The first real flushes of summer are truly epitomised on the steps of Brixton’s iconic cinema and music venue ‘The Ritzy’ this evening, where the whole front of house is heaving with happy young things bathing in the heat, sipping wine and laughing easily with friends. After days of rain showers and grey skies, the pink sunset at six pm and warm hazy air feels God-sent and utterly perfect. Is there anything better than that first sip of ice-cold cider in the sun, eradicating the heavy overbearing memory of the day-in-the-office and the gruesome tube? One can let out a sigh of relief and truly relax in this environment.
The Ritzy cinema experience inside is intimate and old-school: the screens harbor half as many seats and twice as much personal space as an Odeon or Vue. The rooms are small but well ventilated, and the decor is simple and elegant, with barely a glimmer of light at all, which, although is a health and safety hazard when you’re blundering to your seat, gives a mysterious feel to the atmosphere and encourages complete silence from start to finish. There is a wonderful selection of drinks, including a few simple cocktails, cakes, cookies and nice nutty snacks to take in with you. It makes a luxurious change to gloopy nachos and stale popcorn at a local cinema chain…although the whole experience is about 30% more expensive with an average ticket price of £10.50.
Making the effort to see Hayao Miyazaki’s final Studio Ghibli directorial effort The Wind Rises at The Ritzy as opposed to my local cinema (a Vue) was more than worth it. The whole thing from start to finish felt like a memorable experience as opposed to a cheap viewing opportunity, where the cinema environment was part of the pleasure and not something you try to zone out and forget instantly afterwards. Although tickets are more expensive, The Ritzy, part of the Picturehouse Cinema chain, do offer Orange Wednesday 241 tickets amongst other offers, so if you go at the right time you can still get an adequate deal. The Wind Rises plays like a sweet symphonic goodbye kiss from Miyazaki. As opposed to the Japanese anime-director’s signature magical, mythical films such as Princess Mononoke (1997) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), this is a historical drama based on the plane engineer Jiro Horikoshi (1903–1982), designer of the Mitsubishi A5M and A6M Zero, planes used by Japan in World War II. But the historical retelling is also interwoven with a heart-felt love story, overshadowed from the beginning by an incurable illness, that is endearing until the end, with a bittersweet flavour very apt for his last picture.
For the Ghibli fan expecting mythical creatures, strong feminist characters waging war on evil and a focus on beautiful nature coming to life, you might be disappointed or bored. The film does lose originality points in the love-story element, where the language between lovers is syrupy sweet at times. But the visual beauty and character construction is still worthy of a child’s imagination. As always, Miyazaki’s use of sound as a force of poignant illustration, as a very character in the story that states its presence intermittently throughout the unfolding of the narrative, is inspirational and radical. The “rising wind” that drives the story is harmoniously reinforced by the music and sound effects, co-ordinated by Joe Hisaishi, which is at times peaceful and then jarringly forceful: with it comes the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, ripping through the middle of the screen in a lava-red lightning bolt, gurgling through the village like an exclamation of hunger from the earth. The tranquility and simplicity of character relations up until this point that compliments the simplistic, clean look of the signature animation is disturbed rawly and without warning with the onset of the earthquake, elevating the adolescent coming-of-age story into the realm of Japan’s violent pre-war history and final demise in the war. The dislocating attack feels like just that – an attack on the naive hopes and dream of a young, keen, spirited boy on his way to the big city. Miyazaki seems to be honing in on the grim reality of history, the very nature of life’s past being unchangeable, and how subordinate one feels up against unfolding fate – whatever the wind blows your way. But dream on – whatever your dream is, whatever tune your heart beats to, keep going at it.
‘Do you prefer a world with pyramids, or with no pyramids?’ asks Giovanni Caproni, the famous Italian aircraft designer who visits Jiro in his dreams and subconscious throughout the film. At what cost comes success and progression, both of the individual and of humankind as a whole? Is beauty worth it? This is the question Miyazaki asks with Jiro’s story. The inevitability of consequence, and sorrowful acceptance to move simply on with the tempo of time no matter what, is what we are left with.
Overall, the clincher for The Wind Rises is those unexpected raw moments that cut through the historical narrative like icicles in the rain. The characters are unique and enchanting, and it’s impossible not to be sucked in to the heartbreaking love-story. This is the perfect note for Miyazaki to go out on – so see it at a nice cinema.
Best bit of The Wind Rises:
- The terrifying onslaught of the earthquake-creature crashing through the screen.
- The moment when Naoko (Jiro’s wife) is overcome by her illness whilst painting in a field: a flash of violent red, the wind rushing over her clothes and through her hair, the music fading away in heart-stopping suspension of belief at what we knew was coming.
- The overall message of the sacrifice one has to pay for success and being immortalised in history is wonderfully illustrated with the narrative structure of dream-and-reality-crossover: Jiro’s idol Caproni guides him to his fate.
Best features of The Ritzy:
- The lively bar/kitchen area with lots of delicious snacks (the falafel wrap is great) that spills out onto the outdoor seating area in the square.
- The well-ventilated air in the screens (so it doesn’t smell like a plane).
- The cute little balcony on the first-floor bar that overlooks bustling Brixton.