Some weeks ago I did a review on Hiyao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001) and found that it was generally well received. Well, all except for a handful who called me a basement-dwelling sperg. Anime, animation broadly, is only incidental to Miyazaki’s way of telling stories and if you can get around that it’s some of the best storytelling out there. I’ve described Miyazaki’s movies as lighthearted and whimsical, but The Wind Rises (2015) is not one of them. Its message is probably the most mature and serious one that he has yet given.
The Wind Rises is a story about airplane engineer Jiro Horikoshi in pre-WWII Japan who designed the Mitsubishi A5M, and its successor the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. As the movie’s story tells, Jiro wanted only to make airplanes and was reluctant to work for the government because he knew his planes would be used for making war. During the pre-WWII years Japan was, like many of the Axis states, seeking colonial expansion; they wanted more land and greater political strength. Jiro’s planes would be an instrumental tool in Japan’s aerial prowess, thus the muscle behind Japan’s political decisions. This movie is fundamentally a story about Japan’s quest for political power and the person who was largely responsible for making it possible. Of course, we already know this story ends with Japan signing an unconditional surrender after having its only two Christian cities (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) nuked into scorched earth (but that’s besides the point of this review).
There are distinct nationalist tones throughout the movie, but it’s more like a civic nationalist tone with a slight ethnic nationalist aftertaste. One of the reasons for this is because of Japan’s incredibly high patriotic sense pre-WWII. Happening concurrently was Japan’s manipulative trade practices that they used to bolster their faltering economy. This is important to note because Japan needed economic independence and stability were it to shake Western influences and demands. Japan’s quest for political power is so central to this movie that the bulk of interpretation will come from Francis Parker Yockey‘s Imperium.
Miyazaki’s movies are fun because his characters are never “just characters.” The character roles are themselves representations of values, morals, and other well known people from real life. Not even the main character, Jiro, is “just Jiro Horikoshi.” Jiro is, of course, the airplane engineer who dreamed his whole life long about building airplanes. To make matters worse, not even the airplane is “just an airplane.” The airplanes in the movie are a representation of culture and society. Some of the planes fly, some of the planes crash, and only a few are capable of flying military operations. With this interpretation, Jiro is part of the Culture-Bearing stratum. He is not so much an airplane engineer as he is a cultural and social engineer in this movie’s interpretation. Not just airplanes, but trains, too, figure prominently in the movie. Yep– you guess it. The trains aren’t “just trains” either. The trains are some manner of representation of a nation’s movement through society and culture, but are not to be taken as an analogous representation of society or culture in the way we’re treating airplanes here. There a lot of moving things in The Wind Rises, so keep your eyes open and pay attention to all of it. There is absolutely nothing in this movie that does not have some significance or meaning. Before going on, a bit from Yockey about what the Culture-Bearing stratum is,
“What is the physical articulation of the body of the Culture? The more exacting the nature of the Cultural task, the higher the type of humanity required for its performance. There is in all Cultures a spiritual level of the entire population called the Culture-bearing stratum. It is this articulation of Culture-populations alone which makes the expression of a High Culture possible. It is the technic of living, the habitus of the Culture. The Culture-bearing stratum is the custodian of the wealth of expression forms of the Culture. To it belong all the creators in the domains of religion, philosophy, science, music, literature, 254 the arts of form, mathematics, politics, technics, and war, as well as the noncreators who fully understand and themselves experience the developments in this higher world, the appreciators.” (Imperium, pp253 – 254)
