The Wind Rises (2013): Separating Fact from Fiction
Studio Ghibli‘s Hayao Miyazaki has threatened to retire many times, but it seems like this might be definite. “I am quite serious this time” Miyazaki noted, mentioning his failing eyesight as rationale. On New Years Day 2014 there was some chatter that the Studio Ghibli director may have withdrawn his statement from the 2013 September Venice Film Festival about The Wind Rises being his last film. His colleague, Toshio Suzuki, claims Miyazaki is writing a samurai manga. So yes, he’s still retired. He has moved away from animation though.
This article is not here to get caught in the sea of reviews or the hot controversy debate but to decipher whether the on-screen depiction of Jiro’s character in The Wind Rises is accurate to his memoir: The Eagles of Mitsubishi: The Story of the Zero Fighter . I intend to offer insight as to whether Miyazaki’s creative choices were in service of Horikoshi’s character, or downplaying him. If you have not seen the movie, unless you want to be spoiled, I would stop reading here.
From a young age Jiro Horikoshi describes himself as socially withdrawn but good at solving problems. He generally disliked conflict unless the arguments could be discussed in a constructive way. He was inspired by European aircraft from a variety of magazines and this often carried over into his dreams where he would see airplanes of his own invention. The memoir makes no mention to a Mr. Caproni, although perhaps this is a nod to Miyazaki himself. Not only does he share Jiro’s love for planes but as also shown in Porco Rosso he seems drawn to Italian ones. “Ghibli” refers to the Italian name used for Saharian scouting planes in World War II, after all.
If anyone else thought it was strange that Caproni appeared in all Horikoshi’s dreams, your intuition would be ringing true. Many films integrate the archetype of the wise man: Gandalf from Lord of the Rings and Dumbledore from Harry Potter, but did The Wind Rises need it? It’s possible that since Horikoshi lived a reserved lifestyle Miyazaki felt he could use a father figure to give Jiro guidance. This section indicates that the first ten minutes of the film are fairly accurate to Jiro’s life, although it is unlikely he would stand up to a bully and get in a fist fight. To allow time to elaborate on other characters in the story, this prologue could been five minutes shorter, as it did nothing to advance the story besides establish that Jiro in The Wind Rises has a sister and literally dreams about his love for aircraft.
Jiro’s interest of planes faded in the part of the film we don’t see. In fact, instead of being inspired by Caproni the real life Jiro decided to pursue planes in University after talking to a friend of his brother, whom was a professor at the newly created Department of Aeronautics in Tokyo. Like most teens he had no idea what he wanted to do, and that was the tipping point. Sadly, there is no mention of Jiro’s brother besides this.
This brings forth another area where Miyazaki took creative license. Why did he make Jiro have a sister? Miyazaki is known for creating confident, self-sufficient heroines in his movies. It’s possible he wanted to contrast the overwhelming male cast of pilots and Mitsubishi staff. This is a pretty understandable idea and adds a necessary Ghibli dose of cuteness to the film that otherwise would have been very grim and masculated. Considering Miyasaki’s Jiro has been criticized as being a flat, unsympathetic character it may have been worthwhile to include Jiro’s career dilemma to make Jiro come across as a more down to earth person.
The Wind Rises was actually a combination of two different creative works with the bonus of Miyazaki’s personal flare. In an interview on the Japanese TV Show “Oosama no Branch” of August last year, Miyazaki states the character of Naoko was lifted from the woman Setsuko in the Hori Tatsuo novel The Wind has Risen (1936-7). It follows the heroines experiences in a turberculosis sanitarium in Nagoya and the man who falls in love with her. In the novel an interesting metaphor of “a mackerel sky” is used. Was this where Jiro’s love for mackerel came from? While the beautiful 1923 earthquake scene was based off real events but not described in Jiro’s memoir, it remains one of the most poignant scenes of the film. It shows the audience a lot of Jiro’s likable qualities like a selfless desire to help others, a sharp mind and the ability to stay level-headed in a crisis. Even at 72 Miyazaki clearly still has his head screwed on straight.
