Author: Sean Mowry
Despite being born in St. Louis, I’ve always considered my hometown to be Morristown, NJ. It’s a small city with a rich history and diverse population that I’ve lived in since 2001. During high school I wrote and directed documentaries for charities that covered influential lawmakers and ahistoric settlement house. I then came to Syracuse to study at Newhouse, and while Television Radio and Film (’16) is my major, I have a love of history and a particular fascination between the relationship between the truth and the story told later.
What interested you in this topic?
While that concluding sentence may give the impression to fellow history students that I care more about the truth than the lie, that’s not quite the case. Human beings interpret the world through stories, which are not great representations of reality, but their power is that they give the impression of truth to us. Everyone is not just susceptible to the influence of stories but they, like the fish in David Foster Wallace’s essay ‘This Is Water,” are immersed in them. And while we, as people who study history and seek the truth, might hope to someday escape the distorting medium of narrative I would ask you: Have you ever seen a fish out of water? And this is what fascinated me about Miyazaki’s final film, The Wind Rises, because it is a story of a singular figure following his dreams and accomplishing them.
How is this topic relevant today?
Because the story is framed by the protagonist’s perspective, the story is a beautiful achievement. But it just so happens that the protagonist is Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the A6M Zero fighter plane. A highly destructive aircraft that was used by Japan to advance it’s imperialistic goals during World War 2. Even though the plane is still a beautiful symbol for Japan’s ingenuity and ability to overcome technological disadvantages during a time of crisis, it also is a symbol that brilliantly lures Japanese nationalists today.
What did you find that surprised you?
In order for me to gain an understanding of how to analyze this film I had to do first see the movie ‘Eternal Zero’, which was also about the Zero but from a pilot’s perspective and it was released the same year as The Wind Rises. It was a huge hit in Japan and came during a time when the government was trying to amend it’s constitution to enable the rebuilding of a national army. Audiences found the movie profoundly moving, and Yoko Ono and the Prime Minister endorsed the film, but many criticized it for it’s zealous nationalism. This was only made more suspicious and unnerving when I found that the writer of the film was not only a denier of the Nanking Massacre, but also a confidant of the Prime Minister and his party.
What original research did you conduct?
Aside from researching the modern political movements in Japan, I then read books that analyzed Japanese war movies, and defined the classifications of pro and anti-war. I also read Miyazaki’s own words about the goal of remilitarizing Japan, a movement he is fervently against. This was only made more interesting because the protagonist of his movie seems to think of war as a force of nature that is unfortunate but inevitable, even though he played a large role in fueling Japan’s ability to fight it. And because the film shows little to none of the horrors of war, it can be easily construed as a movie that excuses the consequences of war so that something beautiful can be created.
Did you encounter any obstacles?
The hardest part of this essay was that my knowledge of Japanese cinema was very limited. But that also was part of the reason why writing this paper was so enjoyable, because I got to uncover so much new information and watch so many great movies. But what I found to be the biggest surprise, was how Miyazaki had made a final movie that was inadvertently his own Zero fighter. ‘The Wind Rises’ celebrated beauty over all, and excused the consequences of pursuing individual dreams. It’s title was used as a mantra to reinforce forward movement; never letting anything, even war stop the pursuit of dreams. And like Jiro, Miyazaki openly condemned militarism, but made a beautiful work that when coupled with ‘Eternal Zero’ made more of a case for remilitarizing Japan than against.
If your paper was for a 401 course, how was your overall experience?
My 401 experience was fantastic, loved Allan Allport and I loved being exposed to so many war movies. I think the class really helped me flesh out my ideas for the essay, and it provided a great way to figure out perspectives on war movies through discussion.