Building planes is a dream that Jiro carried from his childhood. In fact, the movie opens with one such dream sequence where then-young Jiro is flying a small airplane about his village. A dreamy and easy flight bout his village is ruined when he tries to investigate a large floating black blimp with dozens and dozens of foreboding smaller ships in tow. This menacing dark airship and the smaller ones following are supposed to be pre-WWII Germany. Jiro fits some aviator goggles over his own eyeglasses and tries to fly up to investigate. The second he puts on the aviation glasses his sight goes cross-eyed, and then his own plane is destroyed in flight after one of the smaller black ships suddenly drops out of the air and collides with his own. A second dream sequence follows shortly in which Jiro meets famed Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Battista Caproni. But, this time, Jiro is not in his own dream world, rather he’s in Caproni’s dream world. The two share the same dream. Jiro and Caproni never meet in real life, and neither do they ever see each other’s planes outside of dream sequences or pictures. The reason that the two are able to communicate with each other through dream sequences are because they both are members of that higher Culture-Bearing stratum. The other thing that the two had in common was they feared their planes would be abused by the state for political ends via militaristic means, but they built the planes regardless. Yockey spells it out for us again:
“If two individuals, widely separated geographically, and in no contact with one another, develop similar inventions, similar philosophies, chose the same subject matter for drama or lyric — this is not “influence” nor “coincidence,” but a reflection of the development of the Culture to which both belong. From the higher Cultural standpoint the arguments about who was the first to invent this or that device, who originated this or that idea, are quite barren. These questions are not on any higher plane than the legal, at best. If the development in question is one of superpersonal force, and not a mere personal amusement, it is the development of the Culture, and the fact that it was expressed simultaneously by more than one person only testifies to its Destiny-quality.” (Imperium, p248)
Jiro and Caproni are two men cut from the same cloth, both agents of a higher cultural dream. Neither particularly cared for war, they only wanted to make great airplanes, or to guide their people to a High Culture and development wherein their people would be happy, productive, and well taken care of. However, it’s wishful thinking to hope that their tools and creations wouldn’t be used for war (though it’s only bound to happen…) As a state becomes more powerful and aggressive it will invariably come to a conflict in which its culture is forced to fight for the state.
So, Jiro dedicates himself to making “beautiful airplanes.” He was worried that he can’t design planes because he can’t fly planes, but Caproni tells him in a dream sequence that he himself has never flown a plane. Airplane engineers (read: culture engineers) don’t need to fly planes to design them, they only need the vision and the dream to design. There’s a sharp time-jump after this point, where we’re taken to a view of Jiro riding a train through the Japanese countryside. He is now, presumably, in his late teens or early 20s. The train is something of a representation of the Japanese nation moving and growing as a society, and it’s here that he first meets Nahoko and discovers that the both of them know a certain French poem, Graveyard by the Sea. Even at this early part the two of them are “speaking the same language.” It’s also at this time that the Great Kantō earthquake strikes. This earthquake is significant because of how badly it crippled the Japanese state. In the movie, you can hear the conductor telling people “Get away! The boiler’s going to blow!” Jiro isn’t worried in the slightest, he knows the boiler isn’t going to blow. Again, the train is a representation of then-current Japanese society, and it was stopped dead on the tracks after the earthquake struck.
After the wreck Jiro escorts Nahoko and her nannie, Kinu, to a safe place among a temple. Nahoko and Kinu are reunited with their family, Jiro quietly and humbly excuses himself to attend college, and all is right with the world for the time being. There’s another time-jump at this point, and Jiro is recounting the experience (now two years past) to his sister, Kayo. He says he tried to revisit the family (Nahoko and Kinu) but couldn’t find them because of how all the homes were destroyed in the wide-spread fires following the quake. My position is that this is supposed to represent how the death of thousands and thousands of people in the earthquake separated and created a vast gulf between Jiro’s generation and the world of Tradition. The death of thousands on thousands of Japanese in the earthquake did either kill or stop a significant portion of Japan’s culture bearing stratum, but it was only momentary. Yockey explains how the culture bearing stratum is a spiritual force that will express itself through those that remain.