The Story of the Zero Figher is 80% plane design ideas, measurements and stories surrounding Jiro’s career. There’s so much focus on the construction of the planes there’s a measly 20% left for autobiographical material. This is an obvious indicator of his unrivaled passion for the flying machines, something which is brought to the screen perfectly. The majority of the information about the challenges Jiro met while designing his planes; the adventures he pursued as part of his work (traveling the world, mentoring students) and the thrill of watching test flights seem like they’re taken straight from the book. Viewers may have only witnessed his travels to Germany, but he also visited England, France and America in the first five years of his career at Mitsubishi. One crucial element Miyazaki left out when translating these ideas to film was the self-doubt Jiro experienced while he integrated himself into the company. Horikoshi distinctly recalls wondering why his employers would want an inexperienced guy in charge of creating their planes.
His plunges into self-doubt and personality flaws could have added an extra dimension to the Jiro portrayed in the film. In Studio Ghibli’s work we usually see characters express their inner monologues by talking to themselves, like in Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) or Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind (1984). This wouldn’t have been difficult to add if some other aspects – like the majority of the Caproni cameos – were taken out.
The unrivaled importance placed on working hard is something Japanese culture still shares and the pressure would have been even worse back in World War II time. Considering how intently Jiro’s passion for his job is written we seldom see any consequences for it. In reality Jiro had a habit of working himself sick and on occasion had to take time off. The first time this happened was during the design of the Prototype 12. It took the wise words of a superior to get a reluctant, stressed Jiro to come to his senses and prioritize his health over work. If this realization was integrated into the film, perhaps in the scene when Jiro goes to the hotel for a break, we could have seen Jiro develop as a character. Recognizing that you can’t work without your health is a lesson all adults learn at some point, for better or worse.
Miyazaki’s Jiro has been criticized for never questioning the morality of creating planes designed for killing others, but was the real life engineer any better? Jiro was so surprised to see a newspaper clipping of how the Prototype 96 had taken down enemy planes in China of July 1937 that he excitedly showed his family. It is difficult to determine the origins of his excitement from Horikoshi’s description. Was he feeling very patriotic of Japan or was he simply proud of the fact his plane was in the media? Jiro appeared to have reservations towards his employers. He often felt under pressure by the Navy’s many, specific demands for aircraft and wondered why their standards were so high. It became such a concern that during an important conference at the Aeronautical Establishment Jiro, half knowing it wouldn’t achieve anything, insisted the Navy removed some of their specifications. Sadly, his request was rejected. The seemingly impossible task ahead was rubbing off on his workmates, and Jiro’s team returned to Nagoya looking “grave”.
The next two months of being appointed Chief Design Engineer was lonely and isolating, as Jiro could only communicate his ideas to a select few, and tumbled back and forth with ideas in his head. It was so distracting it followed him home on the train and through the front door. It disrupted sleep, and at times “I could not sleep at all […] I was told a nightcap at bedtime would help, but I was born a poor hand at drinking”. By the end of 1937, the main problems with the design were organized in Jiro’s buzzing mind. Over 3000 drawings were completed to manufacture the airframe of the Prototype 12, which Jiro had to check and adjust when needed. In Spring of March 1938 the drawing needed for the beginning of construction was released.
In June 1937 his son was born. Jiro noted he was not able to spend much time with him until the New Years Day holiday. When the fateful day arrived he was able to reclaim some much desired family life. Even then, his mind swirled with self-doubt, of whether he was capable of meeting the anal standards of the Navy. It is clear from the text that Jiro had two children and lived with his wife, although there is little more said about them. Was it a good idea to portray the budding marriage of Naoko and Jiro in The Wind Rises with no prospect of children? Would it have been more effective to display Jiro in the context of a family? In order to develop the characters a satisfactory amount, the smaller the confines of the story the more the characters can be developed within it. In this case, the film did a good job of making us care for Jiro and Naoko’s relationship, even though their transition from friends to fiance was abrupt and in need of a montage. If Miyazaki had attempted to portray a whole life span of their marriage and children it would have been too much to cram in.
