As The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises (2013) is Hayao Miyazaki’s last film before he announced his retirement. The film is based on the life story of Jirō Horikoshi, who designed the Zero fighter jet during World War II. In the film, Miyazaki was influenced by Horikoshi, as well as by his father, who had a wartime factory that produced aircraft parts. Even though a fighter jet is at the center of the film, Miyazaki aims to show the design and production process of the aircraft as technological development, rather than a militarist one. After the movie was released, Miyazaki was criticized by different circles. South Korean audiences opposed the glorification of the designer of the warplane, one of the symbols of Japanese militarism, and the disregard for forced Korean workers to build these planes. On the other hand, the nationalists in Japan also accused Miyazaki of treason for emphasizing the futility of war in the film.[1]

In the documentary, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2013), which follows the production phase of the film, it is revealed that Miyazaki, who was accused of both war bias and treason from different parties, set the film as anti-war.[2] Miyazaki is also aware that the planes designed by Horikoshi had fatal consequences. However, what is constantly emphasized in the film is the effort and determination of an engineer to always produce the best.

The movie begins with Jirō Horikoshi’s childhood dreams of becoming an aircraft engineer. To realize this dream, Jirō studies engineering in Tokyo and takes a job at Mitsubishi’s aircraft factory after graduation. Together with his close friend Honjō, they work hard so that Japan can build an all-metal plane just like the Western states. Even though the planes they designed in this process fail, they do not give up their goal of making the best aircraft. On the one hand, the army and navy commission Jirō to produce the plane that will prevail in war, but Jirō Horikoshi’s dream is to make the best aircraft beyond militaristic goals, as Miyazaki highlights in the film.

Jirō is not alone in his dreams. He has been meeting with the famous Italian aircraft engineer Caproni in his dreams since he was a child. During his childhood, which coincides with World War I, Jirō listens to Caproni’s advice. Caproni says, “Listen, Japanese boy, planes should not be used as war vehicles and to earn money. Airplanes are beautiful dreams.” Caproni also shows the Italian-flagged planes passing over them, saying that most of them will not return, but the war will end soon. When the war is over, Caproni’s dream is to build a passenger plane. This scene with Caproni and Jirō, furthermore, reminds us of Japan’s efforts to catch up with the Western states in terms of modernization and technology, beginning from the 19th century. The constant voicing of Japan’s backwardness by Jirō’s close friend, Honjō, also draws attention in this respect.

In a scene where they eat together while in college, Honjō complains that Jirō always eats fish. “All the great powers are modernizing. Eat meat now and then. We’re more than ten years behind,” he says. What Honjō means here is the spread of meat consumption in Japan with the modernization period that started in 1868, and even a reference to Emperor Meiji’s consumption of meat as a symbol of Westernization and modernization. Although eating meat was forbidden for centuries before the Meiji Era, with the modernization movements, the demand for meat spread from aristocrats to the middle class. During this period, sayings, such as “If you cannot eat meat, you are not civilized” became popular. [3]

On the other hand, Jirō is immersed in studying the bones of the mackerel he has been eating and says that the American aircraft are shaped like a fishbone fold. He wonders if Americans also eat mackerel. Although Jirō eats fish every day and his friend encourages him to eat meat, he looks at the fishbone as if it is an important invention. And as it will be seen in the later scenes of the movie, this points out to Jirō’s goal of making the best aircraft with Japan’s technology, rather than copying the aircraft of other countries.

Upon graduation, Jirō begins designing an airplane wing for the Hayabusa (falcon) project at the Mitsubishi factory. Oxen pull the planes in the factory from the hangar to the runway. Honjō says again, “we are in a terrible backward position,” and then the plane in the test flight crashes down to the ground. After this failure, the Japanese army makes an agreement with another company, and Mitsubishi starts getting support from Junkers, a German company. In the 1930s the whole world is in economic depression and Jirō encounters hungry children on the street. When he tells Honjō this, his friend says “Hayabusa’s expense would feed a child’s household for a month. Why is this country so poor? Do you know how much money is paid to the Junkers? Enough to feed even cakes to all children in Japan,” voicing the redundancy of a fighter jet, when people are hungry.