“The process of replenishment is continually going on, for the Culture-bearing stratum is not hereditary in any strict sense. The Culture-bearing stratum is a purely spiritual level of the populace of the Culture. It has no economic, political, social, or other hallmark. Some of its most luminous creators have lived and died in want, e.g., Beethoven and Schubert. Other souls, equally creative, but less rugged, have been strangled by poverty — Chatterton. Many of its creative members go through their lives entirely unnoticed — Mendel, Kierkegaard, Copernicus. Others are mistaken for mere talents — Shakespeare, Rembrandt.” (Imperium, 254)
Thus, life goes on, and so did Jiro’s studies. After proving himself to be a talented engineer from among many working towards the same goal, Jiro’s boss, Mr. Kurokawa, chooses Jiro as the lead architect on a new project, what would become the A5M. One of the tropes that Miyazaki uses in his movies (like clockwork, really…) is that people nourish their soul with the food and customs of their culture and their people. We see this happening shortly after Jiro arrives at the Mitsubishi airfield. He is out for lunch at a diner with Honjo. Jiro has the smoked herring with sauce, and Honjo has… something else. Honjo pokes fun at Jiro for never getting bored with the herring, but Jiro is fascinated with the curve of the herring bone and later finds that the bone has the same cross section as that of an airplane’s wing. Jiro learns something about airplane design, but only by literally in the film and figuratively by analysis nourishing himself on Tradition and Identity.
Small series of events like the herring bone discovery are something that sets Jiro apart from Honjo as a genius. Both Honjo and Jiro were talented engineers, and they both were surrounded by other brilliant engineers at the Mitsubishi design plant. It was Jiro’s dedication and commitment to the spirit of Tradition that allowed him to be a dynamic and powerful designer with plans for the future. Jiro’s character is exactly what Yockey would describe as a Genius. Yes, a genius after the sense of high intelligence, but also in another sense that Yockey defines.
“What is Genius in politics? How does it manifest itself in this realm? In one thing simply: it represents the Idea of the Future. If one were to state the relation to the Present of the masses, a Tradition, and Genius, he would say that the masses are always behind the Present, the Tradition is alert at each moment adjusting to the Future, but the Genius represents the Promethean thrusting into the Future with unleashed force. Genius is dependent for its actualization on the appreciation of the Culture-bearing stratum, or nation-bearing stratum. Talent can understand anything that Genius can imagine or create, once it is actualized, but Genius always impresses at first as fantastic. Alexander the Great, Frederick the Great, Cromwell, Napoleon, the Hero of this age, all impressed most people at the beginning of their careers, as being unworldly, out of touch with Reality. There was some justification for this, for they were in touch with a new world, the next Reality.” (Imperium, 267)
This takes us right back to Jiro’s “vision problem” we talked about earlier. He couldn’t do anything right when he was trying to wear aviator’s goggles, and he was even less capable without his coke-bottle thick seeing glasses. As the story presents it, Jiro is exceptionally far-sighted. In one scene depicting his childhood struggles, he is on the roof of his parents’ home trying to correct his vision by intently focusing on the stars. He is joined by his younger sister in this scene. His sister can see dozens of shooting stars. Jiro? Not a one. While his sister can see and enjoy the shooting stars, Jiro sees beyond the stars, he sees what lies beyond the stars: Caproni’s airplanes gliding through the air inspiring him to his own greatness.
But, back to the story: Jiro thinks the structural failures of then-conventional canvas-skinned body and wings (used under the failed Falcon project) could be fixed by using a metal-skinned body and canvas-skinned wings. He’s trying to mix the old canvas-winged designs and new metal-skinned body designs. This design, a mix of old and new in one, fails, too. After this second failure Jiro’s employer sends him on a vacation at a mountain resort so as to rest before restarting work on the new plane design. It is here that Jiro realizes he cannot create a metal-bodied and canvas-winged plane. He cannot mix the two technologies, old and new; he cannot simply augment the past with the fantastic new technology of the present. He comes to the realization that a new synthesis is required, and that it must be totally Japanese in spirit. It is also here at this mountain resort where he meets the girl from the train, Nahoko, who is now a grown woman. He also meets a shadowy character, Hans Castorp (based on Richard Sorge, and voiced by Werner Herzog!). There are another dozen or so inception levels to Hans’s back story, but you would have to understand the entirety of the character by the same name in Thomas Mann‘s 1924 novel The Magic Mountain if we’re going to to really appreciate the deep and highly developed nuances that Miyazaki is making here.