Planes have to be checked countless times so it wasn’t until September 14th 9:06am when the idealized version of the Prototype 12 swept the skies from the Kagamigahara airfield, still wet with morning dew. Jiro remembers being one of many in his crew whom watched with tears rolling down their faces. Sadly, when a pilot went missing in a test flight the Prototype 12 was suspended, although Jiro felt this was fitting considering the tragedy it had brought. “I felt very bad about the accident” Jiro wrote “I offered a silent prayer and told Mr. Okuyama that our aeronautical engineering gained a valuable milestone in experience because of his sacrifice”. On 17th April 1941, Jiro lost a pilot he admired and personally knew to one of his planes: Lieutenant Manbeye Shimokawa. This was more difficult to deal with and Jiro was overcome with emotion at the funeral. As he remembered Shimokawa’s bravery, uplifting smile and his keen desire to learn, tears streamed down Jiro’s face. He was a decent man, one of the few whom had acknowledged Jiro’s dedication to his trade “Thanks to you the Navy can be proud of this machine”, he had said. It’s clear from these passages Jiro is a caring, empathetic person, although perhaps he is not so concerned about the world at large yet.
At the end of 1940 the Prototype 12 was accepted into the Navy. Since it was the Japanese year of 2600, it was named “Type Zero Carrier-Based Fighter, Model 11”, more commonly known as “Zero fighter”. The name made Jiro feel strange. Jiro says he never imagined Japan would ally with Germany and strike against the US and England, or that it would become one of the most powerful planes in history. The news of the Zero causing such a military impact was a great shock to Jiro, even though he was commemorated for his efforts. It was only after the war when Jiro received a full report of the damage the Zero had caused, which came as a surprise. In an invasion of Chungking, 13 Zeros took down 27 Chinese fighter planes in 10 minutes: one suffering a hit fuel tank and three with minor damage. The newly improved Zero 32 underwent tests in 1941.
Jiro’s doubts about Japan’s stake in the war became clearer the worse the situation became. When the USSR was formed and invaded in 1941 Jiro was at home nursing his sick, 20 month old, second son. He learned of the state of the war in the newspaper at the doctor’s, and questioned Japan’s alliance to Germany, as Germany’s future “looked gloomy”. “Your son will be fine soon but the symptoms of Germany are very dangerous, aren’t they?”, the Doctor said. When Jiro fell ill in October he visited his mothers hometown and went out for walks during the day. It allowed him to nearly forget the international turmoil and work for a while, something which appeared to be a relief for him. The media frantically exclaimed Japan’s state of emergency, and Jiro acknowledged silently “It looks as though we can’t avoid war”. When he returned home to Nagoya, Jiro’s mind was troubled, begrudgingly anticipating re-entering the workplace.
Horikoshi’s did not learn about his planes impact until after the war, when the recordings for December 7 Pearl Harbour bombings were announced. A famous American reporter wrote in the April 1949 issue of Air Trails magazine “…Moving in complete secrecy, [the Japanese] had designed, built and used a striking force of one of the sweetest airplanes of all time. […] the biggest mystery ship of the Second World War”. Sentiments like how it’s easier to pick up a girl than defeat a Zero were a source of confusion for Jiro. He thought his plane was over-hyped and praise was blown out of proportion, although he could not help but feel proud of his contribution to his country. “It is a great pleasure for me to know that the Zero fighter, to which I devoted half of my life, is still alive today, not only in our technology, but also in the hearts of the people of Japan”.
