Category Archives: History

Miyazaki’s Controversial New WWII Movie

Animation legend Hayao Miyazaki’s new film debuted late last month, and it has Japan’s nationalist right wing up in arms.

Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises) isn’t about sky pirates or spirits, instead it’s a meditation on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the chief engineer who largely designed the Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighter.

The Zero went into operation in 1940 and flew missions for the Japanese Navy from Pearl Harbor to Coral Sea.  In its time was one of the most feared aircraft in the Pacific with a 12 to 1 kill ratio.  However, by 1943 American aircraft were already faster, more powerful and carried heavier armaments than the Zero, and by the end of the war the once-iconic plane was mostly used as a throwaway for kamikaze missions.

From the South China Morning Post:

“My wife and staff would ask me, ‘Why make a story about a man who made weapons of war?’” Miyazaki said in a 2011 interview with Japan’s Cutmagazine. “And I thought they were right. But one day, I heard that Horikoshi had once murmured, ‘All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful.’ And then I knew I’d found my subject… Horikoshi was the most gifted man of his time in Japan. He wasn’t thinking about weapons… Really all he desired was to make exquisite planes.”

Miyazaki took this idea and ran with it, building a film around a young man’s romantic dream of flight being captured and corrupted by manufacturing interests and militarism.  The profile may or may not be strictly historically accurate – Horikoshi died in 1982 – but a memoir he published toward the end of his life seems to support that he felt heartsick that the Navy used his beautiful plane as a flying bomb.

Despite the film being a smash hit in Japan – it’s opening box office was 960 million Yen (US $10 million), the largest in Japan this year – the movie’s anti-war message isn’t playing well to the conservative fringe.  Internet commenters have bombarded articles about the film, calling it “anti-Japanese” or referring to Miyazaki as a “traitor.”  It’s a symptom of the rising tide of nationalism in the country, led by a conservative group of politicians that have taken aggressive stances on foreign policy, World War II and the Japanese military.  The most prominent figure is Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, who has denied Japanese atrocities during the War, inflamed tensions with China over the contested Daioyu Islands and tried to censor NHK programming that discussed the Japanese military forcing Korean women to serve as prostitutes for its troops.  On May 30th, Abe’s party approved the draft of a full-scale rearmament, turning Japanese Self-Defense Forces into an offensive military once more (which is not to say Japan shouldn’t have a military, but it demonstrates how the conservative Lib Dems have made a 180 on Japan’s history of anti-militarism).

Though the rest of the world tends to find Abe’s stances on WWII indefensible, he does have a core base that sees any criticism of Japan’s wartime activities as unpatriotic or a result of “foreign revisionism.”  Therefore, Miyazaki’s film about a wartime icon chewed up and spit out by militarism was sure to see a fair amount of pushback.

It’ll be interesting to watch whether The Wind Rises gets more than a limited release in the West, and if so, how differently people will see it outside the lens of Japanese politics.

Source: South China Morning Post


My Five Favorite Critical Intel Columns of 2012

Critical Intel is off and running.  Originally, I’d thought the column would provide an interesting side note with niche appeal, but instead I’m seeing comments from regular readers and getting appreciative messages in my inbox.  (That’s always humbling, wonderful, and weird.)  It seems CritIntel‘s audience is larger than I anticipated.

Given that, I really want to thank everyone who’s read, commented, tweeted, and shared in support of the column. At the risk of sounding biased, CritIntel readers are my favorite audience on The Escapist.  You’re overwhelmingly positive and engaged, and when you disagree with me, that dissent is (with only a few exceptions) well-reasoned and polite.  Moreover, you’re all pretty kind to each other even when discussing controversial topics.  I think it says a lot that I wrote a column on the Mexican Cartel War the comments didn’t explode into xenophobic tirades. Despite writing about contentious political topics like conflict minerals, drone warfare, gay rights, and BioWare, I haven’t received a single piece of hate mail to date.  You guys are amazing.

So here’s to another year of thoughtful analysis and clean comment threads.  To celebrate, here’s my favorite columns of 2012:

1) King Washington the Wicked

This column was the essence of why I stared doing Critical Intel – I wanted to bring players smart, detailed analyses of the real-world content in games that include the perspectives of subject experts.  I’m still on pins and needles waiting to see if my predictions for The Tyranny of King Washington come to pass.

2) Desperate Housewives of Skyrim

Skyrim is one of my all-time favorite games.  That being said, Skyrim‘s stilted social relationships are an endless source of unintentional hilarity.  I love writing humor pieces, and I’d like to do more in the future.

3) Killer Robots and Collateral Damage

Articles that post on or near a holiday tend to get a lot less traffic – which is unfortunate, since this piece on the portral of drones in video games was one of the better things I’ve done this year.

4) Conflict Minerals in the Game Industry: A Two-Part Series

Yes, it’s cheating to post two as one.  Conflict minerals haven’t gotten a lot of traction in the games media, and it’s a topic I’ve wanted to address for years.  I still have a lot of unresolved feelings regarding Part II, since I’m honestly not sure where I stand on what we should do to address the problem.  Still, I’m proud that I took it on.

5) Cuddly Pokemon and the Demons That Spawned Them

Confession: I don’t like Pokemon.  I’ve never played it because I can’t stand turn-based games.  On the other hand, I love Japanese folklore, especially stories of violent spirits and creatures.  Originally, this was going to be a two part column, but it dragged so I cut it down to one.  There are lots more bizarre spirits that influenced Pokemon, and I highly suggest you check them out if you’re interested.


