The Wind Rises and United States of Japan

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The Wind Rises is like a gale of emotion, both haunting and enchanting, a meditative film that is all the more poignant considering it’s most likely Miyazaki’s last. It’s easily one of my favorite of his films, even though it lacks many of the fantasy elements which I’ve come to love in his work. I’ll take that a step further and say it’s one of my favorite films of the year. At the same time, I think it’s more powerful coming after the personal journey I’ve had with United States of Japan and all the editing I’ve been doing of late. Based in part on the life of Jiro Horikoshi who designed the Mitsubishi A5M fighter and its successor, the Zero, both of which were used by the Japanese Empire, it’s a compelling look at Japan’s past and a historical journey into the struggles that shaped the era. At the same time, it’s also about a brilliant designer whose passion for all things aviation causes him to see patterns that others are oblivious to even in the fish bones that are part of his meal. A big part of the journey lies in his dreams and that’s where elements of the fantastic emerge. Even as a kid, he dreamed of flying. It’s when the fantasy starts blending into reality that the intersection makes us marvel and wonder at the insights Miyazaki is sharing about his own animating process. We got a glimpse into that process in the documentary, The Kingdom of Madness and Dreams. All creativity requires buckets of madness, as well as seemingly lofty and towering dreams. The choice of Hideaki Anno for the voice actor was inspired, especially considering he’s the director of Neon Genesis Evangelion, which I’ve described as one of the inspirations for USJ.

The emotional arc and the subtle interplay of Horikoshi’s life is often understated, understandably so, as much of his odyssey is subconscious, an aerial wonderland that is optimistic. A theme that pervades throughout is the wind, or fate’s role, in salvation, disaster, and even random encounters. His first meeting with his future wife, Nahoko, happened because of the wind (I won’t spoil the specifics, but it’s a fun scene). When the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 hits, the strong winds play a big role in spreading the fire. I loved the way the history plays such a key role, and yet never overtakes the main story. It’s something I’ve struggled very hard on USJ to do, where even with momentous events occurring, the characters remain at center stage.

Miyazaki said he was inspired by the real Horikoshi’s quote: “ All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful.” All of Miyazaki’s works are undoubtedly beautiful. But there’s something even more meaningful in this one, almost Ecclestiastical, the wise sage sharing a part of his life, trying to pass along a little bit of the magic he’d weaved and spread to us ‘mere mortals,’ ha ha. That magic becoming corrupted and misused becomes the tragic turning point in the plot, and I found Jiro’s plight moving as his love for planes leads to them being used in war. I’ve heard there was some controversy over the humanization of the man who developed the Zero which killed so many people in WWII, and that’s an entirely different conversation in itself. For the purposes of this post, I want to limit myself to the actual film and some thoughts on Miyazaki himself.

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In The Kingdom of Madness and Dreams, one of the interesting juxtapositions is between Miyazaki and director Isao Takahata, who lived through a US air raid in Okayama City when he was a kid. Miyazaki talks about how his father gave a family some chocolate, and how all these decades later, they were still so touched by that. He then reflects on Takahata’s own bitter experience after the raid and how that changed so much of his outlook on life even to this date. That contrast was never more jarring than in The Wind Rises versus Takahata’s own war film, Grave of the Fireflies. I’ll be honest here. To this day, I have not been able to finish Grave because it gets me so emotional. I have a general idea what’s going to happen by the ending, and the story is so depressing, I just can’t do it. It’s funny because when I was in my early 20s, an older guy I knew said he no longer watched sad films since life already had enough sadness. I didn’t understand him when I was younger, but now, I can understand his viewpoint, even if I don’t necessarily agree. I still watch a whole lot of sad films, The Wind Rises having its own share of sorrows. But Grave of the Fireflies is one of those films I still haven’t been able to finish. I will eventually get to it because I really want to- just not yet.

This brings me back to United States of Japan. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but it has my thoughts on mortality and how our attitudes towards it change with age, especially as that remaining clock time gets shorter and shorter. You literally don’t have time to think about it when you’re younger. But as you get older, it becomes a much bigger preoccupation. I’m making smaller edits, subtly carving away at words, imbuing little exchanges of emotion to try to convey my feelings. These are the kinds of unspoken things that only experience can instill.

There is a serenity in The Wind Rises, a desire to simultaneously submit to the wind while also riding it with our own inventions and creations. I’m glad I waited until I was near the end of my edits before watching it as it was a sort of reward for myself. Below are some screen grabs that I loved in the film and I highly recommend seeing it. It won’t be for everyone. And if you find you don’t like it, come back to it in a few years. It’s one of those films that has tons of layers all streaming into each other. I’ll be here chugging away at USJ, riding the wind to the finish line.

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One thought on “The Wind Rises and United States of Japan

  1. Reblogged this on Lola By The Bay and commented:
    As mentioned a few months ago, a fellow author of mine, Peter Tieryas Liu, will be releasing his new novel, “United States of Japan,” next year, and as he nears the end of the editing process, he rewarded himself recently by watching Hayao Miyazaki’s (supposed) final film, “The Wind Rises.” Today he took some time to share some thoughts about the film itself, as well as what Miyazaki’s films have meant to him.

    I believe it’s safe to say that this is something we have in common. If you’ve happened to have read both of our debut works, then you may know how they are not at all similar, content-wise. However, if there’s one source of inspiration that has helped Peter and I write the works of ours that are now out in the world, that honor would have to go to Miyazaki. Along with being an amazing filmmaker, he’s first and foremost an incredible storyteller; one that does not come around that often.

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