Oscar-winning Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki created beloved films such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. But his latest film is drawing unusually sharp criticism.
The Wind Rises is no ordinary tale: It tells the story of Jiro Horikoshi, the Japanese engineer who designed the Mitsubishi Zero, the fighter plane (in)famously used in kamikaze attacks in World War II.
Commentators in South Korea have called the film “right wing” and said it “glorifies Japanese imperialism” and “depict[s] oneself as the victim and portray[s] the calamity of war, but fail[s] to point out the cause.”
Criticism in Japan has been no less vociferous: it’s been called “anti-Japanese” and “dim-witted.” One commenter asked, “Wouldn’t it be good to ban the movie that this traitor created?”
These intense responses have their roots in the sensitive issue of World War II history — particularly in Asia, where memories of Japanese aggression and atrocities are still very much alive.
A warplane designer may seem like an unusual subject for Miyazaki. His last film, Ponyo, told the story of a goldfish princess. But he’s long been fascinated by aircraft and aviation — and in fact, his father worked at a company that provided the rudders for the Zero.
The Wind Rises is much like Miyazaki’s previous works. His stories don’t have clear heroes and villains; The Wind Rises is no different. Miyazaki says he knew what he was getting himself into with the film.
“I knew a film about a warplane designer would raise questions among our staff and the rest of Japan. So I hesitated before making this film,” said Miyazaki. “It has been a long time since the war ended in 1945, but Japan has not really come to terms with neighboring countries about that part of history.”
World War II history has led to contentious relations among East Asian countries.
South Korean commenters point out the Zero was made with forced Korean labor. South Korean President Park Geun-hye refused to meet the Japanese leader without an apology for wartime “wrongdoing.”
In China, the anniversary of the 1931 Japanese invasion, and an ongoing conflict over a group of islands, has led to violent anti-Japanese protests.
And in Japan itself, there have been hate rallies targeting ethnic Koreans, and calls to change the country’s “Peace Constitution,” which was adopted after the war. Miyazaki, who was born in 1941, says “outdated nationalism” in Japan reminds him of the time leading up to World War II — which led to his decision to make this film.
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