The Trouble with The Wind Rises

Hayao Miyazaki ends a brilliant career on a shameful note

The Trouble with <i>The Wind Rises</i>

In today’s era of global box offices, few studio films are made for just one country, especially by a director of Hayao Miyazaki’s international stature. But the beloved animator’s latest and last work, The Wind Rises, is a film whose meaning and power vary so greatly in different cultural and geographical contexts that Miyazaki should have fought for it to never leave his homeland.

The bloodlessness of the film contributes to its whitewashing of an incredibly bloody history.

The Wind Rises is custom-made for postwar Japan, a nation that has yet to acknowledge, let alone apologize for, the brutality of its imperial past. Nearly 70 years after Emperor Hirohito’s surrender, the Japanese military and medical institutions’ greatest evils, like the orchestration of mass rape, the use of slave labor, and experimentation on live and conscious human beings, remain absent from school textbooks. Japan scholar Hanna McGaughey, a personal friend, has stated in private conversations that “pussyfooting” around war crimes is the only strategy Miyazaki had at his disposal to avoid being dismissed by his domestic audience as “silly” or “inappropriate.” Indeed, some of his fellow citizens have already accused Miyazaki of being a “traitor” and “anti-Japanese.”

But there’s no reason why critics and audiences outside of Japan should be morally complacent in the animator’s concessions to his countrymen’s egos. The Wind Rises perpetuates Japanese society’s deliberate misremembering and rewriting of history, which cast the former Empire of the Rising Sun as a victim of World War II, while glossing over — or in some cases completely ignoring — the mass death and suffering its military perpetrated. Critics who fail to observe or protest Miyazaki’s “pussyfooting” around a regime that caused more deaths than the Holocaust aid and abet Japan’s continued whitewashing of its war crimes.

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Read Simon Abrams's review of The Wind Rises



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In The Wind Rises, Miyazaki uses real-life aircraft engineer Jiro Horikoshi as an extreme example of ordinary Japanese citizens’ indifference to the atrocities committed in their name. Jiro, as he’s referred to in the film, finds such beauty in airplanes and flight that he feverishly pursues the next level of killing machines for Mitsubishi, justifying his work by comparing his planes to the pyramids. The reference to the pharaohs might allude to the fact that Mitsubishi used Chinese and Korean slave labor to build Jiro’s Zero planes. But the character never considers whether the slaves who died making those pyramids might not believe the results were worth their lives.

Jiro represents the moral myopia of the imperial Japanese citizenry and of the aesthete. His shortsightedness is quite literally symbolized by his Harry Potter-esque glasses, which, paired with his lavender suits, make him look perpetually youthful and innocent. (Yes, he’s animated, but his boss appears much older and his friend Honjo less boyish.) Like most biopics, The Wind Rises is guilty of a bit of hagiography. Early in the film, Jiro is a good Samaritan who rescues a little girl from a train wreck. But his goodness and innocence have a pathological purity to them, too, as illustrated by his devoted but sexless marriage to his sickly wife. It’s that dedication to an ideal of “purity” — whether it be of aesthetics, nationalism, or ethnicity — that Miyazaki subtly condemns in his film.

But The Wind Rises declines to challenge mainstream Japanese society’s distortions and denials of its wartime atrocities. Worse, it echoes Japan’s morally dishonest stance that it was a victim, rather than a perpetrator, of a global war — a whitewashed version of history that the film now imports to every country where it plays.

Consider the first scene. Jiro is a young boy; in his dreams, he heads for the skies in a wooden aircraft. A constellation of black dots appears above him, soon revealed to be a hangar’s worth of missiles and bombs. They dangle from a zeppelin embossed with the Iron Cross. The explosives fall on Jiro, reducing his plane to splinters.

