Beautiful Designs, Tools of Destruction

Hayao Miyazaki, of Japan’s Studio Ghibli, has declared that The Wind Rises, playing at the Yukon Arts Centre on December 28, will be his last film. It is a truly beautiful piece of animation, complete with painterly landscapes and a remarkably textured soundscape. Listen for strange human voices that imitate the sound of an airplane propeller and the terrifying vibrations of an earthquake.

As a great creator of art, Miyazaki is decidedly an admirer of Jiro Horikoshi, the animated protagonist, and a prominent Japanese engineer, famous for designing fighter planes during WWII.

Miyazaki seems seduced by Horikoshi’s impressive engineering ability to “turn dreams into reality”.

However, the film has attracted negative reviews asserting that Miyazaki romanticizes the creation of killing machines. Drawing from the ideology of the film, Miyazaki’s rebuttal might be that airplanes in and of themselves are beautiful and elegant inventions; the production of airplanes is not evil, but the appropriation of them as killing machines is. Throughout the film, he employs a sort of doublethink strategy to completely separate an invention from the manner of its use.

The film oscillates between reality and a series of surreal sequences that act as a window into cartoon Horikoshi’s many lucid dreams about airplanes. In these dreams he invariably meets and speaks with a man named Giovanni Battista Caproni, an Italian aircraft designer who was allegedly an inspiration and hero to Horikoshi.

They share the same “dreams” of creating beautiful airplanes.

Amid Caproni’s many lofty musings about aeroplanes is a considerably intense and loaded question:

“ My aircraft are destined to become tools for slaughter and destruction, but still, I choose a world with pyramids in it. Which world will you choose?” he asks Horikoshi. He replies by saying simply, “I just want to create beautiful airplanes.”

The subject is glossed over, as this response allows Horikoshi to remain neutral on the subject by way of not actually answering the question. If one were to consider this an answer, it must be admitted that it is extremely vague, leaving itself wide open for interpretation.

Studio Ghibli’s version of Jiro Horikoshi is an unfettered hero. His life has here been controversially appropriated into a fairy-tale characterization, making the film a sort of animated pseudo-biography. One might be reminded of the Disney’s portrayal of John Smith in the 1995 feature Pocahontas, wherein romanticism took precedence over historical accuracy.

At any rate, these films instill a fantastical image of real individuals into the minds of children for years to come, rubber-stamping these historical figures as legends.

Taken on face value, the film is a lovely homage to creative ingenuity. Sprinkled amongst the sugar-coated, dewy-eyed candy of the piece is a line taken from a French poem by Paul Valéry:

The wind is rising! We must try to live.

This is the inspiration for the title, and a summary of the supposedly simple message behind the narrative. The film asks a moral question, to which it provides a vague but symbolically definitive answer.

It’s an interesting look at the values of Japanese culture, and a self-reflexive examination of the responsibility of the inventor and the artist.

The Wind Rises plays at the YAC on December 28 at 6 p.m. Tickets are $11 for YFS members and a buck extra for non-members.

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