Kaze o Mita Shounen is a curious one. It has the feel of one of those classics of anime that not many people pay attention to, deeply 80s in its old-fashioned tropes and values, its idiosyncratic and slightly ugly character design and its naivety. But at least in the States, it was heavily marketed, and as you watch it, past those odd designs and outdated, cheesy good/evil divide, you see some CG, some ambitious effects. This film was made in 2000.
A young boy in a fantasy world of early 20th-century aircraft and simple water tribes discovers he has special talents – healing with a warm light, talking to animals, and even being able to see the wind when the sun shines on it. After his scientist father runs some tests, warmongering government agents become interested in this strange new energy source, and when his father burns his laboratory and attempts to flee, young Amon’s parents are killed. He is taken away to be experimented on, until an eagle tells him to escape by flying on the wind, which he does.
Of the many things Kaze o Mita Shounen tries to be, it manages to be none off them. It goes for heartwarming, manages it for a while, then succumbs to a clinical, dull and cliché final arc. It goes for epic, but there is never much sense of threat. It goes for both child-friendly and at times, shockingly stark. And perhaps most whole-heartedly, it goes for early Ghibli, flight scenes and shattering rocks taken almost wholesale from Nausicaa and Laputa. But it has none of the warmth, sincerity or sense of wonder. And much as art should be taken for art’s sake, it’s also true that the bar has been raised since those films, neither of which I’m a huge fan of in any case, and what allowances may have been made for this film if it were from the 80s do not apply when it is less than ten years old.
It does have its moments of beauty, and it is worthwhile observing that it is based on a novel by C.W. Nicol, a very curious figure - a Welshman who moved to Japan, became a 7-Dan in karate and is now a well-known celebrity figure there with a string of bestsellers for adults and children and a lot of political clout as an environmentalist. I read online, though would need more reliable sources to believe it wholeheartedly, that Miyazaki’s interest in Wales, reflected in Laputa’s miners and later adaptation of Wynne Jones, stems from this man’s influence.
Ultimately, though, what he created was a dull story with weak characters, and despite some gorgeous settings and stunningly beautiful scenes, this film is dragged down by them to be left nothing more than mediocre.
(originally written 1.3.09)