• Tue
  • Sep 23, 2014
  • Updated: 6:54pm

Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki, born 5 January 1941, is a revered Japanese film director, animator, screenwriter and manga artist. The animated films produced through his company, Studio Ghibli, commonly smash box office records in Japan and achieve international acclaim. Miyazaki is particularly well known for imaginative fantasy-themed productions including 1988's My Neighbour Totoro and 2001's Spirited Away.

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Animation legend Hayao Miyazaki under attack in Japan for anti-war film

Japanese director's new film is a box office success but its themes, and his outspokenness, have drawn fierce criticism from nationalists

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 August, 2013, 1:13pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 5:53pm
 

Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki has always loved planes.

They’re featured prominently in the 72-year-old’s impressive catalogue of animated films, which include classics like My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away. Fantasy-themed aircraft were a major element in Miyazaki’s earlier films, including 1984’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and 1986’s Castle in the Sky. And then there’s 1992’s Porco Rosso, a film about a pig “air pirate,” who flies a plane across the Adriatic Sea. 

But Miyazaki’s latest film harnesses the famous director’s adoration of aircraft a little differently. For one, it’s a far cry from his usual fantasy-themed, family-friendly work. And secondly, it’s a film about the man who designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, an aircraft widely known for kamikaze missions and the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

Kaze Tachinu, known in English as The Wind Rises, opened on July 20 in Japan. It is the first Miyazaki film based on the life of a historical figure – Horikoshi Jiro, who designed the Zero planes shortly before the onset of World War II. Despite the film’s subject matter, however, Kaze Tachinu carries a quiet anti-war message.

“My wife and staff would ask me, ‘Why make a story about a man who made weapons of war?’” Miyazaki said in a 2011 interview with Japan’s Cut magazine. “And I thought they were right. But one day, I heard that Horikoshi had once murmured, ‘All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful.’ And then I knew I’d found my subject… Horikoshi was the most gifted man of his time in Japan. He wasn’t thinking about weapons… Really all he desired was to make exquisite planes.”

In the words of Concordia University Japanese history professor Matthew Penney, Kaze Tachinu is “a film about war but…not a war film.”

“What Miyazaki offers is a layered look at how Horikoshi’s passion for flight was captured by capital and militarism, and the implications of this for thinking about the history of technology [in Japan],” Penney wrote in a recent article for Asia-Pacific Journal.

But despite the film's intentions, it has still launched in the midst of a Japanese political environment that has taken a hawkish stance on foreign policy. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s denial of Japanese war crimes in World War II and his aggressive policies on the disputed Diaoyu islands have sparked criticism in Asia. Miyazaki himself has expressed disapproval.

"One can only be appalled by the lack of historical sense and fixed convictions on the part of top political leaders," Miyazaki wrote in a July editorial put out by his studio’s magazine. "People who have not thought enough should not be messing around with our constitution."

Miyazaki also wrote that a “proper apology” should be given to Korean comfort women who serviced the Japanese army during World War II, and suggested that the Diaoyu islands be “either split in half” or controlled jointly between China and Japan.

Such remarks have generated ire from right-wing Japanese conservatives, many of whom have taken to the internet to express their approval of Prime Minister Abe’s nationalistic policies. On the Yahoo Japan profile for Kaze Tachinu, over 2,000 comments are visible, and many netizens are lashing out at the film’s pacifist message, calling it overly “left-wing”. Others have labelled Miyazaki “anti-Japanese” and a “traitor.”

Despite internet ire, however, Matthew Penney believes that Kaze Tachinu is still on the road to success.

“Internet nationalistic rage [in Japan] is a real phenomenon…but seldom indicative of attitudes in the mainstream,” Penney told the Post in an interview. “[Some parts] of the Japanese internet tend to be extremely anti-Korean and I believe it was Miyazaki’s comment [regarding] comfort women…that got the most negative attention.”

Penney added that internet naysayers “have certainly had no impact on the film’s box office performance, which has been tremendous."

“I never expected [Kaze Tachinu] to perform up to the level of [Miyazaki’s other] family-friendly films with child protagonists, but it has been a massive success, given its adult and somewhat difficult subject matter,” Penney said. “Some viewers expected to see…the fantasy images that have defined Miyazaki’s last few films… However, viewers knowledgeable about other older Miyazaki titles like Porco Rosso are satisfied.”

