When the Wind Blows
When the Wind Blows (1986)
Dir. Jimmy T. Murakami
Grave of the Fireflies, if you have not seen it, is a singular achievement in the history of animation. It’s not only represents one of the high points of Japanese animation, but is rather shocking in its emotional pull. It allowed for characterization typically only seen in the intimate character studies from filmmakers like Kurosawa and Ozu, certainly not from the field of animation. I bring this film up because, well, it’s enormously depressing. It is a film that begins without mystery, this is a tale that ends in very little but death, and its grim view of wartime rivals the best anti-war films.
Turns out a little seen gem from Britain, called When the Wind Blows, beat the grim animation of Grave of the Fireflies to the punch by two years. This one, however, does not give you the emotional current of that film. This is a film that is almost unbearably cold and critical, a Dr. Strangelove without the cartoonish satirical elements thrown in. Even that isn’t necessarily a fair assessment; this is a film that aims to depict nuclear holocaust. Not in the ever-trendy action sense (See: I Am Legend, Terminator: Salvation), or even what survival is like in the long-term aftermath (Read: The Road). This is a film that wants to show the bomb drop, with little regard to the how and why, and then show in painstaking detail just how the body will rot and die afterwards.
The film, based on the graphic novel by Raymond Briggs, focuses solely on the lives of an elderly couple, one that has been through countless wars already. Understandably, given their storied past, they have been taught to trust their governments unconditionally, and consult their nifty little government pamphlet telling them how to build a shelter and live for days after the attack. After building this shelter, which essentially consists of building a little fort within the main walls of the house, they are told to simply wait for government assistance to happily come by and pick them up. I am not ruining the film by saying that does not happen.
The animation itself is quite compelling in this film, and much like Grave of the Fireflies, reveals itself over time just how essential it is to tell this story through animation, rather than live-action, which could be very plausible in these cases. The style consists of a mixed media approach in this film, and works quite well. It’s a mix of miniature sets and hand-drawn animation simply placed on top of it, but when the camera needs to move, it is done in a stop-motion manner, while the hand-drawn characters move within that space. It is noticeably low-budget, but it is honestly unlike any full-length animated film I have ever seen. I just don’t believe that the pure gravity of a situation like this could be told in a realm of real actors. The words are there, the sets are uncomplicated, and there is nothing that couldn’t be achieved with a little green-screening, but the horror and depravity just isn’t something that could be construed through any other medium. The detachment that is natural in watching animation supplements the aims of this film beautifully.
Now, I will stop here before I detail how it unveils, because even though you know the bomb will drop, and they will die, the intensity of which it unfolds is horrifying. This will not bring you to tears like Grave, it will instead just kind of sit in your stomach afterward, a feeling quite foreign from any animated film I’ve ever seen.
When the Wind Blows is not currently available on Region 1 DVD, but it exists in full at Youtube, or, if you rather, there is a Region 2 DVD available on Amazon. Though, I hear there might be a torrent or two of it out there. Just saying.