Something a bit unusual for this blog so far, I want to write a bit about the work of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, specifically with a focus on his most recent (and presumably last) feature length film. There will be spoilers, so be warned.
The Wind Rises is an anime film based on the man who engineered the building of the Japanese Zero Fighter airplane, used to wage destruction on Japan’s enemies in World War 2. It’s the story of Jiro Horikoshi, a young man with the dream of designing beautiful airplanes. It’s worth pointing out that several creative liberties were taken by Miyazaki on the source material. Jiro’s relationship with Naoko for example is purely fictional.
If this is truly Miyazaki’s final feature film, I’m not disappointed. Sad, surely, as he is one of the true greats in his field but he’d be going out in a creative high. The Wind Rises is not a whimsical fantasy like many of his previous works, nor has it the recurring theme of humanity versus nature. It’s a very biographical film about the life and struggles of a man in a difficult time. It’s about creativity and creation, the tension between technology and the use thereof. Miyazaki himself has stated and shown numerous times that he is fascinated by flight, and scenes of flying are a big element in so many of his films too. Surely he felt a kinship and saw much of himself in Jiro. The fields of technical drawing and animation are quite similar as well. I feel tempted to say that this film is quite fitting as his final one as it features a protagonist with many parallels to Miyazaki himself.
But I digress. My favorite message by far is the idea that it is possible to appreciate the technical and creative achievement of man, completely isolated from the real world implications. It’s an anti-war film in that Jiro is in disagreement with the Japanese war effort, yet the fact that he is one of the biggest contributors to that same effort could be seen as hypocritical of him. I won’t claim to know my history in that subject, but I find that it’s possible to make a distinction there. Jiro’s dream is to design airplanes, to be a pioneer in aviation. He is inspired by and meets a famous aviator named Caproni, who shows Jiro that planes can be used as human transportation. Jiro gets the chance and resources as well as the challenge to build a plane that the Japanese can build themselves and have ownership over. It’s a matter of national pride and economical need in a time of war. For Jiro though, it is a matter of pursuing his lifelong dream. After watching this film, I gained a level of appreciation for the ingenuity of the people who build these planes. It’s quite amazing how intricate these constructs are.
The secondary story is about Jiro’s romance and relationship with Naoko, a girl he seems destined to be together with. Here we see the sweet and good-natured side of Jiro portrayed as he and Naoko enter and leave each others lives. They’re both creative people and are really a perfect fit. Even if you don’t care for the politics and aviation, this side of the film is something that’s accessible to anybody. It’s wonderful to see the sincerity in both these people and the way they treat each other. It’s inspiring and especially Naoko’s way of dealing with the situation she’s put in really got to me. More cynical people will bemoan that this couple is too perfect and unrealistic, that there’s no gritty negative side exposed for both of them. We all have our failings, so why would Miyazaki try to paint everything so white? I felt a bit that way myself, but in retrospect think that Miyazaki almost always uses a truly virtuous character as his protagonist, which I like, because I often draw inspiration from them. Regarding Naoko, I think here we have a young lady who really is just somebody with a very good upbringing and who’s suffered enough in life to know what’s important and has the maturity to value the right things. Would they have encountered more difficult problems had they been together for a longer time? Very possible, but since that isn’t the case, we’ll never know. The super imposed time frame for their relationship has brought these two people together in a way that’s an example to us all. They say live everyday like it is your last, but many people don’t understand what that really means. It isn’t about aggressively pursuing pleasure and highs as much as possible, which is only a perversion brought about by our consumerist mindset, it is about impacting the life of the people around you in a positive way, so that your impact on this world may be a positive one too.
I’m currently reading “Starting Point: 1979-1996”, a collection of essays by Miyazaki during this time, and it’s fascinating reading. I’ll be putting up excerpts in the future that I find interesting as I read through it. His thought world is very interesting to say the least. His thoughts on so many subjects are those of a man who thinks deeply, which is reflected in his work. I’m sad to hear that his eye sight is weakening and understand that he might want to retire. The man is 73 years old and he has given a lot of good to the world. The Wind Rises is a work so mature and deep, yet consciously sidesteps the temptation of making one last bigger-than-life epic masterpiece that lesser creatives would have fallen to. I find it is a fitting end to a unique career.