“Airplanes are beautiful dreams. Engineers turn dreams into reality.” – Giovanni Battista Caproni
It’s hard to overstate how much Hayao Miyazaki’s then-touted swansong and farewell piece The Wind Rises has affected my life. Ever since I saw it in theatres in 2014, it has stayed with me thanks to it’s artistic brilliance. I wouldn’t call it the ‘best’ Ghibli film, but I would almost definitely call it my favourite.
After seeing it and spending the majority of the rest of that year obsessed, it became my Valentine’s Day tradition to watch it. As a result, at the time of writing I have seen the film seven times, and plan to continue watching it for many years. On my seventh watch this year, I found myself appreciating the dream sequences of the film much more than I had ever before. Miyazaki’s excellent direction in weaving together mise-en-scene, cinematography and sound in these sequences to show the development in Jiro’s character and relationship with Caproni, as well to underscore the film’s key themes, was something I hadn’t picked up on before. In this post, I’d like to explore these sequences a little more, both in order to develop my own understanding of the film, but also to help highlight an element of Miyazaki’s filmography that has been severely overlooked. Heavy spoilers ahead.
Firstly, Miyazaki’s desicions in crafting the mise-en-scene of the dream sequences serve to underscore one of the film’s key themes, that of the clash between dreams and reality. This theme also partly serves as a self-critique on Miyazaki’s part, since he has personally always struggled to find the balance between trying to realise his aspirations as a filmmaker and his personal life, as explored in the documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness.
Therefore, Miyazaki chose to focus on a particular hobby of his – airplanes – to present this. Stemming from his obsession, the designs of the aircraft in the dream world were carefully chosen to underscore the theme of dreams being counterposed to reality. Jiro’s aircraft in the first dream sequence is a childish one, as demonstrated by the bright colours used on the front and back of the plane. The use of blue, red and yellow also suggests a chicken motif, further hinting at Jiro’s innocence at a time where he is not aware of the realities of designing aircraft and is only enamoured with the dreams of doing so.
In the second dream sequence, we see the contrast between Jiro’s childish conception of aircraft and the realities of aircraft design more clearly, as we are introduced to Caproni’s airplanes. His airplanes are more realistic, constructed out of wood and cloth, as was typical at the time. Moving into the third dream sequence, this contrast persists. Caproni and Jiro stand on Caproni’s aircraft, built out of metal with the latest technology of flush riveting, yet when Jiro conjures his aircraft in the air, it is white and graceful, almost like a paper airplane. This design makes it appear weak and flimsy in comparison to Caproni’s creation, suggesting that at this point in his life Jiro still has not realised the realities of aircraft design, and is still chasing dreams.
This comes full circle in the final dream sequence, where Jiro recalls his airplanes pessimistically, as weapons of war, and this time they are finally rendered realistically, with furnishings befitting of the time. Therefore, the changes in airplane design show that at the end of his journey, Jiro was finally able to understand that dreams are always crushed by reality – just as Caproni learned in his journey.
This theme is further reinforced by the stark visual contrast between the visual design of the real world and the dream world. When Jiro is a child, there is almost no difference between the real world and the dream world, with both being characterised in lush greens, highlighting Jiro’s childhood innocence. Yet, when Jiro is beginning to understand the realities of aircraft design after his visit to Germany in the third dream sequence, there is a stark contrast in visual design. Caproni whisks Jiro away from his seat, telling him to jump out of the train to come to the dream world with him. Jiro jumps, and in one cut we see the dark greys and blacks of the real world at night changed instantly to the lush greens and blues of the dream world. This sudden change in visual design suggests that the realities and dreams of aircraft design are fundamentally opposed to each other, since they must occupy different worlds both in terms of space and visual design. Furthermore, it suggests that Jiro has not yet understood this difference, since he is being literally thrown between locales with no agency.
This ties into the last dream sequence, where Miyazaki’s visual design in the reds and greys of a village being bombed, to the blues and greys of the site of wrecked planes, and finally to the greens and blues of the dream world provide a direct visual through-line, rather than a sharp contrast. This lack of visual contrast shows us that Jiro has come to understand that dreams and reality exist in conflict, since there is a steady progression in visual design from war-torn Japan to the dream world, rather than a conflict born from lack of agency, as was shown in the third sequence.
The conclusion that Jiro comes to, that ‘airplanes are cursed dreams’, is also the conclusion that Caproni had come to through his work, yet it is not just in this aspect alone in which their relationship evolves. Through the cinematography and framing of the dream sequences, we are able to see the evolution of Jiro and Caproni’s relationship from master and student to equals. When Jiro encounters Caproni for the first time in the second sequence, low angles are used to emphasise that Caproni looks down on Jiro, not only because he is a child, but also because he has not yet realised the reality of dreams. Furthermore, wide shots are used to emphasise the relative powerless of Jiro in the face of Caproni – when Jiro is invited aboard Caproni’s ‘dream machine’, the long shot places Jiro in the extreme left of the frame, meaning that Caproni’s giant machines takes up the majority of the frame.
When they meet again in the third sequence, wide shots still emphasise the enormity of Caproni’s machine, yet this time the dynamic has changed. Jiro is first helped up by the passengers of the plane rather than climbing up alone, giving the scene a comradely feel, and secondly Jiro and Caproni are constantly framed as equals. Wide and medium shots place the two in the same frame, and low angle shots are no longer used. In fact, Jiro’s dominance over Caproni is suggested since he is now taller than him. This framing suggest that their relationship has now evolved to the point in which they are equals, in contrast to the second dream sequence.