The rest of the film is suffused with this fear of German aggression, and it’s an ethically mendacious choice of a bogeyman on Miyazaki’s part. In The Wind Rises, the alliance between Germany and Japan — the original Axis of Evil — is conveniently forgotten, as scene after scene shows the Japanese bombarded by Teutonic suspicion, condescension, and hostility. Reframing the Japanese as the victims of Nazi racism deflects attention from the heinousness of the Japanese Imperial Army. But Miyazaki’s elevation of his own countrymen as morally loftier to the Nazis is only credible when the viewer forgets (or is unaware) that the Japanese military justified killing 30 million people across Asia with its own ideology of ethnic superiority.

The Wind Rises continues this blame evasion throughout, evincing an ideal of pacifism while positioning Japan as the target of Chinese and American assault. We see Japanese planes downed by a Chinese foe in a mid-film reverie — a shockingly insensitive image given that Japan was invading China during this time, not the other way around. Later, an American bomber floats above a graveyard of burned-out aircraft over the defeated Japanese empire. In contrast, no Japanese pilot is ever seen shooting at an enemy, even though Jiro’s most famous invention, the Zero plane, was designed and used solely for military purposes. The consequences of his work — that is, corpses — are likewise absent. In the film, Jiro never expresses sympathy for the people his people killed. His grief is strictly reserved for the deaths of his planes. His preference to mourn his Zeros, rather than the planes’ victims, illustrates his soft-handed callousness. The bloodlessness of the film contributes to its whitewashing of an incredibly bloody history.

No surprise, then, that The Wind Rises has already created an uproar among South Koreans (who haven't yet seen the film), arguably the biggest recipients of Japan’s 40-year colonial cruelty (1905-1945). The Wind Rises’ specious pose of self-victimization will and should disgust the living survivors and their descendants in the myriad other countries Japan invaded during World War II: China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia; the list goes on.

It’s hard to believe that, were The Wind Rises set in an interwar Germany and focused on an idealistic dreamer who just wanted to design the world’s most beautiful U-boat and didn’t care a whit about the concentration camps, it would receive a similarly adoring reception here in the U.S. (At the time of writing, the film enjoys a 82 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has appeared on several best-of-year lists.) One would hope that critics who aren’t suffering from Japan’s culture of mass delusion about its war crimes would take into consideration the warped version of history Miyazaki has to accommodate and, to a large extent, perpetuates.

The Wind Rises is just one film, but it echoes an entire country’s obsession with misremembering a deeply painful and extraordinarily violent past. Japan’s wartime victimhood is a convenient lie its citizens have told themselves for decades. That the aging Miyazaki has misguidedly lent a patina of wistful beauty to that lie is a shame. The Wind Rises ends the illustrious career of a treasured visionary on a repellent, disgraceful note.

Follow Inkoo Kang on Twitter at @thinkovision.

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54 comments
Jill
Jill

Uh, what movie did you see?  The one I saw was a depressing anti-war film throughout, with the main character (similar to the real-life Jiro) constantly troubled by guilt and concern for the way his airplanes would be used, longing to throw away the guns and design passenger planes instead, in trouble with the secret police for his pacifist anti-nationalist views.  Maybe you fell asleep?

Jill
Jill

Uh, what movie did you see?  The one I saw was a depressing anti-war film throughout, with the main character constantly troubled by guilt and concern for the way his airplanes would be used, longing to be designing gun-less passenger planes instead, in trouble with the secret police for his pacifist views.  Maybe you fell asleep?

bmcarbaugh
bmcarbaugh

Did we watch the same movie?  Jiro spends THE ENTIRE MOVIE fretting about the aggression of his own country!  Jiro literally spends THE ENTIRE LENGTH OF THE MOVIE lamenting that he has to build war-machines, when all he wants to do is build planes.  He suggests taking the guns out of the Zero to make it lighter, and his fellow engineers laugh at him.  There's even a line like "who do you think they'll bomb with this?"  "China, America, Russia -- anybody.  Everybody.  And then Japan will blow up."  