Just like with everything else in this movie, Nahoko is more than just her person and character. She represents the romantic and idealized past, she is the the very essence of what it means to be Japanese. It is only through her that Jiro is able to conceive of a plane capable of adequately fighting the present and future war. However, it’s not so simple as that (but, nothing in this movie is exactly easy, is it?).
Jiro’s first encounter with Nahoko in which the two are able to speak (now having both grown to adults) is when he meets her by a fount’s well on the mountain resort. Nahoko says she was praying for the wind to bring him to her, and so it happened. Jiro’s work did not bring him to her, it only allowed the possibility for the forces of destiny to bring him to Nahoko who would choose him as a suitor. Recall here that Jiro was only one among many design engineers at Mitsubishi. While reflecting on the failures of a wood and metal plane he arrives at a radical solution: an all metal plane with a wing and fuselage design entirely unlike anything he had worked with previously. Enter the inverted gull wing design. So, he makes a paper scale model and tests it outside his balcony. Not only does it fly, but it flies marvelously well, practically effortlessly! On one flight the plane is caught by another resort resident (Hans Castorp, who Jiro met after arriving in the resort) who happens to be walking by. He snatches it out of the air ham-handedly and crushes it. Jiro’s dream plane is powerful enough to carry the future of an entire nation, but so fragile that it will break and fail for anyone else who tries to handle it. The plane only works for Jiro and Nahoko, it fails the moment that it is touched by anyone else. Jiro has to “romance” Nahoko with his dream before she buys into his idea. Recall here that Nahoko is a representation of the romantic and idealized Japan and its very essence. Jiro had to win Nahoko’s affection to convince her that his dream was worth investing in. And, so it goes. The two propose in the presence of Nahoko’s father and are thereafter inseparable.
The best of Jiro’s work happens during their extended pre-marriage period, but it’s also when his work becomes the most dangerous. Jiro happened to meet Hans Castorp, who in real life was a Soviet military intelligence officer and informed against the Germans. Hans’s character is loosely based on Richard Sorge who was a Soviet military intelligence officer and sympathized with Japan. He calls Nazi Germany a gang of thugs and hoodlums, and this is inline with Miyazaki’s unfavorable representation of Nazi Germany in the opening scene of the movie. The only thing I can think of that would place Japan at odds with Hitler’s Germany but not Mussolini’s Italy is that Hitler doubled down on the Myth of Nation while Mussolini doubled down on Myth of State. This is also inline with the fact that Traditionalism (and Radical Traditionalism by extension) explicitly rejects the notion of race supremacy. Yockey’s Imperium does the same in the introduction by explaining how a Civilization or High Culture can develop on several lines through several cultures at a time. I say that Jiro’s work became dangerous during this period because of his association with Castorp, a spy and informant. After Jiro returns to work he is being sought after by the secret police, presumably for being a political dissident with ties to the Soviets and pro-German interests (re: Castorp). Following the Kantō earthquake there was great political and economic instability, and under the guise of maintaining order the Japanese government arrested and purged political dissidents en masse. Jiro’s happenstance association with Castrop was sufficient to put him on the thought police’s radar. Jiro’s employers Mr. Hattori and Mr. Kurokawa (both high level managers at Mitsubishi) cover for Jiro and hide him until matters could be smoothed over.
