September 28, 2013

Miyazaki Hayao's 「風立ちぬ」 (The Wind Rises)

I was a child in the early 90s, and as far as Japan was concerned, animator Miyazaki Hayao was already an institution unto himself. When his films began to receive international acclaim starting 2001's Spirited Away, we proudly anointed him a national treasure. Therefore, when news of his retirement broke in early September, it seemed practically a patriotic duty to go see his latest (and last) film, Kaze tachinu (The Wind Rises).
The film is set against the backdrop of WWII, and our protagonist is Jiro, a university student who aspires to be an aeroplane engineer -- something the impending war will only need too much of. I fear a too-simple summary of the film will only serve to put international audiences off the film. Yet war is not depicted in the way they may expect; we see how it was an unavoidable part of their life that they had no way of influencing. That, combined with the love story that anchors the film, may unfortunately lead some to see it as a cop out. Yet, it is a remarkably honest view of a situation that was not blessed with hindsight. Although we do not know whether any of the major characters were for or against the war, in the end, Miyazaki subtly indicates his stance through -- what else? -- the animation. One shot in particular struck me: a sky full of war planes viewed from far away, white and bird-like and calling to mind a thousand paper cranes.

Considering that this may be his last film, it makes me think of what I appreciate most about Miyazaki's works. I like that in Japan, kids can go see the latest Miyazaki film and encounter a world where good and evil are often ambiguous, the images can be surreal, and the endings are not always happy. They may not like it; it may go over their heads, it may frighten them (this was my experience) but that they are exposed to those worlds and left to make up their own minds is essential. I grew up just when Miyazaki was hitting his stride, and his films exist parallel to Disney animation, which are hopelessly conformist in comparison. Miyazaki’s films are so free of what “should” be depicted, particularly in the world of children’s animation, and we’re all the better for it.

No comments: