The famous Japanese animator, Hayao Miyazaki’s first feature in five years, The Wind Rises, will premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and later travel to Toronto.
The Japanese love animation (the country uses it for everything, including signboards) as they do comics. Called Manga in their language, these comics – unlike in America or Europe – are created not just for the youth. Manga caters to everybody and includes a variety of genres. Some of the Manga stuff is violent or overly sexual.
And, obviously animated movies are hugely popular in Japan, and during my long stay in the country a decade ago, I was for the first time hooked on to animation, which I found both delightful and provocative. Miyazaki’s full-length features have been a big hit not only in Japan but elsewhere too, and they invariably run to packed houses with both adults and children patronising them.
However, this time Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises has sparked a controversy in the 72-year helmer’s native land. Not surprisingly though.
For, in stark contrast to his earlier animation movies like "Spirited Away," "Ponyo" and "Howl's Moving Castle," "The Wind Rises" is a biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed the highly destructive Zero fighter plane which Japan used during World War II.
The film by itself may not have raised a debate or caused anger, but it comes at a time when the new Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is planning to amend the nation’s constitution. This will allow the country to build a full-fledged military, which Tokyo was forced to disband after the war.
Now Miyazaki feels that this will be improper, and he spelt this out in a no-holds-barred essay published in July. The director, who is both loved and venerated, is now being lambasted for his line of thinking on the proposed constitutional amendment. Some conservative Japanese have used the internet to call him a “traitor”.
A hurt Miyazaki told a magazine that all he wanted to make was something beautiful.
The helmer’s movie is truly a reflection of his pacifist stance, and in a trailer, he speaks about the suffering Japan went through in the years leading to the war. It faced economic stagnation and earthquakes, problems which plague the country today.
The lead character of Horikoshi is seen in the film as a thoughtful young man playing with paper planes with a girl in the background. The countryside the two are gazing at looks peaceful. There is a factory, there is a steam train. And then the war hits. The mood of the movie changes from one of tranquillity to one of turmoil. Horikoshi plane breaks up in the sky, and the ground gets bloodied.
Interestingly, Horikoshi was someone closely associated with Miyazaki. The director’s father had a company which supplied rudders for the Zero planes. Also the father ran a club which served occupying American soldiers, and Miyazaki grew up watching all these.
Despite the anger against Miyazaki, The Wind Rises has been flying high since it opened in Japan some weeks ago, and has been holding on to the number one position ever since.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran will cover the Venice Film Festival for Hindustan Times.)