The Wind Rises: Destructive Art

(Check out the previous Ghibli essay HERE. And the first in this series HERE)

This year, I’ve seen eight Hayao Miyazaki films in theaters that I had never seen before. I had a chance to catch a 20th anniversary showing of Princess Mononoke, Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro for the 50th anniversary of Lupin’s character, and all six films in the Studio Ghibli fest that began six months ago with My Neighbor Totoro and ended this past Wednesday with Howl’s Moving Castle. But before this particularly eventful year for Studio Ghibli in the States, I had only seen one of their films in theaters: The Wind Rises.

The 2013 film was the only Miyazaki film I have been aware of upon its release as I was too young for any of his earlier pictures to show up on my radar. When The Wind Rises was released into American cinemas I drove an hour, with friends or by myself, to see the film in the closest arthouse cinema. I watched it twice subbed and twice dubbed and got a good feeling for the strengths of each version. I loved the fact that Neon Genesis Evangelion’s director Hideaki Anno was the voice actor for Jiro in the Japanese audio track. But I particularly enjoyed hearing the voice of Werner Herzog playing Castorp in the dub, as he is my second favorite German director of all time (only slightly behind Fritz Lang).

At the time I saw the film, I had had very film theatrical film experiences with powerful, arthouse level material. The Wind Rises challenged me intellectually with its theme of the aircraft engineer as an unwilling creator of destructive machines who merely wishes to bring to life visions of beauty aloft upon the skies above. The majesty of a Mitsubishi A6M Zero is elegant and birdlike, and natural but a manifestation of the dreams of flight of one Horikoshi Jiro who could never fly due to his myopia, his nearsightedness. Miyazaki has him dream as a child of meeting Giovanni Battista Caproni, the Gianni who innovated in the air with marvelous designs more dream than reality. Miyazaki’s Jiro is a young man with ambitions fueled by powerful dreams and an even more powerful shared dream of equivalence with Caproni in style and inventive power, though the younger Jiro has yet to prove himself. The film paints these dreamscapes in idyllic colors and verandas of pastoral Italian plains where the young Jiro resides in dream, but is ultimately unaware of whether he is the dreamer and Caproni the dreamed or vice versa.

For the airplane engineer of any worth, inventiveness comes from an artistic or creative urge to endow matter with a celestial form, and avian frame that not only takes into account the wonder of real fowl’s flights, but improves upon them. The machines are inevitably used for war, especially in this early period of aviation history when the world was moving toward the second of the great wars. For the engineer of planes, the kingdom of dreams is the idyllic wellspring of their ideas, but the harsh reality is that their kingdom becomes a land of the dead. This is an especially brutal truth for Jiro’s Zero, which becomes the plane of choice for the Japanese Air Force, and later, for notorious suicide bombing missions throughout the war.

The concept of flight has preoccupied Miyazaki for years. Nausicaa rides her glider and gains a certain youthful freedom in the process, but later channels her skills and abilities into fighting back against her enemies briefly before coming to her senses and realizing the negativity of what her freedom has wrought. The Castle in the Sky of his subsequent film is a floating wonder one can only reach through extreme courage and bravery and skill as an aviator, like Pazu’s father in the film who once captured a photograph of it after piercing the storm that guards its secrets. In Kiki’s Delivery Service, flight is a magical power that can be lost through bad faith and anxiety in the face of one’s duties and growing up in the world alone. And in Porco Rosso, flight is once again the last bastion of freedom from political actors and actions, but the fascism of the 30s and 40s and the ramping up of the war effort lead to the regulation of those seas where pirates and bounty hunters ran free and wild as one-time great war aces.

In The Wind Rises, we find all major aviators from Caproni to Junkers to Jiro all obsessed with the art form of airplane manufacture and engineering and functionality. They are all geniuses in their fields who innovated heavily and created beautiful machines that unfortunately became more and more destructive in the process. That there could be an art so cursed by destruction, a creative endeavor fueled by dreams that could entail so much death. The fire bombings of Tokyo and Dresden. The Blitzkrieg assaults on London. And now, unmanned drones that kill innocent civilians on a daily basis.

Caproni asks Jiro in their shared dreamspace whether he would have the pyramids built. Befuddled, Jiro has no real answer to the question he cannot understand. Then Caproni makes all else apparent. The pyramids are powerful statements validating and championing existence in the face of a meaningless plane of reality. They are testaments to human will and the triumph of the human spirit and Caproni believes that even though slaves toiled and many died in the process of their making, the death was worth it. Likewise, the planes are pyramids whose very existence and coming-into-being entail later use as destructive machines. But maybe, just maybe, there is still value in the beauty of a thing, even if that thing is a cracked tiger searching for human victims.

And even if there isn’t any beauty in it, there is a consuming power, a draw, to works of the spirit forged by the will and trained through craft and years of dedication and interest and obsession. And that is beautiful.


Cody Ward

[Next up: Isao Takahata’s first film Horus!


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