Seeing Studio Ghibli’s “The Wind is Rising”

The Wind is Rising poster

[17th in a series of posts about a recent trip to Japan.]

After a typically big hotel buffet breakfast, we caught our train to Sapporo. Twelve stops and 3 ½ hours later, we arrived in the mid afternoon and got directions to our hotel, the Keio Plaza Hotel Sapporo. Despite having eaten apples and kakinopi (Thom’s favorite cracker/nut snack) on the train, we were pretty hungry. The bellman recommended the nearby Darwin British pub (British pubs seem to be pretty popular in Japan these days).

Thom was in a pretty quiet mood and wanted to see the new Miyazaki movie. Seeing a movie in Japanese in Japan wasn’t a very appealing prospect to me, but I’d been interested in Thom’s University of Puget Sound “Voices” blog post about differences in the Japanese movie-going experience (“The riveting realm of Japanese cinema”), so I was curious.

For Thom, seeing the movie was partly a matter of loyalty to Studio Ghibli. Hayao Miyazaki founded the studio with Isao Takahata in 1985, and he remains an icon in Japan, even though his son, Gorō, has taken over as the primary creative director. Miyazaki produced anime films that Thom and his contemporaries loved as kids, following in the steps of their huge fascination (addiction?) to Pokemon. Princess Mononoke remains one of Thom’s all-time favorites, if not his most favorite film. Word has it that Gorō has been pursuing less fantasy-oriented and more politically-conscious and nationalistic films.

Finding the cinema was somewhat of a feat in and of itself. One of my favorite things about Japan is the retail cornucopia that surrounds train stations. In Sapporo, four tall buildings bracket the actual train station, high rises with floors devoted to everything from grocery stores, to food courts, to full-service restaurants, clothing boutiques and (ta da!) cinemas. We finally located the right tower and proceeded to the 9th floor to see the movie.

Todd and I didn’t understand a word of Japanese, but the story wasn’t hard to follow, and (as always), Studio Ghibli’s animation was gorgeous. The Wind is Rising is an intertwining story of a romance between a young man and young woman, and the ambition of the young aeronautical engineer, Jiro, who aspired to design an light and agile plane. Although Jiro succeeds in his goal, the girl, then his wife, dies in the end. In the last scene, we realize that Jiro built the Zero, the bomber that became a terrifying weapon in the hands of kamakaze bombers in WWII. It’s no accident that the title of the movie, The Wind is Rising, refers to the nickname of the kamikaze’s, “Divine Wind.”

As beautiful as the story is, as much as we in the audience root for Jiro, I watched with growing anxiety as I realized Jiro was building the Zero. Through trial and experimentation, Jiro finally succeeds in building a fast, maneuverable plane that could be landed on a naval carrier. The actual name of the engineer who designed the Zero for Mitsubishi on behalf of the Japanese Imperial Navy was Jiro Hirikoshi. Thom and I differ, but I don’t think the movie will be brought to theatrical release in the United States because of its content. I believe that the Japanese are still pretty sensitive about maintaining good relations with the U.S. and the film would come in the wake of controversy about the recent visit of most of its cabinet members to the Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japanese war dead, including some who were declared war criminals after WWII.  Japan’s Finance Minister’s recent statements about making changes to Japan’s Constitution on the sly – as Hitler did – really stepped in it and has inflamed debate in Japan, China and Korea, according to a recent article in Forbes.

When the movie ended, no one moved. The music played and the credits rolled all the way to the end. Finally the house lights came up and the audience quietly departed.

Next: Beer and More Beer in Sapporo

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