Hayao Miyazaki is famous worldwide for animated films like “Porco Rosso,” the story of a chauvinistic, pig-faced pilot in inter-war Italy, and “Spirited Away,” which won the Oscar for best animated film and is the top-grossing film in Japanese history. Critics are already calling the 72 year-old’s latest (and possibly last) film, “The Wind Rises,” a shoo-in for the same award in the spring.
But “The Wind Rises” is already stirring controversy.
The film, a box-office smash in Japan with ticket sales of $120 million, will play in New York and Los Angeles starting on Friday for one week, the minimum release time a movie can receive and still be eligible for the Academy Awards. A Hollywood producer who has taken the film under his wing, Frank Marshall, declined an interview request. The movie’s distributor, Walt Disney Studios, is also stepping carefully.
One explanation for the sensitivity? Although “The Wind Rises” has a strong pacifist message, it is essentially a biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, an aeronautical engineer whose contribution to the world was a killing machine. His designs led to the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter, which was used to devastating effect during World War II.
South Korean commentators have attacked Miyazaki for the film. Miyazaki claimed he felt blindsided by the criticism, describing the film as a love story. Horikoshi “was someone who resisted demands from the military,” he told South Korean reporters. “I wonder if he should be liable for anything just because he lived in that period. He wasn’t thinking about weapons—really all he desired was to make exquisite planes.”
For his part, Miyazaki is known as a leftist in Japan, and has strongly argued against Shinzo Abe’s attempts to change Japan’s pacifist constitution. As a result, Japanese nationalists have lined up to hurl mud at Miyazaki from the right.
The visceral reactions to Miyazaki’s latest are indicative of the rising climate of tension in East Asia. With nationalists at the helm of both the South Korean and Japanese governments, and with China increasingly aggressive in territorial disputes with all the neighbors, nobody seems to be getting along. Via Meadia is looking forward to watching “The Wind Rises” when it is released in New York; check back for further thoughts on the film’s message and continuing reactions from Asia and beyond.