And Germany isn't set up as an antagonist, you clod; it's used as a parallell.  Jiro meets that German engineer who describes the encroach of Naziism.  Then the secret police come after him.  Then the Japanese secret police come after Jiro.  An angry Jiro asks, "How can something like this happen in a modern country?!"


Hell, the very last scene is Jiro walking through a nightmarish dreamscape of the planes he built, burning, lamenting that he had to build war machines, and wondering whether the whole thing was an act of futility.


I seriously don't think you watched the movie; I think you read a bunch of synopses and cobbled this together.  To suggest that the movie "pussyfoots" around the subject of Japan's role in WW2 is either a demonstration of the most inept reading of a film I've ever seen, or a flat-out lie. It's literally the core subject of the entire movie.  It's like you watched Schindler's List and accused it of supporting the Nazis.  You have the whole thing so ass-backwards it's inside out.

bmcarbaugh
bmcarbaugh

Did we watch the same movie?  Jiro spends THE ENTIRE MOVIE fretting about the aggression of his own country!  Jiro literally spends THE ENTIRE LENGTH OF THE MOVIE lamenting that he has to build war-machines, when all he wants to do is build planes.  He suggests taking the guns out of the Zero to make it lighter, and his fellow engineers laugh at him.  There's even a line like "who do you think they'll bomb with this?"  "China, America, Russia -- anybody.  Everybody.  And then Japan will blow up."  


And Germany isn't set up as an antagonist, you clod; it's used as a parallell.  Jiro meets that German engineer who describes the encroach of Naziism.  Then the secret police come after him.  Then the Japanese secret police come after Jiro.  An angry Jiro asks, "How can something like this happen in a modern country?!"


Hell, the very last scene is Jiro walking through a nightmarish dreamscape of the planes he built, burning, lamenting that he had to build war machines, and wondering whether the whole thing was an act of futility.


I seriously don't think you watched the movie; I think you read a bunch of synopses and cobbled this together.  To suggest that the movie "pussyfoots" around the subject of Japan's role in WW2 is either a demonstration of the most inept reading of a film I've ever seen, or a flat-out lie. It's literally the core subject of the entire movie.  It's like you watched Schindler's List and accused it of supporting the Nazis.  You have the whole thing so ass-backwards it's inside out.

scottnieto
scottnieto

"Korea" was Japan during WWII. 

plucas1000
plucas1000

Oh look, someone who severely does not get what the film, or Miyazaki, is about.

And really, given how the US mangles history to whitewash and justify some of its past policies, its really hypocritical complaining about Japan doing the same. And this is someone speaking as an American.

Whatever Jiro Horikoshi's true story might have been, he was not his country, and if he had not come up with the designs her did, Imperial Japan would have just used others that would have been equally effective or nearly so. Neither he nor the audiences of today are responsible for past atrocities, so if an artist does not want to dwell on them when telling a story, I see no reason why he has to.

Eudaimonia
Eudaimonia

This is really sad, it's really sad that so many clueless people support nationalistic opinions such as this one.


"Why Clueless?" you may ask. Don't worry, i'll explain...


There are certain facts about history, certain events that happened. Those events are empty without an interpretation. History is instrumentalized by the supreme majority of governments in order for the local national identity to be constructed. Other than that History is used for political purposes, to control the local population by making them think of the local convient villain country instead of the bad deeds of the local government. The convinient villain for the Korean and Chinese governments are the Japanese. No, no... i'm not saying that the Japanese 70+ years ago weren't terrible to the Chinese and Koreans etc etc, what i'm saying is that the Japanese are portrayed as bad right now. Yeah, it's silly i know but that's exactly what's happening for example:  It's funny to watch Chinese tv, because 15%+ of channels almost all day long show the bad Japanese. Haven't been to Korea yet but my guess is that it's not too different.


