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