With one-week Oscar qualifying runs in New York and Los Angeles, anime master Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises” is getting an extremely careful roll-out from distributor Walt Disney—as well it might. The animated feature that the 72-year-old Miyazaki has said will be his last, is a fanciful bio-pic of the aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi, introduced as a boy who dreams of designing airplanes that somehow become Japan’s most feared World War II weapon, the Mitsubishi Zero fighter.
The reasons for Disney’s caution, according to the New York Times, have less to do with the movie’s subject than its lack of suitability for kids. Cute as it often is, “The Wind Rises” is definitely not a cartoon for small children—as the family sitting ahead of me at a recent preview became acutely aware. But that’s not because, as the Times noted, there are “at least eight scenes in which characters smoke cigarettes.” Nor does it have to do with the movie’s violence (or lack thereof). “The Wind Rises” lacks the splendid eccentricity of Miyazaki extravaganzas like “Princess Monoke” and “Spirited Away”–or rather, that nuttiness has been sublimated in the movie’s premise. Kids may be bored; their parents, on the other hand, will have way too much to think about.
As a movie, “The Wind Rises” is at once beautifully restrained and wildly problematic. Notwithstanding a lengthy scene of the 1920 Tokyo earthquake as experienced by the passengers on a train (which, bravura as it is, comes a bit too early to be the movie’s set piece), Miyazaki’s best bits of animation are extremely subtle—a splash of water, the light reflected on a pair of eye-glasses, tea swirling in a cup, and the ways in which wind is made visible, as well as the detailed urban landscapes. Moreover, the central drama is neither the Sino-Japanese or Pacific wars but a highly sentimental and totally invented love story between young Horikoshi and a girl suffering from tuberculosis.
“The Wind Rises” was a hit at both the Toronto and New York Film Festivals (as well as the top-grossing Japanese movie of the year). That the movie is not only made for adults but literate ones is signaled by the opening quote from Paul Valery and repeated references to Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain.” That it would have a specific meaning for a Japanese audience is implicit in the title. I’m not sure what it signifies at home but for this American at least, the notion of a rising wind has a disturbing echo of Japanese militarism: “Kamikaze” is often translated as “divine wind.” And wasn’t it the wind god that saved ancient Japan from foreign invasion?
Horikoshi’s dream of flying turns into a nightmare but ends as a dream. The bombers that fill the sky might be clouds of Disneydust. (Indeed, “The Wind Rises” has a creepy resemblance to Disney’s amazing—and long suppressed–wartime propaganda animation, “Victory Through Air Power.”) True, the final scenes show a green field strewn with twisted fuselage wreckage. Cruel destruction… in Japan, that is. I don’t doubt the sincerity of Miyazaki’s pacifism but I’m appalled by his abstract vision. Like, how many tens or hundreds of thousands of real people in Asia and the Pacific were de-animated thanks to Horikoshi’s dreams?
Image: Walt Disney Company