to say that while The Wind Rises is a beautiful and interesting film, it is certainly not an uplifting one.  The film is definitely worth seeing, so long as you know going in that it is ultimately rather bleak.  If this is really Miyazaki’s final film, however, I kind of wish he had ended his career on a happier note.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

This latest movie from quirky director Wes Anderson is, perhaps, his best and most accessible.  It is certainly my favourite of his films that I have seen, in no small part because it has an actual coherent plot.  In general I enjoy Wes Anderson films, but they are admittedly slow-moving at times, with stilted characters, odd humour, and fractured relationships.  Most of that is present in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but thoroughly wrapped in a story that moves fairly briskly.

The main plot is portrayed within a deeply-nested framing device: a girl visits the grave of a beloved author, in whose memoir we get some writing advice, which gave an example of his visit to the titular hotel in his youth, wherein the hotel’s owner gave him the story of how he came to own the hotel.  (That last layer is, in fact, the bulk of the film.)

That story turns out to be simultaneously highly entertaining and bleakly morose, and lends the whole film a bittersweet air.  As in life, there are no happily-ever-afters, just happy-for-nows, but the ride from beginning to end is quite delightful.  Fans of Wes Anderson films will doubtless love this one, but I think that of all his films, The Grand Budapest Hotel is likely the most enjoyable to non-fans.  I’d certainly recommend it.