Eric’s 12 Days of Anime #4: The Wind Rises, Ghibli Falls

You’re not a REAL anime fan if you tell me you don’t like any Studio Ghibli movies. Okay, that’s a lie as the whole “real anime fan” concept is bullshit, but most anime fans will admit to loving at least one of the prolific studio’s films. For many fans, their first anime was probably a Ghibli film. The studio has been around for nearly 30 years, and one of its co-founders, Hayao Miyazaki, announced his retirement from filmmaking after the release of The Wind Rises.

The Wind Rises is as final as a film can be from a filmmaker. Using real history as a metaphor for Miyazaki’s career, The Wind Rises is clearly a personal statement. Aside from Porco Rosso (btw, in the documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, Miyazaki recently called Porco Rosso “a foolish movie” because it was made for adults instead of children), it is Miyazaki’s only film made specifically for adults. Aside from the film’s dream sequences with an Italian plane designer, the film is lacking in the fantasy and whimsy that Miyazaki is famous for. Honestly, the only audience that I can see loving The Wind Rises is one that is obsessed with Miyazaki as an auteur. To outsiders, The Wind Rises is a slow-moving, not-all-that-fun-to-watch biopic with decent animation. As Miyazaki’s final statement on his film career and his obsession with work, it becomes much more engaging.

This is technically a 2013 film, but I didn’t see it until February of this year, hence why I’m including it in this blog series. Next to Terror in Resonance, The Wind Rises is the anime I had the most frustration with this year. As a final film for Miyazaki, it’s essential to watch, but as a historical film, hoo boy is it problematic. The film’s protagonist, Jiro Horikoshi, was the real-life inventor of the Zero fighter plane, the plane used by Japan in World War II. Given Japan’s war crimes towards Korea and China that even today it refuses to address, making a film about the man who invented a killing machine was already controversial. Miyazaki is openly anti-war, both in his previous films and in real life, so I expected The Wind Rises to handle the controversial subject accordingly. Amazingly, The Wind Rises doesn’t seem all that concerned with the consequences of the war, as at the end of the film, Jiro is more concerned about the planes being destroyed than the lives destroyed by the planes. It’s all okay though, because Jiro’s imaginary Italian boyfriend and dead wife tell him to move on with his life.

Some have interpreted the ending of The Wind Rises to be anti-war, but it’s hard to take it that way when the film refuses to show the consequences of the war. The film is more concerned with Jiro’s obsession with building planes and how it leads to him neglecting his dying wife. The closest we get to the film having a discussion about the consequences of building planes for the Imperial army is a discussion between Jiro and his imaginary Italian idol. They use the pyramids as a metaphor, explaining that it was built with slave labor, but they’d rather live in a world with pyramids because they’re impressive, even if they were built with less-than-moral means. It’s a discussion on what limits there are to making art.

Miyazaki’s fascination with planes has always been evident. Flying machines have been a big part of Miyazaki’s films, and Miyazaki’s father helped create planes for World War II. The contradiction of Miyazaki being anti-war yet loving the Zero fighter plane is discussed in the Ghibli documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. Miyazaki loves the craftsmanship of airplanes. He denies being a plane otaku, but humorously in the same documentary he’s caught playing with a toy airplane with Hideaki Anno. I think Miyazaki clearly understands the consequences of the Zero, but instead chose to focus on Jiro’s inner conflict because he resonated with it more. As a result, The Wind Rises is a deeply personal film, but one that almost completely ignores the politics that Miyazaki is known for.

I was pretty disappointed in The Wind Rises when I saw it this year. I can’t say I love it now, but I’d be a fool to dismiss it entirely just because I took issue with its portrayal of history and sluggish story. After seeing The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, I have a lot more respect for Miyazaki as an artist. I don’t agree with everything he says, but he’s bold with his statements. He’s a grumpy old man, but some of the stuff he says is really true. Lot of anime fans hated his comments on otaku ruining anime, but he’s got a point. Anime is catering to the obsessives these days, and as a result we’re getting a lot of garbage. Mind you, we’re also getting a lot of great anime among the trash like Kill la Kill and Space Dandy, but Miyazaki still has a point. We did get dreck like Mahouka and Cross Ange this year. Mahouka, with its right-wing nationalist bent, would definitely be the kind of otaku anime that Miyazaki would hate.

The Wind Rises deserves criticism for its problematic content, but as a final film for Miyazaki, it’s fitting. It doesn’t hold up with his best work, and I think Porco Rosso is easier to swallow as far as personal films go, but it’s as final as a film can be. Miyazaki has had a long, interesting career with an equally interesting personal and political life to match. I imagine we’ll still be talking about him for long time after his retirement.

Day 5 preview: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and the other Ghibli co-creator, Isao Takahata.

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