The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 73 – The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises

This week sees the release of a new film from Studio Ghibli, the most famous anime producers of them all. It is a big one, because if all the reports are to be believed (and to be honest I don’t believe them) it is the final every anime project of Oscar-winning director Hayao Miyazaki.

The Wind Rises, which was released in June 2013, is basically a biopic telling the story of aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi. But at the same time it is a fantasy. It mixes real-life events with gigantic dream sequences. The film is also controversial. Horikoshi’s most famous creation was the Zero, the main fighter aircraft used by the Japanese during World War II, which attacked Pearl Harbour and was also used in kamikaze attacks. As a result many people from countries that were attacked by Japan during the war have protested against the film. Let’s put it this way: imagine someone in Britain making a light-hearted film about the designer of the Lancaster Bomber and then deciding to show the film in Dresden. You know what the reaction would be.

The film presents the story of Horikoshi’s life, starting from his childhood in 1916 and ending with the completion of the Zero. Horikoshi always wanted to be a pilot, but he knew he could never be one due to him being so short sighted. In a dream he talks to the Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Battista Caproni, who says that designing planes is better than making them, so Horikoshi does just that.

We then move several years forward, as Horikoshi moves to Tokyo in 1923 to study. During this train trip there he meets the girl called Nahoko who later becomes his love interest, and also survives the Great Kanto Earthquake, the strongest earthquake ever to hit Japan at the time. Later Horikoshi graduates and ends up working for Mitsubishi, where he begins to design his own aircraft and work on current models. As the film continues, Horikoshi travels to Germany, experiences problems with his designs, and once again meets up with Nahoko, where their relationship blossoms.

When watching The Wind Rises, you do feel a slight unease. Yes, the animation is stunning and the plot is moving, like with most of Miyazaki’s work. But then again you do feel somewhat uncomfortable watching a film where you know that the end product is a machine that was responsible for the deaths of countless people. This is a fact that the film draws attention too. In the dream sequences between Horikoshi and Caproni, Caproni frequently talks about his dislike of his machines being used for fighting, and wants to design planes for the people. Horikoshi has the exact same feeling. This would appear to relate to Miyazaki’s frequently expressed pacifist views.

As this film relates to the war, controversy was bound to hound it from the start and indeed it did. The film attracted anger in South Korea; critics pointed out that many of the people who built the planes were forced labourers from Korea and China. In Japan itself there were issues: left-wing people thought that the film was too flattering towards Horikoshi and his machines which lead to people’s deaths; right-wing people were angered because of Miyazaki’s own left-wing politics which he expressed at the time the film was released; and the anti-smoking lobby also attacked it as Horikoshi is often seen smoking in what is a family film.

Some people might also be worried about some of the more violent moments in the film. For example, Nahoko becomes ill and starts coughing up blood. But there have always been violent moments in many of Miyazaki’s films (see Princess Mononoke, No. 58). I would also argue that there are some issues with the latest release. For example there are some parts of the film that are left untranslated in the subtitles, normally when characters are speaking either in Italian or German.

The film however did well overall. It became the highest grossing film in Japan in 2013, and in 2014 it was nominated for the “Best Animated Feature” Oscar, losing out to Disney’s Frozen. The Wind Rises is an enjoyable film in its own right. It is moving, and although not entirely accurate it still deals with the main issues. It is a good movie. You could argue that this film deserves to make a fitting ending to the career of Hayao Miyazaki… except you can’t.

That’s because not long after it was announced that Miyazaki had announced his retirement, it was revealed that he was now working on a samurai-themed manga comic. Given that one of his early films, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (No. 38), was also an adaptation of a manga that he himself created; and that he has already come out of the retirement before (he resigned after making Princess Mononoke back in 1997) I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he did make another film. In fact, to reference Japanese folklore, I feel confident in saying that I believe that the only way Miyazaki will retire is once a shinigami visits him – a “shinigami” being a death god.

The Wind Rises is released by Studio Canal as a DVD, a “Double-Play” Blu-Ray and DVD collection, and as a special “Collector’s Edition”.