Hayao Miyazaki’s Final Film Is an Uneasy Love Letter to a War Machine

Interview

Friday, March 14, 2014

Hayao Miyazaki is one of the most acclaimed animated filmmakers of our time. A generation of American kids has grown up with My Neighbor TotoroSpirited Away, and Princess Mononoke — films of mythical creatures, flight, and magical transformations. (The movies are distributed by Disney, and carefully dubbed with the help of Pixar's John Lasseter.) The 73-year-old director just released what he says is his final film, The Wind Rises, and it has caused some consternation both in this country and in Japan.

Unlike his magical films, The Wind Rises is set mostly in the real world. Its sympathetic hero is a celebrated engineer, Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the Zero fighter planes that dominated much of Asia, attacked Pearl Harbor, and were later flown by kamikaze pilots. But in the film, Horikoshi is an artist lost in his imagination, motivated by the love of flight and trying not to think about the deaths his planes will cause. Horikoshi is shown working with the Nazis; he doesn't like their brusque tone, but is in love with German industrial engineering. "This war memory and the question of guilt and who was guilty,” Linda Hoaglund tells Kurt Andersen, “has not been dealt with [in Japan] in the way it has been in Germany." Hoaglund is a documentary filmmaker who has worked with Miyazaki and translated for him. “He's also, as we know, in love with flight. He thinks airplanes are beautiful. They're also used in war. So how do you spin a work of art out of this?"

This scenario is particularly surprising since Miyazaki is an outspoken liberal and pacifist who has rejected the right-wing revisionism of the war taking place in Japan. It’s certainly significant that Miyazaki’s father helped build planes during the war. "Miyazaki felt that he had to confront this,” Hoaglund explains.

The Wind Rises has been a big hit in Japan, as has the recent live action film The Eternal Zero, which glorifies kamikaze pilots. Hoaglund says Miyzaki would be "very hurt" to hear his film compared to The Eternal Zero, but she isn't surprised by Japan's recent turn to nationalism. "People are so exhausted between the economic downturn, the tsunami, the nuclear [disaster]. All of these things make them want to cling first to an identity as a Japanese, and second as an individual," she says, "because the identity as a Japanese is safe."

What do you think of recent Japanese movies glorifying World War II? Tell us in a Comment below.

    Music Playlist
  1. My Neighbor Totoro
    Label: Disney Presents Studio Ghibli
    Purchase: Amazon

    Music from the movie trailer

  2. Squad Falcon
    Composer: Joe Hisaishi
    Album: The Wind Rises
    Label: Ponycanyon Kr
    Purchase: Amazon

Guests:

Linda Hoaglund

Produced by:

Eric Molinsky

Comments [13]

Z from Houston

I had a longer comment earlier after seeing the film and listening to this interview but unfortunately it didn't post correctly.

Here I want to reply to previous comments made by "Paul from Tokyo, Japan".

WWII is a world war, but not US-Japan war. Even if Japan had won, any rational person cannot call those war criminals "heroes" with any knowledge of the crimes Japanese had committed in other Asian countries. Millions of people were killed during Japanese invasion and occupation. It's senseless to ever call them "heroes".

Back to this film, I found the standpoint is just very ambiguous. The message seems to be "I'm just an engineer. I design airplanes. They shouldn't be used for war. But others just used it to kill." This tone is our general perception of Japanese society's attitude towards the history of WWII. There are good Japanese war films like Human Condition trilogy and Wild Fire. The Wind Rises is not one of them with the should-be reflection of WWII history.

Apr. 29 2014 12:47 PM
SBreyak from Osaka, Japan

Just as this conversation was getting interesting and challenging it was cut off. I would love to hear the rest of it and more of Hoagland's take on this movie and Japan's recent and unfortunate shift right.

As for this movie's dealing with WW2, I think humanizing the people on the losing side of this war (all remembered today as villians; a lable hard to argue against regarding the regimes and their aims, but what of the individuals trying to live in these countries in wartime?), taking them out of their role in larger campaigns and seeing them as people is especially threatening to the victors. Because it in turn demands that we remove this heroic lens through which we see our actions during the war. The war that Japan wrestles with today is not very unlike the war on our soil we continue to wrestle with. And perhaps someday we too will wrestle with the morally fuzzy acts of the Allies: Dresden, Hiroshima, and so on.

Of course, facism is wrong; slavery is wrong. These are what these wars were fought and won over, but these evils are not all that was lost. In what else was lost, there will always be a part of the population seeking acceptance for what they fought for, as there will be victors unwilling to see anything unpure in their victory.