This aspect is further reinforced in the final sequence, where they do not stand together on a plane, rather on the ground, with wide shots and medium shots keeping them in the same frame. This shows that their friendship has now evolved beyond simply their dreams, since they no longer stand on an aircraft, but that they have now formed a true comradeship, as equals.
By the time the third sequence occurs however, both men are in the midst of their journey, since Jiro has started his job as an aircraft designer for Mitsubishi, and the soundtrack reflects this as the core melody is reprised once more but this time with a much fuller arrangement of instruments and at an even quicker tempo than before, as Jiro rides in Caproni’s final creation before he retires in the track ‘Journey (Wind of Italia)’. Yet, this does not mean that Jiro has completely become like Caproni, as when Jiro shows Caproni his idea for the Zero, the serene instrumentation returns and harks back to the track used during the first sequence. But, Jiro still recognises and is influenced by Caproni’s achievements, and for the last portion of the track, Hisaishi switches between Caproni’s upbeat motif with slapping percussion and triumphant tubas, and Jiro’s delicate, serene accordion and violin motif.
By the end of the film, Jiro has surpassed Caproni with his Zero, and therefore the soundtrack once more returns to the serene instrumentation of the first sequence in the track ‘Journey (Dreamland)’. Even so, the final shot of the film, when Caproni invites Jiro to join him at his house for a glass of wine, Caproni’s Italian instrumentation returns, reminding the viewer that Jiro’s dream was, in the end, influenced very much by Caproni’s, and that both men had developed a real comradeship over the years, eventually becoming equals.
As comrades, Jiro’s dream is influenced by Caproni’s and evolves because of his influence. The soundtrack was crafted by composer Joe Hisaishi to represent this, as it uses and changes musical motifs throughout the four dream sequences. In the first sequence, we understand the innocence of Jiro’s dream because of Hisaishi’s use of serene instruments such as the flute and the accordion in the track ‘Journey (Dreamy Flight)’. Moving into the second sequence, the core melody is reprised, but with much more aggressive instruments such as the tuba and some pounding percussion in the track ‘Caproni (Engineer’s Dream)’. Moreover, the overall tempo increases, suggesting that Caproni is already in the midst of his journey, whereas Jiro has yet to begin. The contrast between the rendition of the same core melody also suggests that, although the two characters are pursuing the same dream, they are very different characters at this point – Caproni is aware of reality, whereas Jiro is still chasing dreams.
Furthermore, the sound design of the dream sequences also helps to show Jiro’s reconciliation between dreams and reality in much the same way that the mise-en-scene does. When Jiro boards his dream aircraft for the first time as a child, we as viewers are shocked by the infidelity of the sounds which come out of it – the spluttering of the engine is rendered with the human voice, and then the hum of the engine in flight continues to be produced by that voice. Even the sounds of the aircrafts of war at the end of the sequence which send Jiro plummeting back to earth are provided by whispers and gargles. In this sense, we understand that Jiro does not view airplanes as machines, but as mystical things, almost like mythical creatures, and therefore imagines them to have sounds akin to other animals. This childish conception is further reinforced in the second sequence, where Caproni’s airplanes appear with sound effects that actually sound like a machine, not a human voice.
Even when Jiro becomes a professional aircraft designer at Mitsubishi by the time of the third sequence, he is still somewhat innocent, which is shown when he conjures his prototype Zero to show to Caproni, as it is still accompanied by the sounds of the human voice. Yet, by the time of the final sequence, Jiro has been awakened to the realities of airplanes as ‘cursed dreams’ and as weapons of war, and therefore no sound effects at all are used, instead only the soundtrack, since in Jiro’s mind airplanes have now been stripped of all of their majesty and mysticism. Not only do the Jiro’s airplanes become more realistic in visual design then, but also more realistic in terms of sound design, as they lose their mystical and animalistic qualities to become real representations of machines and weapons of war.
Thus, the dream sequences in The Wind Rises are absolutely essential in conveying the key messages of the story. Miyazaki uses mise-en-scene to contrast between both the visual design of the real world and the dream world, as well as that of between Jiro and Caproni’s airplanes, in order to highlight the clash between dreams and reality, leading to the film’s conclusion that dreams are always shattered by reality. This clash is further emphasised with Miyazaki’s inventive sound design for the airplanes, which emphasises Jiro’s growth from innocent child to pessimistic adult. Furthermore, through the cinematography used in these sequences, we understand the evolution in Jiro and Caproni’s relationship as they become comrades and equals, as Jiro learns of the reality of dreams. This is underscored by the changes in the soundtrack, as it incorporates motifs from both characters to emphasise how both men influenced each other, even if they only ever met in dreams.
After all, as Caproni says, the most important thing for an engineer, is dreams.
I’m very thankful that this video exists, otherwise I would’ve really struggled to identify the different instruments used in the soundtrack. Even so, I’m sure I got some wrong, but I think the overall idea is still valid. If you know soundtracks better than me, than please feel free to correct me. In any case, I hope you enjoyed this analysis of something that people don’t really talk about anymore. Let me know what you think down below or via Twitter.