I’m very glad – for all your sakes – that she has a magic pirate hat to protect her from the flies. I hope she grows out of her fly-anxiety before she grows out of her hat, and I have to say, I’m curious exactly how that hat got labeled as a “pirate” hat. It doesn’t look especially pirate-y to me, but I’ll admit I’m not totally up on current pirating fashion trends.
Last Friday night, Charles and I finally got to see the latest, and reportedly last, Miyazaki movie, The Wind Rises.
A couple weeks ago, there was a single night’s showing at a single theater, and I had a prior engagement, so we weren’t able to go. I thought that was going to be the only chance to see this before it came out on DVD – that was the impression I had gotten with From Up on Poppy Hill, the last new Miyazaki movie we saw.
His work seems to have been more realistic of late than the fantastical creations that drew me to him in the first place. Technically, The Secret World of Arietty is a fantasy, I suppose, as it’s based on The Borrowers, but it’s nonetheless a very grounded and practical piece of fantasy. None of the whimsical, virtuosic flights of fancy you get in some of the earlier works. I guess you’d have to go back to Ponyo for that, which was – wow, 2008!
Probably a fairer way of putting it would be to say that the whimsy – expressed visually – in these later works is subtler: more a part of the background texture and less a prominent feature. For example, in Wind, there are several dream sequences, full of what look like impossible flying machines, but only the first has the trademark mix of organic and technological features into a truly fantastical imagined creation. In this first dream, Jiro’s – the dreamer’s – plane is parked on the roof of his house, it has feathers in the tips of its wings, and he is attacked by bombs with faces. And while the dream informs our understanding of the character, it is never referred to again.
Setting that question aside, though, I still find myself just the slightest bit ambivalent about this movie, on a personal level. The controversies surrounding the film don’t bother me much: an artist should be willing to upset people for the integrity of his vision; otherwise, the art is not worth much. I enjoy and agree with Miyazaki’s overall artistic vision, displayed in each of his movies – mindful of the beauty and wonder in the world and in each individual, in awe of the imagination, arguing for kind and responsible actions from each one of us, and always at the same time playful and serious. So, even though he’s managed to upset people from vastly different ideological stances, I chalk that up to it being their problem, but his strength.
Of course, none of this is to say that you have to like or agree with or respect every work of art you come across. Individual and cultural tastes and values differ and change, and there is such a thing as qualitative difference (ie., some works of art are actually better than others), but at least you’ve got to meet these things head on and honestly.
Anyway, like I said, I am slightly ambivalent toward this movie, but I hope it’s on an artistic level. That is, on its own ground. First of all, it’s awfully sad. And it is supposed to be! One of the primary themes is that the artist strives to make his beautiful dreams reality, and the world consistently tries to usurp those dreams and use them for death and misery. Jiro – our dreamer and artist – just wants to make beautiful flying machines, and his masterpiece is co-opted into a deadly fighter plane. I don’t think Miyazaki lets him off the hook for his responsibility in the legacy of his work (he knows who’s paying his bills), but he’s also honest about the need and the drive of the artist to realize her dreams, which can overshadow everything else in life.
So I don’t blame the movie for being heartbreaking; that is one of its purposes, and it’s an important one. Yet I don’t generally wish to court sadness in my movies. And so I have mixed feelings here; I recognize it as a flaw in myself, and it may be something that changes later in life, but for now? I’m glad to have seen what Wind is saying about artistic vulnerability and responsibility, and I hope others have seen it too. But I don’t have to subject myself to it again any time soon.
And speaking of sadness, there’s only one area where I thought the artistic control of this movie failed somewhat. Jiro heroically saves a girl and her servant during a terrible earthquake and many years later meets the girl again. After a summer romance, they fall in love and get engaged. However, she has tuberculosis, so they postpone the wedding in the hopes that she will recover. This turns out to be a futile hope, though, and in the end, they marry, she supports him selflessly during the final phase of his aircraft design, then leaves to die hidden away in a mountain sanatorium.
To be honest, this seems like piling on to me. This subplot is almost pure melodrama (which I rarely appreciate), and its value depends upon the value inherent in the self-abnegation of everybody around a great artist. So everyone around Jiro, and especially his dying wife, sacrifices themselves to his artistic needs. All I can say is, it’s nice for him. I’m sure it made his work easier, and of course it was her choice to do so, but it’s a problematic choice – both for her and for him. But then again, it’s possible that this plot strand is meant to be a foil to the main plot. Once again, Jiro is made culpable in a kind of evil because of his art. Only in this case, the consequences are personal and immediate to him.
Of course, this could also be me bringing my own American egalitarian feminist baggage to Wind and allowing it to distort my reading of this part of the movie.
Bottom line: this was unmistakably a Miyazaki movie – visually stunning, imaginative yet grounded, extremely humane, and unabashedly emotional. And although it seems more ambiguous than his work usually is (probably because it’s taking place in a real-world setting with global stakes), he has always been slow to pin ideas or people down to simple formulas or caricatures. It was a thoughtful way for a thoughtful artist to finish his career, and despite the sadness, I’m very glad we got the chance to experience it.