On Sunday, critic Inkoo Kang caused a stir at the Boston Society of Film Critics’ annual meeting by reading aloud a statement calling Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises “morally repugnant” before voting on Best Animated Feature. (It won anyway, narrowly beating Frozen.) Now, Kang has expanded on that statement with an article in the Village Voice that goes into specifics. It’s a more nuanced argument, taking in the way Miyazaki portrays his hero, a Japanese aircraft designer modeled on Mitsubishi engineer Jiro Horikoshi, to represent “the moral myopia of the imperial Japanese citizenry and of the aesthete.” But she’s hardly pulling her punches, ending by calling the final film by the director of the universally beloved My Neighbor Totoro “repellent” and “disgraceful.”
The Wind Rises is custom-made for postwar Japan, a nation that has yet to acknowledge, let alone apologize for, the brutality of its imperial past…. Japan scholar Hanna McGaughey, a personal friend, has stated in private conversations that “pussyfooting” around war crimes is the only strategy Miyazaki had at his disposal to avoid being dismissed by his domestic audience as “silly” or “inappropriate….” But there’s no reason why critics and audiences outside of Japan should be morally complacent in the animator’s concessions to his countrymen/s egos. The Wind Rises perpetuates Japanese society’s deliberate misremembering and rewriting of history, which cast the former Empire of the Rising Sun as a victim of World War II, while glossing over — or in some cases completely ignoring — the mass death and suffering its military perpetrated. Critics who fail to observe or protest Miyazaki’s “pussyfooting” around a regime that caused more deaths than the Holocaust aid and abet Japan’s continued whitewashing of its war crimes.
After Criticwire posted an excerpt from Kang’s statement, many critics bristled at the idea that Miyazaki bears the responsibility to represent the full extend of Japan’s wartime atrocities. But if The Wind Rises is a great film, it can only be because of how it negotiates that history, and its semi-fictionalized protagonist’s place within it. That’s what Film.com’s David Ehrlich does when he writes:
While initially jarring, Miyazaki’s unapologetic deviations from fact help The Wind Rises to transcend the linearity of its expected structure, the film eventually revealing itself to be less of a biopic than it is a devastatingly honest lament for the corruption of beauty, and how invariably pathetic the human response to that loss must be.
Kang’s strongly worded attacks obvious put those who already love The Wind Rises on the defensive. But the questions she raises deserves to be responded to and not ignored.