The Wind Rises – Sound Design Analysis III – challenging and supporting the notions of vococentrism

For the purpose of this review, principles and notions from Chion are going to be referenced and hopefully challenged at times.

Chion’s notion of the central role of voice in cinema as a means of the conveyance of psychological and emotional information that is expressed trough its spacial, material and sensory inputs – vococentrism. In his book Audio-vision he in fact says:

When in a given sound environment you hear voices, those voices capture and focus your attention before any other sound ( wind blowing, music, traffic). Only afterward if you know very well who is speaking and what they are talking about, might you turn your attention from the voices to the rest of the sounds you hear. (…) you will first seek the meaning of the words, moving on to interpret the other sounds only when your interest in meaning has been satisfied.

In The Wind Rises, not always dialogue conveys essential information with its own content. In fact the dialogue in this film only starts after five minutes of an intense insight into the protagonist’s dreams and nightmares. Many of the character’s lines add information that help the audience to understand the historical context, but don’t necessarily  atribute emotion to the narrative per se (good example is Honzo’s explanations about the rush of people to the banks due to the economical crises just settled and the state of political-war affairs).

In this article we will be analysing two forms of use of the character’s voice, presuming that voice in this film naturally takes priority in the mix.

The first form concerns the ways in that this is achieved that are interesting to analyse because they aren’t always tied up to sound only but it is the whole construction around the moment or scene that allows flexibility and creativity to the crafting of the sound.

The second is how voice in a creative way is used to convey emotion rather than direct information.

We will also look briefly into the choice of “silencing” many of the voices of crowds and nearby characters.

Let’s go over the examples of the first form:

Scene construction opening sonic possibilities

  1. [00:08:49] Meeting Caproni

This is the second dream the audience is presented to (read all about it here). Jiro finds himself on a grass field and sees Caproni who jumps out of one airplane to talk dreams with the Japanese boy. The scene shows a big number of noisy airplanes but the one in focus is the one from which Caproni has jumped. Once on ground, the plane takes over and lifts reducing the noise near the two characters and opening space in amplitude and frequency range for the dialogue.

   2.  [00:09:48] The dreamt passenger transport aircraft arrives and Caproni invites Jiro to jump in on board. Despite the enormous size, this airplane is almost silent when it lands and as seen from the outside, once they walk along one of the wings, so the dialogue can have its place in front.

   3.  [00:11:29] Jiro finally asks Caproni about the possibility of designing airplanes and Caproni goes about affirming that airplanes are dreams. It is interesting to observe that the music is mimicking each question-answer and each affirmation at the same time the characters talk, accentuating very particularly the tone of the scene. This is in fact special since it’s not used very commonly in film, and because whenever the content of the dialogue is more serious and unfortunate there isn’t music at all as we will see on this article.

   4. [00:12:16] Caproni farewells from his airplane who leaves to the depths of the blue sky and a long reverb is applied to his voice, both translating distance and a dream state.

   5. [00:55:30] The sound for the whole scene is explained in this article. There is a constant back and forth between Caproni’s lines and overly joyful crowd. The crowd’s enthusiasm is brought forward by sound when Caproni points them out and it becomes relevant for the moment. There are a couple of times where people in the bottom are seen looking through openings but only when the italian engineer speaks at them and about the precise action of being crammed the audience hears them.

Screen Shot 2017-05-21 at 13.50.47

Next, both engineers walk along one the aircraft’s wings and a realistic sound deceit is put away in order to provide focus on the important words. The whole scene is analysed in detail here.

   6.  [01:36:26] Jiro is holding a design seminar in which he starts to talk about the next project: the Zero fighter. He shows the attendees a drawing and after answering enthusiastic questions Jiro describes the special features of the Zero. There is a subtle change in his voice – he speaks loud as if he needs to be heard over a noisy background although there are no apparent changes that could ask for that.  But quickly the film transitions to an oneiric realm and shows the audience a prototype of this airplane, crossing the skies causing violent wind noise, which would require a louder voice to be heard in a realistic set. So instead of just raising a normal toned voice it in the mix, a more natural approach was used, avoiding cutting down elements or adding elements considered relevant in the narrative. This scene is described in more detail on a previous post here.

Creative uses of the dialogue mix to create emotional responses

   1. [01:58:33] Nahoko’s death

Nahoko’s death is announced in a very beautiful way, from an aesthetic point of view. Jiro is on the field assisting the tests of the Zero, when suddenly he turns to the mountains and realises she is gone. The camera movement is slow as if giving the audience time to reflect and realise what has just happened. The scene is dominated by an almost-silent state and the flight tests are forgotten for a long moment.

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 21.18.33Jiro’s point of view is abandoned so the audience now sees him up close. The men in the background are heard celebrating the great flight and the success of the Zero. The reverb applied is replicating the physical conditions of the place they are in with inexistent early reflections and low presence of the low frequency range but possibly carried out a bit more than a very realistic replica separating Jiro even further from the situation. It also allowed Kurosawa, his boss, to be distinguished from the background, once he gets closer to Jiro, calls his name and grabs his arm. And it definetely establishes a contrast with Jiro’s voice sound gasping – something that is heard only this time in the whole film.

The character of that reverb is very different if compared with the scene where grown up Nahoko shows up for the first time. [01:06:09] She is talking considerably loud to her father and Jiro due to the distance between them and the loud wind, but despite the realistic sensation of distance and open field there is a bigger approximation and warmth to her voice.

   2. [02:01:58] Nahoko’s appearance

This is the latest scene and is expectedly pertained to the dream realm. It works as a reflection upon dreams, war and life. The conversation between Jiro and Caproni is intimate to our ears, sounding close by the little amount of reverb and warmth on the low range frequency. In contrast, Nahoko has a long bright reverb but the audience can still hear her almost whispering to Jiro. This creates a proximity and soothing sensation while keeping the notion of her existence lying in another dimension.

Silenced characters and crowds

Miyazaki-san very much wanted to have fewer sounds and voices in the film. Rather than having a mic on everybody going by, he really wanted to go back to the idea of having a mic over the person’s vision, if it were a live-action film.

So there are many moments in the film, and you may or may not notice, where there are characters whose mouths are moving, but you don’t hear anything from them. Even the lead characters, you see Jiro coming round the corner in one scene and seeing Nahoko’s house after the quake, you can see they’re talking but there’s no dialogue to be heard. [1]

Jeff Waxler’s insight into this decision is self-explanatory, but it is relevant to talk about the example given. If you have seen the film (or read the sound analysis of the earthquake), you might remember that just a moment before we see Jiro and Nahoko go around the corner, nature has quieted down (mostly as he hear it), the location is different, and Nahoko points at something, indicating the audience she has found out her relatives. The music that starts then conveys the peaceful positivity of the turning point of the action.

Many times the crowds are almost unheard – whereas the focus remains on Jiro’s reaction over them) but a big exception comes when Jiro and Honzo are reaching Mitsubishi by car, and an angry crowd is running towards one bank that has possibly declared financial bankrupt, as Honzo informs it. The crowd is well heard and it is even the first time we hear distinct words. In general one can interpret that the crowds are only heard with a level of distinctiveness when their actions are not constituting actions of passiveness (normal day-to-day activities) or / and when the film focus is on Jiro’s interpretation of the actions.

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