Friday, May 05, 2006

When the Wind Blows (Murakami, 1986)

When the Wind Blows, a Britsh animated film that tells the sad tale of an elderly couple preparing for a nuclear attack and then attempting to survive in its aftermath, is a work that deserves to be mentioned in the same conversation as Grave of the Fireflies or The War Game. Like Fireflies, it demonstrates the devastating impact that war can have on ordinary people even if they survive instant annihilation. Like The War Game, it finds the darkest of humor in how ill-equipped human beings are to handle the consequences of the weapons they have created. Living in relative isolation in their country home, the elderly couple learns through government pamphlets and radio broadcasts that Britain is in imminent danger of receiving an incoming Soviet attack. The husband prides himself on being up-to-date on the current changes in modern warfare and in building an appropriate makeshift fallout shelter within their home. The wife is more concerned with him damaging the walls and making sure that she will be able to leave the shelter to have bathroom breaks with an appropriate amount of privacy.

What is remarkable and heartbreaking is that although they face the prospect of nuclear holocaust, their banter remains at the same generally optimistic level. After all, they survived the Nazis and bombing during World War II. This time won’t be much different, right? Just keep the chin up and everything will be all right. These are such good-hearted people that we cannot imagine them being subjected to anything as horrifying as a nuclear bomb. And yet the bomb does come. This happens early enough in the film that I am not spoiling much by revealing this piece of information. And although the couple continues to believe that things will be just like in the good old days and Britain will be back on its feet before long, it soon becomes clear to us that their world has essentially become a graveyard. With extraordinary patience and determination they wait for assistance or any sign of life as the effects of nuclear radiation set in.

By using animation, When the Wind Blows achieves an appropriately surreal tone while never allowing the seriousness of the subject matter to be sugarcoated. The voiceovers by Peggy Ashcroft and John Mills are first-rate, establishing a believable relationship between the couple and never descending into hamminess. The repetition of the husband’s dialogue used in order to achieve an uncomfortable level of absurdity may test viewers’ patience; but, taken as a whole, this is most certainly an unusual and satisfying film (not currently available on DVD) that is worth making the required effort to seek out and find.



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