Kaze Tachinu was the biggest opening of the year in Japan, and took in 960 million yen (HK$77 million) in its first two days – particularly from older audiences. International release dates for the film have not yet been announced, but the movie will compete in the summer 2013 Venice Film Festival.

“My sense is that since it is not a children’s film, it will get a relatively limited release in [the West] and be appreciated mostly by fans of anime and Miyazaki’s canon,” Penney said of the movie’s international appeal. “I hope, however, that some mainstream viewers end up approaching it as a meditation on technology, war and industry – themes that are, of course, important for understanding Japan’s descent into war in the 1930s and 1940s.”

Miyazaki – whose very own father helped build airplanes during World War II - would likely agree. Shortly after the release of Kaze Tachinu, he told reporters it was the first of his films to move him to tears.

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This article is now closed to comments

dng18dng18
I don't despise Japan at all. The country and people are great. I'm from HK and can speak Japanese.
However, there are things they must own up to, such as the historical atrocities against China and Korea. Don't try to re-write the history books this generation because of your past actions.
I teach my kids the same philosophy, always own up to your own actions...
Camel
That is the problem in Japan. People like Miyazaki Hayao get tormented by the large right wings and nationalists in Japan when dealing critical with the WW2. They still haven't learned from the history and they don't want to. I despise Japan for this as nothing changed in their mindset and opinion. They (the majority) still think that they were right to invade whole Asia including committing all those atrocities.
BCLVH.72
"Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s denies Japanese war crimes in World War II."
Way to destroy 40 years of cultural and social progress in your country. This is like if the German government started denying the holocaust. Miyazaki is not a traitor, he's one of the greatest artists in contemporary Japanese culture.
Camel
Not only one time I've been to Japan and not only have I spoken to one or two but many Japanese and they admit that they have a very strong nationalists part in their population. In fact the majority. Just try to discuss about their Tenno and you will see how much defensive they become.
Japan don't have aggressive military which can attack and warefare because it is forbidden for them. A committment they agreed to because they lost the war (in order to save their Tenno). How naiv to think all is because of the Chinese. It wasn't in the past and it won't be in the future. So don't just talk to japanese tourguides. Experience the hardcores which are the majorities and you will know. You think only the Germans had the concept of the ruling race at 3rd Reich Germany? The Japanese as well are convinced they are the ruling race of Asia. Until today.
Tibet is a part of China. What is your problem?
jayb
just a few days after 9/11/01, Noam Chomsky was labeled a "traitor" when he alluded 9/11 attack was "indirectly" caused by US "state terrorism" throughout the middle east and many countries in the underdeveloped world. it is always easy to clip hats on people than to do a serious self exam.
hkhk
Bravo to Miyazaki Hayao for having the courage to preach peace in this way.
Camel
lol, keep on defending Japan while ignoring the facts that the Japanese systematically deny their wrongdoings in the WW2. Just have a look into their schoolbooks would be the first advise.
chris.worthington.39
It's ignorant statements like that that keep the tension in Asia rising. As an American living in Japan, I can guarantee that you couldn't be further from the truth about the thinking of most people in Japan.
tsuicmg
I still remember a conversation with a university student from Japan in mid-1970s when I was a university student. He talked to me why Japan lost the war. He talked to me atomic bomb made Japan lose the war. He kept on talking about winning or losing WWII but never answered the origin of the war. Since then, I have found the same words in Tokyo or Hiroshima or from the Japanese officials. I realize that most Japanese just concern how they lost the war and became victims of the war but forget or deliberaetely forget the origin of the war. I admit Japanese people are peaceful people to-day but I wonder what will happen one day if they do not change their mind. Some Japanese say their country is not normal because of their constitution. But I think it is not their constitution but their mind. And now, they have a counterpart, Communist China, who also is quite "not normal" . As a Hong Kong citizen, I 'd rather keep a distance and watch for the time being.
michael.d.strugnell
Seriously? Barefoot Gen and Grave of the Fireflies seemed more anti-war than this, and they got almost no flak against them.

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