This blog post is one that is close to my heart. I will be talking about Hayao Miyazaki and his last film, The Wind Rises. This post was inspired upon a suggestion my friend made when I called her just so I could talk about the Studio Ghibli documentary, In the Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. What follows, more or less, is that conversation.
For those of you unfamiliar with the animation director, Hayao Miyazaki is most known for his films Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. In 2013 he announced his retirement from Studio Ghibli and filmmaking upon the release of The Wind Rises.
Now, I know a few people who have seen The Wind Rises and many of them say the same thing: The animation is beautiful, but they don’t understand why Miyazaki created this movie. It’s true, The Wind Rises isn’t based on a fairytale (Like the 2008 film, Ponyo which toes The Little Mermaid waters) and it doesn’t hold the same characteristics or personality that Miyazaki’s children’s films do. It’s not didactic and it doesn’t take a child out of reality and into an unknown world where they discover how brave they really are.
Here’s Miyazaki’s take on his child versus adult movies:
In this documentary I watched, at one point Miyazaki calls his movie Porco Rosso, foolish. He says the movie wasn’t made for kids, it was made for adults. (For those who have seen this film alongside Spirited Away or, Princess Mononoke, I think the personality between the movies, adult-child, is apparent. Sure, each of those three movies are fun, but good storytellers know that when you create something for children, it’s to teach them something about the world in which they live.)
In regard to Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki says, “At first I decided, ‘This is something children shouldn’t see,’ but in the end I realised, ‘No, this is something that children must see,’ because adults, they didn’t get it— children understood it.” (This is Miyazaki’s own response to what is his most gory film. Even so, the personality of the movie has those same big ideas and lessons that are easiest to communicate to children as opposed to adults.)
The star of Porco Rosso is a bounty hunter with a curse to have the face of a pig. I’m a sure a didactic lesson can be gleaned from the film, however, as I mentioned before, the personality between Porco Rosso and Princess Mononoke is different. Princess Mononoke works to get a message across. Porco Rosso is fun. Which is why I would assume Miyazaki calls the film foolish. The Wind Rises, however, floats somewhere around the two. It’s not quite didactic and it’s too serious to be called foolish. In essence, because The Wind Rises isn’t magical and doesn’t have a didactic lesson like Miyazaki’s children’s films, one could say it is made for adults.
Now, you may think that because a movie or show is animated, it must be made for kids. I would like to remind you of shows like The Simpsons, South Park, and the now-popular Rick and Morty that suggest otherwise. The argument could be, “Yes, but those are adult cartoons. They talk about drugs, sex, etc.” And I would nod my head in agreement, because you’d be right. But just because an animated film doesn’t talk about sex or drugs, doesn’t mean it’s intended for kids. It may be viewed by a child, but this animated film you’re watching has more substance than sex or drugs which is why they aren’t mentioned.
When I was waiting for The Wind Rises to be released in the States, I came across an article on the movie that described Miyazaki’s fascination with the man his protagonist is based off of: Jiro Horikoshi, the designer for the A6M Zero Fighter plane. Unfortunately, I haven’t found this article since. When I read this article though, I knew Miyazaki’s last movie was more personal than his others were. He was creating a man he felt a certain kinship with. Naturally, there would be different emotions in the film. From what I heard others say –it was more like a documentary than anything else of his– I felt I was right. Then I saw the movie and I knew I was right. The Wind Rises follows Horikoshi from the time he is a child, onward into adulthood. Since this film is based on a real man’s life, I can imagine how it already sounds like a documentary. Of course, there’s Miyazaki’s magical realism spin on it with Horikoshi dream-adventuring with his favorite pilot. Though Horikoshi engineered fighter planes, the movie and Horikoshi’s character come off as anti-war. As a storyteller myself, when watching the film I knew this was Miyazaki’s voice. The film included fighter planes and war but created the emotion, the want of peace and accord. Maybe it’s just me, but I think one storyteller knows when another has shown themselves in their work. It’s like an Easter egg hunt. Certain themes overlap and what plays in front of you isn’t “just a kids’ movie” but the inside of a person’s head.
Which is why I say The Wind Rises isn’t a movie for kids and it isn’t a movie for adults, it’s a movie for Miyazaki. He made his last film for himself. It may not be intentional but, it happened. I call those moments happy accidents. Where things ironically or coincidentally work out in a poetic or, well, happy way that you didn’t intend or see before.
Only this year did I come across the documentary, In the Kingdom of Dreams and Madness filmed in 2012/2013. Just know I could go on to tell you that the opening of the documentary had me in tears because yes, I am that person who saw the stained glass reflected on the window ledge and immediately paralleled it to Spirited Away, or the original watercolored prints of Kiki’s Delivery Service (the first movie of Miyazaki’s I ever saw and I was about six) or the fact that the studio itself reflects Miyazaki’s mind and the place he so often draws from his head, a piece of it has sprung into tangible, 3D existence and I was both happy and jealous such a thing happened to him… But I won’t talk about that. I’ll talk about what was said and what I discovered about Miyazaki in this documentary as well as another happy accident.
Miyazaki is fascinated by fighter planes, just as Horikoshi was. More specifically, Miyazaki is intrigued by the Zero Fighter, the plane Horikoshi built which was probably what inspired the film’s creation. Miyazaki is also very anti-war, just as he features Horikoshi to be.
As the documentary went on, an animator mentioned Miyazaki wanted to put a bit of his father into the character of Jiro Horikoshi. This made the character, and thereby, the film all the more personal. Because this piece of information was mentioned by another animator and not Miyazaki himself, I would imagine this meant that information is more private and personal to Miyazaki but something he felt he needed to share with his animation team.
Later in the documentary, Miyazaki received a letter from an “unknown man”. This man turned out to be a child from a family that took refuge in Miyazaki’s childhood home during World War II. The Miyazakis themselves were out of town as their hometown was burning yet somehow, their home survived while this unknown man’s burned down. In this letter, the man described Miyazaki’s father as to having found them and rather than kick them out, he gave them chocolate. Something Miyazaki says was very rare at the time and sounded just like his father. A note of love in the phrase. A happy accident the letter about his father came at the time Miyazaki was creating a movie with a character that had a bit of his father instilled in him. If one were to watch the film, they would see Horikoshi’s character at one point gives children some chocolate. I imagine this was inspired from the letter sent to Miyazaki.
Still, I couldn’t help but wonder why Miyazaki put his father into the character. I thought it had to do with a form of reconciliation.
Now, I’m not trying to guess or gauge what his relationship with his father was like, it’s none of my business. However, these emotional ties to the film and character of Jiro Horikoshi are what single out the film’s audience.
Anyway, the documentary goes on and we find out two things (may be out of order): Miyazaki’s father was an aeronautical engineer during the war. Miyazaki says he remembers arguing with his father, saying he supported the war. “But he gave the kid chocolate,” he says. The second: Later, when Miyazaki replies to the letter, he tells a story about how his father carried him on his back, a bag in one hand, up a riverbank. “He apologized each time he slipped. I thought, ‘I could climb on my own,’ but I kept my mouth shut,” Miyazaki recalls. “My father was desperately trying to protect his family, I believe.” Near the end of his response, Miyazaki writes that receiving this man’s letter helped him rediscover his father.
The last thing I learned from this documentary was that The Wind Rises was the first film of Miyazaki’s that made him cry.
Which is why I say, this movie wasn’t made for you or me, regardless of our respective ages. It was made for Miyazaki, whether or not he knows that yet.
Thanks for reading 🙂
*movie poster for The Wind Rises