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Some time ago I went to watch Miyazaki Hayao’s Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises) in the cinemas. An English dub! My more purist younger self would froth at the mouth. In any case I went in knowing almost nothing about the movie other than 1) it’s Ghibli 2) there was some controversy surrounding it. Hey, it was Miyazaki so I had to watch it. I had a simple equation that would just get disrupted by extra variables. So it wasn’t until it was revealed that Jirou would work for Mitsubishi that I knew who he actually was. ‘Oh, he must have designed the Zero!’ and at that point something clicked for me.
Let me get it on record that I’m a pacifist. Even after years of instruction in realpolitik I still very much feel that violence should be avoided. Yet, I am still drawn to the war machines of yesteryear. Hey, I’m a guy, I play games. Tanks and fighters are cool and the Zero was definitely a thing of beauty. Yes, it belonged to the enemy (note how the Germans had the coolest tanks) and yes, it was terrifying but one must admire its elegant design, like how one must admire that of a shark. Flight is an old dream of humanity and there’s just something about a sleek biplane racing through the sky that touches something primal within us all. And I’m not just the lone nutjob who thinks this because it’s evident that Miyazaki also has a love for flying machines. You can see it in films like Laputa, Porco Rosso and Kiko’s Delivery Service. And you can certainly see it in The Wind Rises. Miyazaki is also famously a pacifist. Should he, like Jirou, be allowed to love flying and the machines that let us do it, even their ultimate purpose is anathema to you? This last movie of Miyazaki’s is in a way autobiographical. His conflict is similar to Horikoshi Jirou’s, which in turn is similar to that of the Nobels, Einsteins and von Brauns of history.
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Or at least, that’s what his conflict should have been. Throughout The Wind Rises Jirou is very much removed from the ethical dilemma. Its existence is noted multiple times, but Jirou never allows himself to, or perhaps never has to, dwell on it. He never does see the true devastation of war or the murderous power of his creations. Note the controversy surrounding the movie: critics at home in Japan wanted it to have a more nationalistic edge, while those elsewhere complained that it airbrushed the war. But that’s the exact point: Jirou’s ideals are always very deliberately shielded from the big picture. His marriage serves as a metaphor for this. It is a rather cheesy romance, a naive love story. And it is precisely for the sake of preserving this illusion that Naoko leaves Jirou while she is still healthy to do so. She could not allow Jirou see her wither away and painfully die evidently because she believed that her husband’s wide-eyed idealism and single-minded drive was something worth protecting. It is for this same purpose that Jirou’s company (and note that in Japan, especially in those times, your company was your family) tries to shield him from the domestic intrigue and sends him on holidays to the scenic countryside. Tragedy and violence cannot be Jirou’s aesthetic. It must only be beauty.
Note how Miyazaki still rendered the landscapes of his native Japan with the breathtaking splendour that all of his films are known for. No matter what critics say about The Wind Rises, it is obvious that Miyazaki loves his country. Those who consider that his movie must be a tool of nationalism miss the point, and do so in a way that must be painful for Miyazaki. Is it possible to love one’s nation for something other than its conquests? Can one celebrate it without wanting to celebrate its amoral ugliness? Unfortunately, it seems from the reactions to The Wind Rises the answer is, on some level. no. Even Jirou, in the end, has regrets.
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