Hayao Miyazaki’s latest animated film, The Wind Rises, is likely to be considered a masterpiece. Having been nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Animated Feature, it’s the third Studio Ghibli film to be so honored. The other two, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, are among the creator’s best, with Spirited Away actually winning the award. But unlike the other movies, The Wind Rises has arrived on our shores with some controversy.
The Wind Rises is loosely based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the lead designer of perhaps one of the most recognizable planes in all of history — the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. That has been the reason for most of the controversy surounding the film. Even in Japan, some have questioned Miyazaki’s choice to center the story on a man who made war planes for a living. And even though the plane in the film is only a precursor to the famous “Zero,” it still brings up memories of a very violent time in Japanese history. (Incidentally, this film has a PG-13 rating, so it’s not geared toward children.)
The tension might also be heightened by recent talk in Japan about increasing the strength and capability of their military forces. Miyazaki is a well-known pacifist and environmentalist. His films often reflect humanity’s mistakes in treating the Earth and one another poorly in our quest for power and wealth. His heroes are often self-sacrificing, looking to help others first.
Being Japanese-American, anticipating this film is even more loaded for me. I have to admit to having met every reference to Pearl Harbor throughout my life with dread, and this movie will be no different. I dread December 7th and hearing those famous words repeated annually, “a day that will live in infamy.” I keep hoping one year they won’t say it. For those of us American citizens of Japanese ancestry, it has been exactly that. It certainly is a day we cannot forget. We are forced, on some level, to relive that one awful moment again and again, along with the horror and tragedy of that day. But we also live with the devastation committed when the United States dropped not one but two nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and furthermore, with the shame that our own government placed more than 110,000 of its own citizens in internment camps, forcing them to evacuate their homes and lose their property for having the same features we do. My parents and grandparents spent time in those camps, behind barbed wire out in the middle of nowhere.
Although it’s been years since I heard the words, I grew up having people call me names. The ignorant and racist slurs are painfully seared into my memory, but every December 7th, I also worry about whether my daughter will ever hear these words aimed at her. In some ways, we can look at the racial tensions in this country and say, without a doubt, things are easier for this generation of kids. On the other hand, I still see so many acts of violence and hatred, even in America, that when December 7th rolls around, there’s still a nagging fear that the pendulum will swing back, latent racism toward Japanese-Americans could rear its ugly head, and my daughter’s generation could become targets of it. So far, she has enjoyed a life rather carefree from these kinds of concerns.
When I watch The Wind Rises, it will be with all of this awareness in mind. The movie for me will be about the complexity of life. It will be about this great love Jiro has for Naoko and the great love he has for flying. It will be about the tragedy of Naoko’s illness and the irony and tragedy that Jiro’s dreams of flying are only realized in making planes for military use. The quote that Hayao Miyazaki says inspired him to create the film is also one that haunts me. “All I wanted was to make something beautiful.“ How much pain and loss and regret and hope is wound up in that simple quote? Like life, I expect that this movie will be complex, multi-layered, and textured with conflicting emotions and perspectives, but that is the richness that is part of living in the world today. It is also what makes Miyazaki’s movies so beautiful.