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  • Dec 23, 2014
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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

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

purplehazelaw
You may have forgotten history. How was WW2 started and what has happened during the war. Ask your parent / grand parent if you are Chinese. So far, I think China has been very restrained in handling territorial dispute.
Sunny
For anyone who has actually been to Japan and understand their culture, they are actually a very peaceful, harmonious and cultured people who are generally very kind and warm.
Unfortunately, in this modern age, when you have a neighbour obsessed with building a ‘great empire’ in Asia and are amassing nuclear weapons and increasing its military, what are you suppose to do? Sit back and continue to enjoy your pacifist constitution…? Look at what has happened to Tibet, and you can see why many countries in Asia are worried about a rising power without a cultural or moral backbone.
What is the real danger? Japan wanting to defend itself and protect its people by amending its constitution, or a country with an inferiority-complex with an obsession to be ‘great’ despite the fact that it doesn’t even uphold the laws of its constitution while it continues to expands its military? There is only one reason to build up such a military, and, for one thing, it is not about having ‘a peaceful rise.’
Every country has a right to defend itself, especially if it has a big bully without a conscience in its backyard.
chris.worthington.39
It's a great film, but it's actually subtly pro-war. I don't want to give away too much of the film, but it depicts the designer of the Japanese Zero in a very positive light; how is that anti-war? In effect, he helped design a machine that was largely responsible for Japan's early success against American planes in the Pacific until the US designed the P51-Mustang.
This is a fantastic film but it's hardly anti-war. And a number of Miyazaki's movies have been anti-war so that's why this one was a shocker - it wasn't overtly anti-war.
Incidentally, I chucked when they called the Senkaku Islands the Daioyu. In Japanese newspapers, they call them Senkaku/Daioyu. The article depicts Japan as the aggressor when they're just responding to China's growing aggression towards Japan.
purplehazelaw
Diaoyu islands belong to China. China and Japan has separate continental shelf and Diaoyu island is on China's continental shelf. If you look at history, it was handed over to Japan from USA after WW2 against the opposition of China.
mycroft.lampwick
Does Japan not remember how their last war ended? They are riled up again?
superdx
The tea party in the US should get together with the black armband nationalists in Japan and have a drink. But probably they wouldn't get along :(
sarahlp2
It is important to take in all details of the past. The Courageous, Inventive, Frightening, Sorrowful, and Wonderful. The past is what makes us who we are today and will always help to mold our decisions for the future. I look forward to seeing this movie in the states.
thomas.r.spoor
The A6M Zero was not a kamikaze plane, or rather it wasn't intended to be one. It was designed as a light-weight long range fighter for carrier based operations. It may have been used as one late in the war in limited numbers, however that was not its primary function. To say it was a kamikaze plane is misinformation.
chris.worthington.39
A large part of this article is exaggeration; Miyazaki being "attacked" by Japan's right wing is about the same as 3 people showing up at a protest rally. No one in Japan takes those guys seriously, and I haven't heard any of the information listed here in Japan. It's like looking at an ant through a magnifying glass.
pslhk
Hayao reminds me of Toten
both legendary both respectable
Miyazakis

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