Earlier this week I posted about Hayao Miyazaki and the role that the environment plays in his works, and also the strength of his female heroines. Many of you lovely readers had wonderful comments and either asked about or recommended that I watch Miyazaki’s final film The Wind Rises.
Well, I watched it and I thought I’d put up a smattering of thoughts that I had about it. Overall, it was a lovely film though I don’t think it will be my new favourite (I leave that spot jostling between Nausicaa and Mononoke).
I think, the first thing that I was really left with was the idea that this would be Miyazaki’s final film (so he claims anyway) and the overwhelming sense of finality I had when the movie finished. As with all fiction I think that this film is product of it’s context. Previous Miyazaki films were influenced by various tales, Japanese culture and a desire to embrace the environment and the capability and strengths of the individual heroes. This film, however, was coloured as a final act of creativity and the sense of fulfilment that the act of creation can have.
The hero, Jiro, dreams of creating beautiful airplanes. In his dreams he meets his idol Caproni (a famous Italian airplane designer) who advises and guides him throughout the story. Jiro is a unique guy, a genius in his own way that passes through the lives of others without much notice as he is so focussed on his own creations. This is hilariously shown through interactions with his younger sister, Kayo who is down-to-earth relentless and dreams of being a doctor. Miyazaki’s own personal history is realized more fully in this film. His father worked for an airplane manufacturer which made him wealthy in a time where many went without. Despite this, he remembers the fear of living through World War II, running from air raids and skies lit with the burning of Japan (Wiki). In his youth, while studying at university, Jiro (through happenstance) meets the love of his life Nahoko when she rescues his hat from the wind. He, then, rescues Nahoko and her servant when the train crashes, making sure they get home safely. Their lives cross paths a few times afterwards but it isn’t until after Jiro works for Mistubishi and has experienced some success and failure that he and Nahoko (now a painter), diagnosed with tuberculosis, unite.
Midway through the film Jiro meets Caproni in his dream and Caproni announces his retirement saying that:
“Artists are only creative for 10 years … we engineers are no different. Live your 10 years to the full.”
While, as evidences by Miyazaki himself, artists and inventors can continue living a varied life beyond 10 years however the film, by asserting this, is also asserting the quickness with which life and creativity float by in the wind. Jiro is a staunch pacifist, yet he (and the audience) can’t help but notice that his pursuit of inventing the best fighter plane will inevitably lead to their use as instruments of war. Is that contradiction a fault of the film, or of history and human nature? It certainly mirrors the doomed, yet beautiful and necessary, relationship between Jiro and Naohoko. The film, instead of apologizing for war and the evils of human nature, simply revels in the human’s capacity for the creative process and the beauty and need for creativity and love – despite the consequences. (SPOILERS!) Nahoko’s death aligns with Jiro’s success and ends the film on a bitter-sweet note. Jiro says he never could have completed his plane without Nahoko – and it is clear that Nahoko lived how she wanted to live right to the end.
Now, just a moment on Miyazaki’s preoccupation with flight.
In many of his films, if not all but Mononoke, flight and the discovery within oneself the capacity for flight is a major theme. The Wind Rises even by it’s very title evokes images of flight, and, more than many of the other (perhaps excepting Porco Rosso) is driven, very literally, by flight and the desire to fly. Actually, it’s kind of interesting to note that it is generally the male character who either already knows how to fly or has the machinations and drive to learn the mechanics and power of flight. the female character must learn to fly in her own way. This is, of course, not true of all cases (he’s just so darn complex), often the discoveries are quite even between the genders. But it got me to thinking…
Miyazaki has said in interviews that he is so attracted to the discovery of flight because it is something magical and scientific that will not be experienced again. This is also why he generally depicts early twentieth century flying machines – dirigibles, bi-planes etc… and magical modes of flight because they were just the beginning.
Well, what do you guys think of Miyazaki and his preoccupation with flight?
All I know is that I must watch more of Miyazaki’s movies.
I may have stared at the slider of flight-based images and slipped into nostalgic daydreaming mode for several minutes. I adore Miyazaki’s pre-occupation with flight. When I was younger, I felt like one of the characters sailing into the sky, discovering agency/power in fun, wondrous or grim circumstances. Metaphorically, the idea of being able to grasp a wider aerial view of your own world/circumstances might be linked to how a character examines their own choices. I remember after watching one of Miyazaki’s films in class, my high school teacher reminiscing about how when she was young, she was able to just hop into her uncle’s plane – I wonder if that feeling is something that Miyazaki’s generation felt. On the tech side, it makes me think about how people think of flight today – if our sense of wonder has changed with how technology has been absorbed in life.
Miyazaki is absolutely my favourite filmmaker. There is something special about this work that I can’t use any word but “magical” to describe.
I keep wondering how people are watching this film. I still haven’t seen it and it is torturing me. I like your post it was engaging and thought provoking. I think he uses flight so often because it is a symbol of freedom and liberation. Many of his characters, like Chihiro from Spirited Away, had to overcome different obstacles. Flight, whether it is by the hands of a river spirit or in a simple glider symbolized a release from those trials.
Beautiful – yes.
Perhaps then, Mononoke on the back of a wolf is flying after all.
I think that Princess Mononoke is the only one of his films that doesn’t involve flying. The emphasis of the film was different than his others. It is undoubtedly his darkest animated film yet it focuses so heavily on love and living harmoniously with one another. As he stated “There cannot be a happy ending to the fight between the raging gods and humans. However, even in the middle of hatred and killings, there are things worth living for. A wonderful meeting, or a beautiful thing can exist. We depict hatred, but it is to depict that there are more important things. We depict a curse, to depict the joy of liberation. What we should depict is, how the boy understands the girl, and the process in which the girl opens her heart to the boy. At the end, the girl will say to the boy, “I love you, Ashitaka. But I cannot forgive humans.” Smiling, the boy should say, “That is fine. Live with me.”