Bookchat Moral Philosophy Politics

“The Wind Rises,” Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki is not only a great anime creator, he is a great filmmaker and storyteller, irrespective of genre.

I have been running through the Miyazaki/Ghibli oevre more or less in order with a couple of omissions that I will eventually correct. A personal note: while the English dubs have A-list acting talent, I have only listened to these in Japanese because I prefer it that way, so I will not comment on the English vocal charcterizations.

I was really looking forward to “The Wind Rises” for various reasons. I mostly loved it but a couple of things bugged me.

As with other Miyazaki films, and moreso here than in some others, this film is beautiful almost to the point of being painful. This, along with his trademark touching humanity and very Japanese/Shinto sense of the super in the natural, are here in abundance. So if you like Miyazaki’s combination of modern and traditional sensibilities you will like this movie, as I did. But be aware, while this is not vulgar or sexually graphic in any way it is a movie that is very adult in its treatment and subject matter. And while it deliciously dips into dreamtime and the realm of the imaginal, it’s a biopic about real people which deals with real history and terrifying events which happened and have present day analogies, and is not fantasy. So, watch it with your kids if you like or after you preview it, but know that it isn’t made to coddle them, or shield them from the harshness of life, any more than were Disney’s best (mostly older ones before the black death of wokesterism in art).

There were a couple of things which bothered me. First, the historicism made it seem as though the only aviation ideas of note happened among what would become the Axis Powers in WW2. To ignore what went on in aviation in America, Britain, Holland and France during the formative years is an absurdity which I can’t believe of a talented visionary like Jiro Hirokoshi, who led the design and building of the redoubtable Mitsubishi Zero fighter plane. More on this in a bit, especially concerning the controversial question of how much the Zero resembles Howard Hughes’ famous H1 racer. Secondly, there is an ethical problem which this movie introduces and then skirts around, namely whether it is OK or good to do one’s best in a cause which one knows is bad. More on this follows as well.

The aviation history problem

Yes, I know, aviation wonks mostly try to debunk the idea that the Zero was a copy of Hughes’ racer. Except that it was not only appearances that resembled. The idea of a single wing, aerodynamic plane was radical in 1935 when Hughes created it. Some of the things his team did were still unique when they appeared on the Zero, such as flush rivets to reduce drag, retractable landing gear and working the aluminum skin and structure in ways the German company Junkers, from whom Mitsubishi obtained some support, hadn’t thought of. So, was the Zero a copy? Not exactly. But Hirokoshi, being a good engineer, took the best ideas he could find and worked them into a brilliant design which was no less amazing because it was done basically in a garage and on a low budget. The way the Mitsubishi crew operated was much more like what British outfits did and in some cases still do rather than working like Lockheed did to create the Zero bane P38 Lightning, or with what star designer Kurt Tank had behind him working for the Luftwaffe. Not saying as much is actually insulting to all the innovators in aviation history, from the Wrights and Hughes onward. And it is with them that Hirokoshi belongs.

Japanese stoicism, Heisenberg’s dilemma and the reality of “Mr. Castorp,” who is named after the main character in Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain,” which itself is part of the storyline here.

Hirokoshi’s dreamtime Italian mentor tells him airplane design is a cursed dream because anything good they create will be used for killing. He also says vision comes before everything else. But when is it not okay to do your best, knowing these things? The Japanese version of stoicism, which indeed resembles the Roman kind, makes of best effort a fetish. In a somewhat similar vein, the German version heaps contempt on doing anything halfway. This makes the following example all the more relevant.

The story goes that Heisenberg, the top German nuclear physicist, went to see his mentor, Nils Bohr in Denmark. Walking in the park so as not to be heard by secret police, Heisenberg tells Bohr he’s anxiety ridden because Hitler wants him to deliver an atomic bomb. Heisenberg knows Hitler will drop one on New York City the first chance he gets. “What should I do?,” he asks. Bohr replies, “A bad job.” So that’s what he did, even though everyone knew Heisenberg was a genius.

When Hirokoshi takes a needed vacation at a quiet country inn he runs into two important people. First, he reunites with his lost love, which is touching and I will say no more about that (enjoy!). Second, he meets Mr. Castorp, whose name comes from Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain and which Castorp cites, comparing their present idyll with the eponymous mountain. This becomes a motif. But Castorp is not a random traveler. He is an anti-Nazi German who was being watched by the Japanese secret police. Most importantly, Castorp tries and mostly fails to get Hirokoshi to understand the evil. Hirokoshi is not capable of failing to achieve the dream he knows is cursed. This is tragic, but the film whitewashes it. Personally I found this disappointing. While I respect and even admire Hirokoshi and his unusually supportive managers at Mitsubishi, the big boss makes clear to him that they will cover for him with the goon squad, who are now watching him, just as long as he is useful.

My feelings about the film are mixed. It is artful and beautiful. However it fails to come to terms with the risks run then and now by the Castorps who resist satanic government. Consequently I can only half recommend it.

A final note: If Mitsubishi gets funding to build a new air superiority fighter I hope they knock the ball out of the park. I also beg them to consider naming her after the famous anime baddass and knight of love, “02” !

Let your dream devour your life, not your life devour your dream. –st Exupery

By vitruvius1

Formerly an integrated marketing and customer experience consultant. Writer on moral philosophy and current affairs.

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