Friday, September 27, 2013

Editorial: The Wind Rises

So, you guys love Studio Ghibli, right? Well, they've got another film which made the rounds in Japan and should soon be on its way abroad. It's called The Wind Rises, and it's a embellished biography of a mister Jiro Horikoshi, a 20th-century Japanese plane designer. The plot follows how he survived the 1923 Kanto Earthquake, and went on to develop such planes as the Mitsubishi A5M and (not seen in the movie) A6M, known in World War II as the "Zero". Said movie is being directed by none other than Hayao Miyazaki, who at the age of 72 has announced that this will be his final film. (For real this time.) So given its historical insight, technical pedigree, and the simple fact that it's an anime film to be shown in mainstream American cinemas, you can bet your bottom dollar (yen?) that this'll be on my must-see list.



See, The Wind Rises comes at an unfortunate point in Japan's real-world occurrences. The country is currently involved in numerous territorial disputes. China and Taiwan are making advances on the Senkaku Islands, whilst Japan is making its own claims on the Liancourt Rocks (owned by South Korea) and the Kuril Islands (owned by Russia; for the record, this particular argument is considerably more peaceable). Right-wing Japanese politicians, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, are considering changes to the country's constitution to cancel limitations on their armed forces, a result of World War II, have made public visits to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which both honours Japan's war dead and houses the ashes of war criminals convicted after WWII, and are shrugging off South Korean & Chinese demands for recognition and restitution for Japan's crimes committed before and during the war. (For their part, the Japanese claim the latter has already been resolved back when they established diplomatic relations with South Korea in 1965.)

With all this being the case, the implication would be that Miyazaki-sama is also in this boat. The movie depicts the creator of war machines that were used extensively by the Tojo war machine. You know, the same one that committed grave atrocities in China, Korea, and the Pacific? Ergo, this is the connection being trumpeted by groups such as South Korean netizens, who in all honesty have maintained a degree of anti-Japanese sentiment for a long time now. And by portraying a key component of said war machine without the negative consequences of its actions, not to mention neglecting the fact that Mitsubishi drafted 10,000 Koreans and/or Chinese as slave labour to build said planes, does the subject matter of The Wind Rises come across as insensitive at best?

Well... the truth isn't always that simple. Those of us who actually saw the darn film (or red its synopsis on Wikipedia) would know that when the film finally gets to depicting WWII, it's not exactly in a positive light. Apparently, the message the film portrays after all is said and done is that war is futile (understandably so; you'd say that too if you were on the losing side of a war). As a matter of fact, the right-wingers of Japan have themselves taken issue with Miyazaki-sama's own anti-war stance, exhibited both here and in earlier works like NausicaƤ and Grave of the Fireflies (the latter directed by Isao Takahata). More to the point, Miyazaki has made the following disapproving statements about the aformentioned attempts to rewrite the constitution, in a letter for Studio Ghibli's in-house magazine:
"It goes without saying that I am against constitutional reform. [...] I'm taken aback by the lack of knowledge among government and political party leaders on historical facts. People who don't think enough shouldn't meddle with the constitution."
Oh, and off the record, I for one am willing to accept these lessening of constitutional restrictions on Japan's military -- IF and ONLY IF the lawmakers start owning up to the mistakes of their ancestors. I mean, seriously guys, it's not like you committed the atrocities personally, that was ages ago! What've you got to lose!? And hey, it's not like we Americans are innocent of whitewashing our own history! Pocahontas says hi. Then again, I don't believe there are any talking animals involved in The Wind Rises, so I suppose the whitewashing will only go so far this time around.

So, with all that said, would I still be willing to endorse this movie by purchasing a ticket?


It's Studio [verb]ing Ghibli, of course I'll see it! Seriously, it would take a lot of wrongdoing for me to forgo something like this in favour of the latest animated Hollywood drivel. (Seriously, Free Birds, what is this, 2006?) And works like this and From Up On Poppy Hill (which, sadly, only got a limited release in America... RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGE) show that Studio Ghibli themselves are branching out into new concepts. Whilst the company is known for its more fantastical fare, their two latest films represent a shift towards more grounded, historical, and personal subject matter. Yet at the same time, the animation style maintains the company's traditional whimsy, contributing just the right amount of a softened edge so that maybe we can forget the fact the actions of Jiro Horikoshi were used by an unspeakably evil force, and just absorb ourselves in his personal dramas. Walt Disney Pictures has announced plans to dub The Wind Rises and show it in America some time in 2014, so when it arrives, you can bet your bottom dollar (yen?) that I'll be there.

McCurry, Justin. "Japanese animator under fire for film tribute to warplane designer." The Guardian, 22 August 2013

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