One Month of Critical Intel

As you probably know, I’ve been hard at work recently on Critical Intel, my new weekly column at The Escapist.  It’s been a great month packed end-to-end with work that makes me really proud.  Frankly, having a dedicated space each week has made me understand what it’s like when dogs go to a leash-free park.  First they stand there staring at their owners, blinking, as if to say: “What?  I can go anywhere I want now?”  Then they’re off like a shot, tearing over the scenery as quickly as possible, making giant leaps and running circles.

I’ve always had enough ideas about games to write an article every week, the two things I didn’t have were the time and the dedicated venue.  Of the two, the venue was the most difficult part (I can make time) and I can’t thank the good people at Escapist enough for giving me my own little corner of the web.

So what, exactly, is Critical Intel?  Broadly, it’s a column that examines the overlap between videogames and the real world.  That covers a lot of territory – one week I might be talking about an historical event or legend featured in a game, another week I might be discussing military or medical uses of game technology, while I finish up the month with an in-depth look at the trouble games get into overseas.  It will be always intelligent, always well-researched, and often international.  My goal is to take you a level deeper.

Just to give you a sampler, of the three articles that have come out so far, the first was about game censorship in China, the second discussed how games misrepresent the Mexican Cartel War, and the third addressed whether Assassin’s Creed III‘s DLC pack passes muster historically.  The fourth, out this Thursday, is about something entirely different.

Writing an article every week – while holding a full-time job – has been a real challenge, but the warm response all of you have given Critical Intel makes all the long nights and sacrificed weekends worthwhile.  Thanks to everyone for sharing this new journey with me, and I’m looking forward to showing you interesting new stuff every week – bringing need-to-know information to the people who need to know everything.


You Don’t Want To Eat Lovecraft’s Birthday Cake

How does one talk about Howard Phillips Lovecraft?

You can judge him by his fans.  Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, John Carpenter and Guillermo Del Toro have all cited Lovecraft as a formative influence.  You can see him in the Arkham Asylum of the Batman comics and the album covers of MetallicaBlack Sabbath, and Iron Maiden.  Borges dedicated a short story to him.  Joyce Carol Oates wrote the introduction to a collection of his stories.  The Library of America published a volume of his stories.  Each week, thousands of gamers roll dice in his honor.

You can likewise judge him by his prejudices and his contradictions.  Lovecraft fetishized historical places and speech, yet found astrophysics fascinating.  He was racially bigoted toward minority groups, yet yearned for the immigrants he saw to assimilate to American culture.  (An older, more extreme version of the “Why Can’t My Waiter Speak Good English?”/”Immigrants Are Stealing Our Jobs!” crowd we see today.)  Though his thoughts and stories were profoundly steeped in antisemitism, he married a Ukrainian Jew and had multiple Jewish friends.  Truly, one of the tragedies of Lovecraft’s life was that, for a man who rose above so many literary conventions, his everyday philosophy remained mired in old-fashioned racism that poisoned his friendships and hobbled his fiction.  One wonders what Lovecraft could’ve accomplished had his “cosmic” view of humanity extended to the foreigners and minorities he so maligned.

Still, we must take Lovecraft as he was, not as we would like him to be.  Though many of his stories are problematic and some even repulsive to modern readers, any historian will tell you that a figure can be historically significant and worthy of study despite being an enormous dirtbag.

For me, the real lesson of H.P. Lovecraft is that writers have to dig deep.  Yes, Lovecraft’s greatest addition to the literary canon was the Mythos – the notion that vastly powerful interstellar beings are always a hair’s breadth from destroying us – but that’s not what made his stories scary.  What make Lovecraft sing is that every horror, every fear, every clawing unnamable thing he put on the page originated deep within his psyche.

When Lovecraft was three, his father had a psychotic break while on a business trip.  He died five years later in a psychiatric hospital… so Lovecraft wrote about madness and asylums.

Lovecraft thought he was ugly, a view his mother seemed to instill in him when he was young… so Lovecraft created The Outsider and the abhuman faces of “The Innsmouth Look.”

Lovecraft had intense dreams where he stayed lucid… so he wrote about Randolph Carter in the Dreamlands.

A lifelong fear of the sea – and a visceral reaction to seafood – made Lovecraft write about tentacled monsters and human-fish hybrids.

He had overwhelming feelings of family obligation and legacy, which gave us Arthur Jermyn, The Rats in the Walls, and The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

Lovecraft felt small, and powerless, and isolated – so he imagined a universe where all of humanity was the same, whether they knew it or not.

The reason Lovecraft frightens us isn’t because of his cosmic monstrosities, the titanic inhuman behemoths of which he was so proud.  Actually, it’s the small, human concerns that frighten us.  It is the fear that our lives are meaningless, that our bodies will be corrupted, that we are being manipulated or worse, that the house we live in or the person residing next door conceal a sinister past.  In Lovecraft’s world, we are always living with our backs to the cliff with our heels just over the precipice.  We are never as safe – or as sane – as we think.

These are all things that H.P. Lovecraft feared.  Through his writing he managed to pass on his terrors, his helplessness, his flat-out dysfunction onto his readers.  Connections like that are the hallmark of a good writer.

Many academics talk about how Lovecraft’s stories are divorced from emotion and humanity, with paper-thin protagonists serving as detached narrators.

That’s not the case at all.  Lovecraft is all over the pages of his work.  He’s there in the crawling dread of insanity, the gnawing feeling of something outside mankind’s vision, the revolting rubberiness of a sea god, and the intricate impossibility of the Dreamlands.  These things are the humanity in his work, and the emotion too.   They’re a conduit straight to a human mind buckled by dread and constrained emotion.  The protagonist in Lovecraft stories is – sometimes literally but always figuratively – Lovecraft himself.

HPL put himself all in, and you should too.

So, in honor of that massively-head-screwed genius:  Write.  Squeeze your soul.  Hold it above the page and ring it out like a dish sponge.

Write about things that scare you.