The thing is people who're smart and knowledgable enough should understand this fact. I understand how my country manipulates me. How come the author of this piece doesn't understand when Korea (she's Korean no?) manipulates her? It's sad really, and says a lot about the author of this article.


Poor Miyazaki, having people such as Kang criticizing his work.

zantetsupowaa
zantetsupowaa

So when are Koreans going to formerly apologize for the kidnapping and "re-education" of Japanese citizens for the benefit of the Kim mafia, anyway? And when will the Chinese government apologize for Tibet and the Tiananmen Square Massacre?

kensmith087
kensmith087

It's obvious that this woman hasn't seen the movie. The movie is basically a love story, it has nothing to do with war propaganda.  

Besides, this woman is Korean LOL, 

enough said 

kensmith087
kensmith087

It's obvious that this woman hasn't seen the movie. The movie is basically a love story, it has nothing to do with war propaganda.  

Besides, this woman is Korean LOL 

enough said 

John-Jack Holland
John-Jack Holland

if u were to visit japan and ask a young studenst whose side Japan was on in WW2 you would be shocked at how oftenr you would hear they were on the allies side.

Bendrix
Bendrix

@Eudaimonia is a well-known apologist for Imperial Japan on several Internet boards and is constantly patrolling the Internet for Japan-related news to comment on. 

djson1
djson1

@zantetsupowaa  You appear to be one of those uneducated and uncultured folks who don't know the difference between North and South Koreans.

Bendrix
Bendrix

@kensmith087 yeah, Koreans can't comment on anything related to Japan because they are all prejudiced, right? so their opinions are instantly discredited.

Eudaimonia
Eudaimonia

Yeah, she's messed up by Korean anti-japanese propaganda, that's true.

bmcarbaugh
bmcarbaugh

@feaw52fewafewa @bmcarbaugh  A selection of your recent comments:


"hope you end up dismembered."


"die a painful death, moron."


"die a painful death cretin"


and my personal favorite: "I'd gladly rip your stomach wide open with a chainsaw, and let your guts spill out."


You seem like a very unpleasant person.

eudaimonia80
eudaimonia80

@Bendrix @Eudaimonia  Nah, not really. I just sometimes write on Japantoday and on Japancrush but thanks for writting a bunch of bs about me. I'd much apreciate it if you argued against what i wrote instead of against me personally but that would require you knowing how to properly and civily converse with people over the internet.

Bendrix
Bendrix

@eudaimonia80 You want me to reply civilly to your gussied up propaganda, and civilly address your biased viewpoint? What would be the point? That would be like responding rationally to someone whose argument is based entirely on lies, hence giving their views some validity when in fact there is none. I see you've learned well from your masters. Keep swallowing that sword for them, circus freak. I know you do it gladly, having the slave mentality that you do. I suppose there will always be masochists and servants among us. It's the natural order of things. Most people, though, don't like servitude, now matter how prettily it's dressed up as a fanciful cartoon. 

Bendrix
Bendrix

@eudaimonia80 Civilly converse with a propagandist? You're doing the exact same thing as Miyazaki in his film - lending an air of dignity to something that is at its core very heinous. But nice try playing that game.

Jill
Jill

@MatthewDessemBad things happening to Japan because of its dictator's militarism towards other countries, yes.  A clear criticism of the conservative nationalistic government currently ruling Japan, trying to turn it into an empire again.  The words of the real-life Jiro: "Japan is being destroyed. I cannot do [anything] other but to blame the military hierarchy and the blind politicians in power for dragging Japan into this hellish cauldron of defeat."

damann861
damann861

@thinkovision @MatthewDessem @FilmCritHULK @davidehrlich @TheAmyNicholson  Really? I believe there is a line in the movie that pretty much says "Japan will burn" almost implying an "Ego will spawn a Bruised Ego". I never got the sense that it was trying to portray Japan as a victim. Hence the importance of that line ominous prediction by Castrup said bluntly to Jiro.

 

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