Mar. 22 2014 09:56 AM
Paul from Tokyo, Japan

To say that the Japanese can't have movies about the war is ludicrous. In the podcast it was mentioned that 17 of 18 Japanese "war criminals" were found guilty. There are heroes and criminals on both sides of the line. If the war had ended with Japan as the victor it is reasonable to believe that many of the U.S. war "heroes" such as MacArthur would have been found guilty of war "crimes". Atrocities are committed by all sides in a war. Honorable and heroic actions can be taken by the enemy just as well as by ourselves. It is the victors who can sweep their own crimes under the carpet. It is only right to tell the stories of those heroes and decent people regardless of which side of the war they fought on. Equally, it is only right to condemn the atrocities and convict the perpetrators of atrocities regardless of the side of the war they were on.

I have not seen "The Wind Rises" yet but I plan to see it when I get the opportunity. Studio Ghibili's films are fresh and avoid the formulaic and commercial rut of Disney Films.

Mar. 21 2014 08:15 PM
tom from arizona

I saw this film in the un-dubbed (Japanese language) release here, and am looking forward to the dubbed version. It's ridiculous to say that this film "glorifies war" as one previous commenter said. The film, if anything, is anti-war. I think it shows that war, like death, does not give you the opportunity to "opt out."

Mar. 18 2014 08:43 PM
Steve from Park Slope Brooklyn

Von Braun was the highlight of Walt Disney's rocket to the moon series, done in the 1950's. If I remember right, it was broadcast on Friday nights to us leading edge Baby Boomers, and our WW II veteran parents.

Kurt, you asked if a German war plane designer could ever have gotten as sympathetic treatment as Miyazaki's.
Walt Disney turned the V-2 rocket bomb into a family friendly moon ship, only a decade after VE and VJ Day.

I think it's fair to say that "our" German rocket scientists got a big pass regardless of Nazi affiliation or damage they did.

Mar. 17 2014 10:14 PM
John from British Columbia

What? We are not allowed to watch movies about Japanese experiences in
WW II because they were then "the enemy"? "All Quiet on the Western Front"
and "Das Boot" are forbidden? A million Hollywood movies have not
"glorified war"? How infantile!

Mar. 17 2014 06:30 PM
David Griffin from Fort Worth TX

I cannot speak about The Wind Rises because I have not seen it. However, it is abundantly clear to me that any film or book or story or sculpture or painting that actually glorifies war, hatred or injustice should be treated with skepticism if not rejection.

Mar. 17 2014 03:40 PM
TJC from TN

Statement of Emmerson G. Loewe with respect to his mistreatment while a prisoner of war of the Imperial Japanese Government.

http://www.angelfire.com/nm/bcmfofnm/emmersonloewe/affidavit.pdf

Mar. 16 2014 12:07 PM
Kelly from Brooklyn

I saw the film and left feeling like I'd just seen the most beautiful, moving, and ambiguous propaganda film ever.

Mar. 16 2014 11:22 AM
Bill from New York from New York

The Wind Rises is not an apologia for Japan's wartime role. It is a romantic, beautiful film about a man, his dreams, the woman he loves. The film is stongly anti-war. With this film, especially, it is important that people see the film before they comment on it. It was the surprise hit at the New York Film Festival, an audience that is as anti-war as any one can imagine.

Mar. 16 2014 11:22 AM
Chris Gurin from Philadelphia, PA

I haven't yet seen this film, but as an animation student and admirer of Miyazaki, I find it difficult to reconcile the idea of "The Wind Rises" as an apologia for Imperial Japan's wartime role. Kurt's observations about a similar treatment of a German subject immediately made me think of Wernher Von Braun's legacy.He was a member of the Nazi party, held a commission as a major in the SS, and it remains unclear how much of Nordhausen and MitelWerk were under his direct control. I don't think there can be much equivalency between Miyazaki's subject, and the amoral acceptance by Von Braun of Nazi atrocities . There's also the fact that history is written by the winners. I believe Curtis LeMay observed that he and all allied leadership would end up as "War Criminals" had we lost.

Mar. 15 2014 06:56 PM

I am dismayed to learn of a rise in Japanese nationalism that contains the same kind of racial/ethnic superiority that caused their WW II military to use Chinese and captured American soldiers as targets to test the sharpness of their swords and to commit other atrocities.

But I don't have a problem with Miyazaki’s admiration for kamikaze pilots and for Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the Zero fighter planes. Consider how the U.S. forgave Werner von Braun, who was not only a principal contributor to the U.S. landing men on the moon but also a principal contributor to Hitler’s V-1 and V-2 missiles that attacked London. Von Braun’s German factories brutally used slave labor, which he should have been aware of and for which he was morally guilty.

Mar. 15 2014 02:53 PM
mike from st louis

I watched Mr.Miyazaki's film, "The Wind Rises" and thought it was a wonderfully romantic love story, about a man and woman, and a the same man and his work/passion.

The film in my opinion has a strong anti war message, and anti military industrial message. The protagonist laments that his work is tied to the war, but historically aviation has been advanced because of war, and he pragmatically accepts this fact.

I think it is interesting that this film has drawn such criticism. I doubt a similar film with Von Braun and his dreams of spaceflight would experience the same.

Mar. 15 2014 12:38 AM

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