Jiro’s progress on the fighter plane is mirrored by that of his co-worker, Honjo, who is working on converting a German transport plane (the Junkers G.38) into a bomber plane (designated the Ki-20). As seen in the movie, the Ki-20 was a failure in real life, too. The plane “worked” so long as there was no opposition, and it could do the most basic of tasks: It flies and drop bombs, but only barely. Only a couple of shots from an enemy fighter plane and it blows to pieces, which is exactly what happens. Jiro sees the same in a dream sequence. He dreams of a train stalled on its track in the middle of the night while the converted Ki-20 was burning and falling out of the sky before spectacularly crashing. Take a literal reading of this: This is one of several moments in the film that Jiro learns why the new plane must be an entirely Japanese synthesis. To put it more plainly, you can’t take a German airplane and expect it to carry Japanese cargo– it won’t work. This is also the same reason that I’m not a wild-eyed Russophile. I have no expectation that a Russian or Eurasian model of identity will carry American identity in a sustainable manner. It is not to say that we can’t learn something valuable from the Eurasian model of lifestyles and beliefs, but it is to say that what we make for ourselves must come from ourselves and from our own traditions.
By the time that Jiro’s A5M plane makes its test flight Nahoko is deathly ill and about to succumb to tuberculosis. By this point she had left the sanitorium to join Jiro in the city. Her health is only getting worse, Jiro and Nahoko both know it. As the plane nears completion Nahoko’s health plummets. Nahoko decides to pack up and return to the sanitorium to die in peace and dignity. Leading up to this, Nahoko was living under the Kurokawa’s roof with Jiro while he worked on the A5M. Nahoko quietly excused her self from the house with a lie about how she was feeling so much better and wanted to take a walk. Mrs. Kurokawa was the only one with any brains because she had to stop Jiro’s sister from chasing her down and bringing her back to the house. Mrs. Kurokawa insisted that Nahoko be allowed to go away so that her memory not be tarnished by the ignominious wasting death of consumptive tuberculosis. What’s important to recognize here is that we never actually see Nahoko die. It is presumed that she died after returning to the sanitorium. Miyazaki is telling us that we get many valuable things from Tradition and respect of our past, but we must know when to let it go and to let it die. In fact, I wrote about a similar topic more than a year ago in “Death to ‘muh culture.’”
Miyazaki’s movies are not impossible to make sense of, but a viewer needs to make due diligence in research and evaluation to understand it properly. Miyazaki is also an absolute Romanticist. He frequently puts recreations of Caspar David Friedrich’s works into his films. If you really want to know Miyazaki, then you have to understand Romanticism at the very least. Take the painting, Sea of Ice, by Caspar David Friedrich, and then compare to the closing scene of Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises where Jiro is wandering among a sea of wrecked Japanese airplanes littering the ground.
A short interpretation of Sea of Ice:
“This painting may be understood as a sort of programmatic statement and resume of Friedrich’s aims and intentions. A source of inspiration for the painting was the polar expedition mounted by William Edward Parry from 1819 to 1820 in search of the North-west Passage. The painting’s icy palette corresponds to the Arctic setting. It is undoubtedly one of the artist’s masterpieces, yet the radical nature of its composition and subject was greeted in its own day with incomprehension and rejection. The picture remained unsold right up to Friedrich’s death in 1840.
In the painting, now often called The Wreck of the Hope, the painter imbued the subject with unsurpassable dramatic intensity. The particular feature of this work is that the drama has already happened. The huge towering pinnacles are the slowly moving icebergs that have long become fixed here. The bold attempt by man to burst the bounds of his allotted sphere ends in death.”
Miyazaki has been caught in controversy more than once over his staunch anti-war positions, and he is also invoking an opposition to colonialism by recreating Caspar David Friedrich’s Sea of Ice. There’s no denying that Miyazaki wants us all to live in our own lands and to peacefully co-exist, his warning being that we can bring about our own ruin by exceeding our bounds and impinging on others’ bounds. However, he’s also realistic enough to know the political state’s aggressive nature and greed for expansion. The growth and development of a High Culture will force a conflict with other nations, but in spite of this danger it’s no reason to cling to the past and to not seek the development and growth of our own culture.