Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Miyazaki’s timely message: Live life to the fullest
Kansha Alkansha

September-October 2013

Le vent se lève, il faut tenter de vivre.  (The wind is rising...we must try to live.)
-Quoted in Hori Tatsuo’s 「風立ちぬ」
(The Wind Rises) 
Originally from Paul Valéry’s “Le cimetière marin” (The Graveyard By The Sea)

Live life to the fullest: Make a difference, make things happen

Two years after the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami and more than a decade of stagflation, animator Hayao Miyazaki seeks to deliver a message of life through his works during these bleak times. “Kaze Tachinu” (風立ちぬ or The Wind Rises) is the latest animated film created and directed by Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki. Unlike previous works like Ponyo or Spirited Away based on fantasy, Kaze Tachinu is based on the heartwarming story of Jirō Horikoshi (堀越 二郎, 1903-1982), the aircraft engineer who designed the Mitsubishi A6M or “Zero-sen”, Japan’s famous World War II fighter aircraft. The setting is the 1920’s, Japan is an impove-rished nation ravaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake and is set on waging war against the Allied Forces. Miyazaki dedicates his latest work to the memory of Jiro Horikoshi and Tatsuo Hori. Asked why, Miyazaki says that he wanted to tell the story of the life and passion of the talented Jiro Horikoshi, and inspire the audience to rise above disaster and recession woes and to live life to the fullest. Based on Tatsuo Hori’s 1937 novel of the same title, the film begins with multiple dreams showing Horikoshi as a young boy trying to fly a plane which is later bombed by a bigger and better plane. Horikoshi is hit and his plane crashes. Horikoshi’s imagination is captivated by aviation and constantly dreams about planes as a little boy. In his dreams, he meets a famous Italian plane designer, Giovanni Caproni who is surprised that a small boy has invaded his dream and later concedes that they both can share the dream of making better and safer planes and their friendship develops on that note: making things better. His extraordinary zest for planes leads him to borrow books (in English which he tries to understand by using a dictionary) just to quench his curiosity and urge to see the beautiful curves of planes which ordinary folks would dismiss as mere metal bulk. Horikoshi is the perfect hero for the movie: dignified, no-nonsense, hardworking guy who happens to know where his passions lie and makes a lifework of it.

Pacifism, anti-military and pro-growth

Miyazaki’s fascination with aircraft and flight as well as the theme of pacifism, including an anti-military streak is evident in Kaze Tachinu as well as in his other works particularly, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Kaze no Tani no Naushika, Miyazaki’s first film in 1984), and Porco Rosso or the Crimson Pig (Kurenai no Buta, 1992). Kaze Tachinu’s protagonist Horikoshi pursues his dream by studying aviation engineering at Tokyo Teikoku University (now University of Tokyo) and getting a job at the Aichi branch of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries which made planes. In those days, Horikoshi was disheartened by the low quality of Japanese planes and felt he had to do something to improve the sorry plight of the Japanese-made aircraft. In the movie, he would often grumble about the poverty of Japan “kono bimbo na kuni” and the contradiction of Japan coughing up money to pay the Germans to allow Japanese engineers to enter German hangars and see their latest warplanes. He vowed to channel his talents and efforts to build the best, the fastest and most beautiful Japanese plane to give back to his poor country which was spending money on making planes and sending Japanese engineers like himself all over Europe to find out about the latest in aviation technology. Through the depiction of one boy’s dreams and a whole country’s struggle from disaster and poverty as it attempts to change by taking a giant leap, Miyazaki shows the intricately weaved creative highs and disastrous lows and the often contradictory nature of moving forward towards growth.

Poor but dignified, hard-working and positive

Miyazaki’s depiction of the Great Kanto Earthquake and the fires that gutted Tokyo in 1923 as well as Japan’s impoverished conditions is carefully put together and yet in all the chaos and unfortunate conditions, not one person’s cry of despair nor wailing of sorrow is heard in the movie. Yes, people are scared and scampering away from danger but people are also seen lining up quietly for water. Instead of sensationalizing disaster and pain, the movie focuses on human strength, dignity and capability to help those in need. Horikoshi is a young student on his way to Tokyo in a train where he meets a young girl traveling with her nanny. The earthquake derails the train causes panic and the nanny is hurt. Horikoshi uses one of his drafting scales as a tourniquet and carries the nanny on his back with the young girl abandoning their own luggage and carrying Horikoshi’s luggage instead. The young girl tells him that they live in Ueno and she asks him where he is headed. He says he is university-bound and that he will be on his way after he carries the nanny to a safe place. He leaves his luggage to the nanny’s care and promises to come back for her with help. Horikoshi delivers the young girl to her family and quickly leads the menfolk to fetch the nanny. Horikoshi is profusely thanked but the hero’s objective before all the chaos broke out was to go to the university and he acknowledges their gratitude and hurries to the university without even giving them his name. He arrives at his university which is in flames and fights to save engineering books as Caproni’s voice, a beacon throughout the movie cheers him on.

The next sequences are exchanges months after the disaster between Horikoshi and another engineering student, Honjo about planes, working on equations and drafting plans. The audience gets a glimpse of people busy with hammers and fixing stuff in the background as the two friends are on the way to lunch and the friends comment about the speed at which people are rebuilding Tokyo. They walk into a shokudo and Honjo chides Horikoshi for the lack of variety in his lunch fare, saba-teishoku or grilled mackerel set. Horikoshi replies that aside from the good taste and reasonable price, his lunch gives him a chance to appreciate the beauty of “saba-bone” as he looks dreamily at a perfectly curved fishbone.

Paragon or not, the movie succeeds in showing how to get over a bad situation by accepting the rut that one is in, quickly secure one’s safety and if you can, help others who are in need; but if you cannot, try not to make things worse for others who are in the same boat; and in your own little way, appreciate the simple things in life, and move forward with your dreams.

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