Jirō and Honjō are sent to Germany to examine the aircraft at the Junkers factory. Honjō realizes that there are no oxen to pull the planes. While Jirō examines a plane inside the factory, German soldiers try to hinder him. One of the soldiers says that the Japanese copy everything, so they have been ordered to protect the German technology from them. When they leave the factory, Honjō says that Japan is 20 years behind. Jirō tells him that one day they will catch up with the Germans and surpass them, “just like the tortoise following Achilles.”

On his return from Germany, Jirō stays at a Japanese holiday resort. He meets a German named Castorp, who is staying in the same hotel, and they have a brief conversation. Castorp somehow knows that Jirō is an aircraft engineer, and he begins to talk about the ongoing World War II: “This is a good place to forget. You forget the war with China; you forget that you established the Manchukuo state; you forget that you left the League of Nations; the world becomes your enemy, and you forget it. Japan is going to blow up. Germany will blow up, too.” Castorp talks about what Japan did before and during the war, as well as the future of Japan. The matter of forgetting is something that Miyazaki associates with present-day Japan. In the documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, Miyazaki explains why he made such a movie and draws attention to the constitutional amendment that has been discussed in Japan in recent years; in other words, Japan’s trajectory towards becoming a militarist state again. Miyazaki says that he is now feeling the weight his parents experienced during their time:

We don’t know where we’re going. We could not even dream of fighting America. We entered the swamp of war with China. This happened when people didn’t pay attention. Ultimately, Japan went to war with the world. I don’t know how people felt at that time, but now I’m beginning to understand. We are going right there. There is no point in making movies anymore.[4]

While Miyazaki’s characters design aircraft for the army and navy, they also express the futility of war. Jirō says that the warplane he has designed will be heavy, but if the guns are removed, it will not be a problem. In a conversation with Honjō, it is mentioned that countries such as the USA, Russia and Britain will be fought with and that Japan will lose. Honjō, on the other hand, emphasizes that they are trying to make the best aircraft with Jirō, rather than aiming for success in the war. Eventually, the Zero designed by Jirō reaches the speed of 240 miles per hour, and its wings are inspired by mackerel bones. In other words, the Zero is Japanese technology, not a copy of other countries’ technologies. As much as Miyazaki admires the Zero aircraft, he only shows it at the end of the movie; they are shattered in pieces on the ground.

At the end of the movie, Jirō meets Caproni again in a dream. Together they salute a fleet of Zero planes and Caproni congratulates Jirō. Yet, Jirō tells him that things he did not want have happened and that even one plane has not returned. It is because the Zero fighter planes were used for suicide flights known as the “kamikaze.” Although Jirō made the best warplane of his era, he is aware of the devastating consequences of his invention. As can be seen from the interviews given by Miyazaki, the Zero plane is an admirable invention with its technological peak, even though it killed both the Japanese soldiers and many Americans.[5] On the other hand, Jirō Horikoshi got to design fighter jets not because he was a militarist, but because he moved with the wind of his time.[6]

Ultimately, films depicting historical events and people can represent the present as well as the past, intentionally or not.[7] It may not be convincing for everyone that Miyazaki narrates the design process of a deadly fighter jet with anti-war elements. However, considering Miyazaki’s war memories from his childhood and his concerns about the present, it can be argued that he is afraid of the militarist wind to rise again; and of the engineers trying to do their best to be carried away by this wind.

[1] McCurry, Justin. “Japanese Animator under Fire for Film Tribute to Warplane Designer.” The Guardian, August 22, 2013.

[2] Sunada, Mami. The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. Documentary. Bun-Buku, Dwango, Ennet, 2013.

[3] Lee, Seejae. “Formation of Japanese-Western Fusion Cuisine in Modern Japan.” International Institute for Asian Studies, 2016.

[4] Sunada, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness.

[5] McCurry, “Japanese Animator under Fire for Film Tribute to Warplane Designer.”

[6] Sunada, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness.

[7] Daliot-Bul, Michal. “What Will You Do If The Wind Rises?: Dialectical Cinema by Miyazaki Hayao.” Asian Studies Review 41, no. 4 (October 2, 2017): 575.


Zülal was born, raised, and educated in Istanbul. After her undergraduate studies in English Language and Literature, she went on to get an MA and a PhD in International Relations. Her interest in foreign languages and different cultures has shifted to East Asia after Europe, and her academic studies also focus on this region. She is interested especially in Japanese and South Korean cinema and tries to review films from a historical and political perspective.

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