Hayao Miyazaki’s long-awaited new film “Kaze Tachinu” (“The Wind Rises”), which opened in Japanese cinemas last Saturday, weaves a tale of the protagonist’s pursuit of a dream and encounter with love during wartime.
The protagonist, a young engineer named Jiro, is based on two real-life figures: Jiro Horikoshi (1903-1982), who helped design the Zero fighter planes used in World War II, and writer Tatsuo Hori (1904-1953), who wrote a novel carrying the same name as the anime, which means “The wind has risen”.
Jiro, a devoted engineer, dreams of designing a beautiful plane, lofty in his imagination despite the Zero fighters’ purpose of sending many young pilots to the battlefield and perhaps their graves.
“All people can do during tough times is try to live as sincerely as possible no matter where they are,” Miyazaki says.
“It's impossible for each of us to take interest in every single social affair and decide what to do based on the course of political situations. People with a vocation can truly experience the world for the first time when they see it through their respective small window of life by being devoted to their work.”
Miyazaki associates this way of living with a proverb from the Old Testament: “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily,” which is mentioned in “Sora no Sora Nareba Koso”, a compilation of essays on society at the end of the 20th century written by Yoshie Hotta. Miyazaki says he has a lot of respect for the writer.
Jiro’s mission, he adds, is to “do what he can with utmost sincerity”.
Miyazaki also feels that the writer Hori shared his beliefs.
Hori wrote “Utsukushii Mura” (“Beautiful Village”) and “Kaze Tachinu” in the 1930s. “Kaze Tachinu” was based on his suffering from tuberculosis and treatment at a sanatorium. His work on the novel earned him a reputation as a writer of “sanatorium literature” or “literature of weaklings”.
Miyazaki rejects this label.
“I believe Hori had a rebellious spirit. When I read his ‘Yamatoji’ and ‘Shinanoji’ [essays on travelling to Nara and Nagano prefectures, respectively], I felt as if they hadn’t been written during wartime.”
The anime great took time crafting the character of Jiro by blending the qualities of two people he immensely admired, Hori and Horikoshi.
“I believe the two had similar educational backgrounds and intelligence levels, read such books as Thomas Mann’s ‘The Magic Mountain’ and Dostoyevsky’s novels, and listened to ‘Zigeunerweisen’ and ‘Winterreise’ (‘Winter Journey’). It's only my assumption, though.
“While thinking about these things, Jiro Horikoshi and Tatsuo Hori merged into one person in my mind,” he says.
Because the protagonist is modelled on real people, his latest work has a more realistic feel than previous ones. It is also unusual for a Miyazaki creation that the setting is so specific and no fictional characters appear in the story.
“In today’s environment of change, I felt I needed to make something that was not a fictional fantasy and instead question how we can live better,” the director explains.
When he was producing “Kaze no Tani no Nausicaa” (“Nausicaa: Valley Valley of the Wind”), a sci-fi fantasy released in 1984, he thought he was making something ahead of its time. Now in the 21st century, he keenly senses that time is catching up with him.
His previous work “Ponyo”, released in 2008, depicts an underwater world brought about by tsunami. Three years later, the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred.
“So I thought I should depict the current time in my next work,” he says.
Although the anime is set in the early 20th century, similarities between the story and today’s world give the impression of familiarity with the present.
Nevertheless, realism was not his goal for the work. He depicted with dynamic touches the havoc wreaked on people by the Great Kanto Earthquake. On the other hand, he does not show Koreans massacred and acts of neighbourhood watch groups in the wake of the disaster. No gruesome war scenes are depicted, either.
Miyazaki says he does not use historical episodes to make his settings appear real.
“We can easily see various photographs on the Internet, but they make me feel bad. I didn’t want to depict history so graphically. This is not the work of animation creators.”