Welcome back Otaku. I hope everyone is having a good summer. This month we return to feature films and the great Anime master himself, Hayao Miyazaki. His last film before retiring in 2013, The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu), is a dreamy tale about Jirou Horikoshi and his quest to build the best airplane in Japanese history. He idolized the Italian aeronautical engineer Giovanni Battista Caproni and often fantasizes about conversing with him to talk about designs and the deeper things in life. Horikoshi comes of age during the Great Depression, when industry and world politics are strained back to the brink of war. Japan has suffered a great earthquake and the country is suffering immensely. Horikoshi is torn between the magical wonder of flight, and the hard realities of modern world politics.
Like his earlier work Porco Rosso, Miyazaki creates sympathetic characters who were devoted to aviation and the public good, but opposed to needless war and oppression. Porco Rosso is pursued by the fascists to return to service and fly for Mussolini’s regime. Horikoshi is faced with poverty and unemployment and has to take a job building military aircraft for the Japanese Empire. It is clear their hearts are centered on flight and creativity, but they must chose their battles and try to make a life for themselves, regardless.
Earlier while at university, romance enters the story when Horikoshi assists a young woman named Naoko Satomi during a train accident. He helps her home without ever giving his name. Character dress, vehicles, and technology are all accurately rendered in this wonderful period piece. Aircraft receive a special emphasis as might be expected. Many types are represented in the story with some more fantastical designs added for whimsy and drama.
While the Mitsibushi A6M Zero is not actually shown on screen for long, if my memory serves me, it’s predecessors and all of Horikoshi’s design elements are clearly present in the prototypes being developed in the story. Lightweight, streamlined and graceful shapes characterize his designs. Even the “gull wing” set up, where the wing appears to be bent as if flapping in a natural bird shape, is featured on some of his planes that were actually built.
The Wind Rises is a beautiful story about creative genius, love, and the harsh realities of modern life. There is an element of tragedy in the story, but it lends to the strength and tenderness of the characters. Sky, landscape, urban scenes, period and traditional dress, seascapes, dream sequences, and of course aircraft, are all exquisitely drawn and animated in true Miyazaki style. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth and message of this story given that it involved the famous Axis fighter, the Mitsubishi Zero. Like Werner Von Braun, who worked for the Nazis developing the V-2 rocket and later joined the US in the Space Race, Horikoshi has to serve the emperor in order to support himself and his family. But you know at heart that he is a dreamer and talented aeronautical engineer. His dreams with Caproni show how much he loved flight and the engineering problems he could solve. Beautiful designs can do beautiful things, but they can also be put to war. This film is a wonderfully animated lesson on flight, engineering, and the challenges of life.
Watch it here for free on Kissanime.to
Did you know that in addition to physical books and DVDs, your library card gives you access to anime and graphic novels online? The BPL subscribes to Hoopla, a streaming service that allows you to check out and enjoy the media you love on your computer, tablet or smartphone. You can learn more about the BPL’s digital media collections here.
Want company while you’re watching anime? The Hyde Park Teen Anime Club meets on Thursdays at 2:30 p.m.
*”Reading Backwards, Watching in Japanese” features reviews of anime and manga by John, the Teen Librarian at the Hyde Park Branch, on the second Tuesday of every month.