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As The Wind Rises Comes To The US, So Does The Controversy

Bob "MovieBob" Chipman | 21 Feb 2014 16:00
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NOTE: This piece includes spoilers for The Wind Rises

Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises finally gets it's English-language wide release in the U.S. this week, over seven months since bowing in it's native country and making the rounds of the arthouse/festival circuit (in the original Japanese) to qualify for Best Animated Feature Oscar nominations. Miyazaki is Japanese Animation's lone universally-celebrated auteur, an industry titan and still effectively the only Anime creator whom cineastes outside otaku fan-culture are expected to at least have heard of.

But "WIND," declared by a supposedly retiring Miyazaki to be his last feature, arrived under the unfamiliar (to this particular filmmaker, at least) shadow of public consternation. The film is a heavily fictionalized biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, the revolutionary aviation engineer who supervised the (largely ground-up) creation of a modern Japanese air-force for World War II; and anyone with a passing familiarity with Japanese culture can tell you that any work dealing with that period still hits dozens of raw nerves in a nation that in many respects has actively resisted coming to grips with the reality of the war.

The film presents Jiro as a starry-eyed dreamer who wishes only for the chance to design the beautiful flying-machines of his boyhood dreams (where he imagines Italian aviator Gianni Caproni as a personal spirit-guide) with a gauzy, detached regard for the fact that what he's building are weapons of war. In a wholly-fictional secondary plot, He also has a doomed romance with an inspirational young waif slowly dying of tuberculosis. In domestic release, the film encountered criticism from all corners, with nationalists slamming the film for taking even a vague moral stance against war-fighting while the other side bemoaned its (typical) lack of specific reference to Japanese war-crimes during that period.

But whereas dust-ups like these rarely spread beyond the dense web of contradictions, guilt and pride that is the Japanese Cultural Psyche concerning WWII, this one managed (along with touching off vocal condemnation from South Korea) to cross over into the conversations of Western movie journalism. In one of the more widely-reported instances, journalist Inkoo Kang - Film critic for The Wrap, Village Voice, LA Times and News Editor of Indiewire's Women and Hollywood blog - rose to read aloud a statement condemning the film during the Boston Society of Film Critics' Awards Voting prior to the vote for Best Animated Feature, which read in part:

"Miyazaki's film is wholly symptomatic of Japan's postwar attitude toward its history, which is an acknowledgement of the terribleness of war and a willful refusal to acknowledge its country's role in that terribleness."

The film still won, but the vocal dissent and the debate it was reported to have touched off got picked up in the roaring end of year Awards Season news cycle, and a follow-up editorial for The Village Voice expanding on her criticism made Kang a focus of backlash and internet outrage.

Now, on the occasion of the film (now nominated for an Academy Award) finally making its U.S. debut, I caught up with Inkoo Kang (in the interest of full disclosure, we are professional colleagues in the Boston Online Film Critics Association) to interview her about her further thoughts on the film, Miyazaki, the ongoing debate and the backlash against the film's critics:

Moviebob: Were you expecting the level of backlash you got for raising these concerns about the movie?

Inkoo Kang: Yes. Miyazaki is a (deservedly) beloved auteur, and visionaries like him tend to command a great deal of loyalty and fanboydom. I mean, I mostly just got called an idiot online -- an occupational hazard for film critics. But I was definitely surprised that people cared enough about my opinion to report it on Indiewire, Deadline, The Verge, and a smattering of animation news sites.

Among the backlash parties, there was 1. the fanboys, 2. champions of apathy "who cares about this," and also 3. people who thought none of this stuff was worth discussing because art is only for art's sake. That's the group I find most frustrating. Obviously we're all influenced in one way or another by the media and the movies -- to pretend otherwise is utterly absurd.

And also, Miyazaki himself is trying to send a political message through this movie. So is none of that worth discussing, either?

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