“Le vent se lève! . . . il faut tenter de vivre!”
— Paul Valéry
Internet at home continues to be utterly abysmal, so I have now resorted to old fashioned visits to the library lugging my heavy Macbook, circa 2006. Life in Hong Kong has been disgustingly indulgent and downright hedonistic thus far, spending my days sleeping in, lunching with old friends for hours on end in the best cafés and restaurants the city has to offer and exploring every nook and cranny of the city I see only once a year. Detailed chronicles of my exploits can be found on my Instagram.
Last week, I spent the day lounging around Kubrick before popping into Broadway Cinemathéque to catch Miyazaki Hayao's new film, The Wind Rises (2013), on a whim, just because I simply can. I grew up watching his films (past favourites included Nausicaa (1984), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Kiki's Delivery Service (1989), and Spirited Away (2001)). I have watched his more recent films in the past decade, but never grew fond of any of them.
I, however, took an instant liking to The Wind Rises. The film is based loosely on Hori Tatsuo's short story, The Wind Has Risen (1936-37), which itself is a fictionalised biography of Horikoshi Jiro, designer of the Mitsubishi A5M and the A6M Zero. Both models were heavily used by Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service in their kamikaze operations during WWII. Choosing to watch this film is interesting, in light of the flack that current Prime Minister Abe received as he visited the Yasukuni Shrine, which officially commemorates those who have died in service to Empire of Japan during the Meiji restoration. Those commemorated thusly includes 14 Class A war criminals, found guilty by the International Tribunal of the Far East. Relations between neighbors (South Korea and China) have rightfully soured; to an extent, so have relations with the US, which is why Japan has offered to loan half of the $8 billion deal to build a Maglev line between DC and Baltimore as a sort of peace offering (although IMHO sucking up/apologizing to the wrong people). I didn't mean to include a mini history lesson but apparently from speaking with my American classmates at school, most have a shockingly poor understanding and knowledge of contemporary East Asian history (aside from Pearl Harbour and 'Nam).
Knowing the sort of protagonists Miyazaki favoured in the past (usually female, independent, environmentalist), I thought picking someone who is as controversial as Horikoshi, builder of war machines, to be an interesting and provocative choice. In spite of the heavy subject matter at hand, at the heart of the movie, it is thoroughly Miyazaki in that it is less about the war and more about a man achieving his childhood dream of building beautiful flying machines. There is more of a heavier emphasis on the protagonist's personal life: Horikoshi's romance with Satomi Naoko and his relationships with his employers, colleagues and sister. In the case of technological progress and engineering marvel and modernity, Japan was the underdog against the more advanced Germans in the decade leading up to WWII. Using this particular angle, the film is much more palatable and relatable, although one could make the argument that he glossed over the horrors caused by the very machines Horikoshi built.
Miyazaki did not pick an easy project, however he pulled through in crafting a moving tale of growth, ambition and loss with aplomb. In the hands of a less seasoned and capable pro, The Wind Rises (2013) would not have nearly been as successful.