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A Japanese Master's Film Stirs Nationalist Emotions

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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.

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  • michaelj68

    Curious if the movie “The Right Stuff” was made today would Wernher von Braun be treated differently. Since the movie was made more information has come out about the V-2 he developed was built with slave labor in factories carved out of mountains where a large percentage of the slave labor force died. Looking at the plot of the movie it also features Gianni Caproni, the great early Italian plane designer. Caproni made a name for himself with his WW I era heavy bombers. His planes were also used by Mussolini.

  • Dexter Scott

    Japan should feel no shame at all for making excellent aircraft and ships.

    How they were used is another matter.

    • michaelj68

      You bring up that point and I do not remember any complaints about the various versions of Space Battleship Yamato.

  • Boono

    Those crazy Asians! Such nonsense could never happen here, right?

    Well, for those who haven’t been paying attention: we are supposed to boycott Ender’s Game, a movie (and book) which goes out of its way to hit us over the head with its message of tolerance, because the author of the book, Orson Scott Card, has the temerity to be opposed to same-sex marriage.

    Tolerance, ain’t it grand.

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