Lauded animation director Hayao Miyazaki’s latest offering Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises) opened in theaters across Japan last month, earning $9.6 million in two days – the nation’s biggest opening so far this year. Perhaps this should not surprise. The Hollywood Reporter notes that three of Japan’s all-time top-five grossing films at the box office were helmed by the maestro. As of last Thursday, the film had earned $57 million.
But there are a few aspects that distinguish this film from the rest of Miyazaki’s oeuvre. For one, while most of the director’s gems have attracted a young audience, his latest has drawn a more mature crowd. A second distinction: this film is decidedly more realistic than standard Miyazaki fair.
Kaze Tachinu combines the real life stories of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japan’s iconic WWII Zero fighter plane, and novelist Tatsuo Hori, who lived during the same period and penned a tome called Kaze Tachinu. Miyazaki creatively interweaves their stories to explore the theme of following one’s purpose in life against the backdrop of tumultuous historical events. The film’s trailer, with English subtitles, was just released this week. It can be viewed here.
“The film is great, but it might be a little difficult for children to understand completely,” Ran Tanaka, a professional living in Tokyo who recently watched the film told The Diplomat. “I still think children should see the film. I think they will understand it on some level. But to fully appreciate the message you have to understand history. If you have a grasp on that – especially WWII – then the film’s message is very clear and quite strong.”
The timing of this artistic statement was not accidental, amid debate to potentially replace Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution, which renounces war. And the director did not stop with speaking his mind in the film.
He called the move to amend the Constitution “outrageous” and even penned an essay on the matter in Neppu, a monthly magazine published by his production company, Studio Ghibli. According to The Japan Times, he wrote: “To take advantage of the low voter turnout and to change the Constitution without giving it serious thought is unacceptable. I am clearly against it.” In the essay, he goes on to express his shame at being born in a country that invaded swaths of Asia during WWII, kept “comfort women,” and committed other wartime atrocities. He added, “I am taken aback by the lack of knowledge among government and political party leaders on historical facts.”
Miyazaki is no stranger to opposition, nor is he afraid to stand his ground. Many of his past films have dealt with heated subject matter, including Princess Mononoke, which brings humanity to task for our treatment of the environment. When Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein approached legendary animation filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki about making cuts to his now classic 1997 film Princess Mononoke in preparation for a planned U.S. release, the Japanese master purportedly had two words for him: “No cuts.” The message was delivered to Weinstein by the film's producer along with a samurai sword in the post.
In the case of Kaze Tachinu, his outspokenness has unsurprisingly whipped nationalists into a fury. A barrage of ad hominem issued forth from right-wingers who called Miyazaki names ranging from “old coot” to “dim-witted” (ironic for a man who is widely considered a creative genius) and “anti-Japanese.” Others were more measured in their criticism, arguing that the plans to amend the Constitution are reasonable “because unlike the old days, threat of an invasion by neighboring countries is becoming real.”
While many have gotten lost in the film’s critical take on history, Tanaka, who has seen “all of Miyazaki’s films” said, “Even though there is a lot of history in the film, the main message is about following one's purpose and dreams in life.”
In a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun Miyazaki drew a parallel between the present day and the period stretching from the late Taisho Era (1912-1926) to the early Showa Era (1926-1989). He said those times were “very like now. One difference, though, was that back then, the Japanese people didn't take a long and healthy life for granted. At one time, Tokyo led the world in the number of tuberculosis patients. Young people were simply dropping dead. Because there was no guarantee about their future, everybody focused on living their lives to the fullest while they could.”
Tanaka added, “I agree with him. During the Showa era people couldn’t really pursue their dreams. But today we don’t have an excuse not to pursue our life purposes 100 percent. The idea that every character should live with integrity and follow their true purpose is the message I get from the film.”