In April of that year, as Jiro was immersed in the creation of his next project, an enemy plane dropped a fire bomb near Jiro’s house. As he watched smoke billow from his window, panic and depression wallowed his spirits. Pessimism of the war’s prospects pooled his insides. It seems the true meaning of his destructive Zeros and war became clear for him. In October 1944 Kamikaze’s became known to the nation via the newspapers and the Zero was announced soon after to be part of this operation. Jiro was approached by the press to write a short essay on the Kamikaze, but he declined. He found it too emotionally difficult to think when he looked at photographs of smiling pilots boarding Zero’s, knowing they were doomed to death. Sobbing, the only sentiment that encouraged him to put pen to paper was dedicating his writings to the families who had lost their loved ones in the war. In the haunted depths of his mind he wondered why Japan had not just given up the war, and why they had gone to such measures with the Zero’s.
In 1945 bombings increased in intensity and frequency. Jiro’s house was unaffected, but he remembers walking down the street and watching many areas being burnt down. Smoke rose so high that trails from planes traced lines across the horizon. His family moved to Matsumoto, transportation and communication was disrupted and reconstruction was slow. Jiro appeared to be both incredibly proud and deeply ashamed of his creation. He could admire its design and ability from a technical standpoint, but turn away at the destruction it had caused in the wrong hands. In 2011, Miyazaki said when he learned that Horikoshi had once said “All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful”, he knew he had found the lead character for his next film. It is this haunting despair and conflict of interests that brought Miyzaki to bring Jiro’s story to screens, and yet that anguish was somehow lost in the process. Perhaps it is because the film didn’t cover the dark closing moments of Jiro’s career. There’s only an epilogue where Jiro mourns over his lost planes and loved one, which was not enough to portray Jiro’s tender change of heart and regrets. Tears filling his eyes, Mister Caproni says “You must live, Japanese boy”, reiterating the brilliant quote chosen for the opening of the film by poet Paul Valéry, “The wind is rising! We must try to live!”. If interpreted in a morbid fashion, that moment could imply that young Jiro may have been considering giving up on life, or at worse, suicide.
It was a stifling hot day when Jiro skipped lunch and commuted with the landlord’s family in front of a radio. They knew something important would be announced over the air but not many would have guessed it was the announcement of World War II coming to a close. With an overwhelming burst of tears, Jiro knew his career with planes would be over, but would the public’s association of him? He reflected on his career positively, scorning the “foolish steps Japan had taken” and prayed that intelligent leaders would later step forward. Perhaps he blamed the political parties for the death and turmoil because it would have been too hard to admit he had played part in the damage.
There are a still a few mysteries to Horikoshi’s life left standing, and although The Wind Rises loses its way at times, Miyazaki managed to enhance Jiro’s character by emphasizing the love he must have had for his family and his struggle find a balance between sanity, work, love and life. Jiro’s love for planes and career is reflected with impeccable accuracy as this is what Miyazaki likes to do as well. There are many character flaws which could have made for a much darker narrative, and far more interesting character. It is a shame these weren’t incorporated, although it probably would have pushed the rating over the edge to M+ in Australia or R in America. The parents who complained about the excessive smoking would probably start a riot.
While an imperfect endeavour, I found The Wind Rises to be an enjoyable step above Miyazaki’s recent titles like Ponyo (2008) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). Miyazaki created a film historically accurate to the times, with a fair share of cute, funny and inspiring moments. It is worth a look for those interested in the World War II setting even if it is not as dark as Grave of the Fireflies (1988). Miyazaki’s ability to make his stories heartwarming is what makes his hated Walt Disney comparison stand to this day. I would like to close this article with a quote by Igor Sikorsky, a helicopter engineer Jiro Horikoshi admired:
“The life of a man who deeply devotes himself to his work is a repetition of more violent ups and downs than those of an ordinary man”
Jiro Hiroshi hopes that readers agree and can remember it’s these moments in between the highs and lows which make life worth living.
Horikoshi, Jiro & Shindo, Shojiro. 1992. Eagles of Mitsubishi: The Story of the Zero Fighter. Translated by Harold N. Wanteiz. University of Washington Press.
What do you think? Leave a comment.