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Miyazaki’s ‘Heart of Darkness’

Miyazaki's 'Heart of Darkness'


AUTHORS NOTE: This article freely discusses content from the films: “The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness” directed by Mami Sunada, and “The Wind Rises
directed by Hayao Miyazaki. These films were viewed in their native Japanese language with English subtitles; if there is something lost in translation
feel free to contact me with a better translation or expanded context of the dialogue.

Considered one of the finest animation directors, Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli has long stood as a champion of traditional hand drawn animation. Those
familiar with his work know his stories to be affectingly personal and his characters veritably inked with his own blood, sweat, and tears. His latest
film, “The Wind Rises“was released in early 2014 for North America, and as his last film, signified the end of an era. Luckily, TIFF has
graciously supplied two films to sate those still hungering with Ghibli appetites; the first being Isao Takahata’s highly anticipated final film – “The
Tale of Princess Kaguya
, and the second being Mami Sunada’s engrossing documentary – “The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness”.

Though “Kingdom is neither animated nor Ghibli-produced, fans may find it surprising how in-depth and revealing it is in its examination of
Miyazaki’s films and person. Its uninhibited depiction of both Miyazaki and the studio’s production office invites us into a process often overlooked and
sometimes even marginalized; here we can see Miyazaki personally drawing the storyboards, writing the dialogue, and even timing the scenes in his head with
a stopwatch – a detailed portrait not unlike that of Coppola in “Hearts of Darkness.

With the loyal fan base that Ghibli and Miyazaki have accrued over the years, many diehards will delight in this rare level of transparency and may find
themselves scanning over the film with a magnifying glass, obsessively trying to
extract and analyze every available kernel of information. Though many of Miyazaki’s previous films have acted as cracks into the framework of his mind,
Kingdom is a wholly open book.

Here are some thoughts

Kid Movies and Kid Friendly

Miyazaki’s filmography is a solid example of films that are appropriate for children but also engaging for older audience members as his films tend to
display the mark of a strong artistic conscience in their thematic depth as well as in their detailed art and animation; and it’s not uncommon for other
respected animation studios like Pixar to draw upon Miyazaki’s influence when crafting their own films. Despite this, it is rather odd how alienating “The
Wind Rises
may be for children. Previous Miyazaki films have perhaps had more scenes of violence or combat, but these were usually tempered with
elements of either comedy or fantasy. Miyazaki has ventured into ‘non-children’ content before – during “Kingdom” he cites “Porco Rosso” as a foolish film
since it was not for children – but he has never made a more explicitly adult-oriented film than “The Wind Rises.”

In “Kingdom “Miyazaki discusses how the potential of animation is distinct from what can be accomplished through live action, and how animation can change
an individual’s perspective of the world. This power of animation seems to contribute to Miyazaki’s sense of pride and responsibility for working within
the medium, and helps to explain why his films almost always contain fantastical elements that could be considered childish (in the best sense of the
word). Considering this, “The Wind Rises” functions in stark contrast; it contains very few fantasy scenes to distort its historical narrative save for the
existential dream sequences that reoccur.

Miyazaki is, however, a self-described “man out of time.” His works have spanned across 50 odd years, and his audience has grown just as he has. Miyazaki’s constant references
to himself in “Kingdom as a “man of the 20th century, lost in the 21st” are testament to his jaded demeanor towards the
current era, and possibly attributed to his desire to create a film for solely himself and the “children” of the previous era.


 Hideaki Anno as Jiro Horikoshi

With no understanding of Japanese, it is difficult to comment specifically on Anno’s vocal performance and though I can agree that Anno’s voice is “weird,”
I can’t offer a more substantial criticism. Given Miyazaki’s fame and clout, it’s likely that he could have attracted any actor or voice actor for the role
of Jiro, but Miyazaki’s stern refusal to cast such perhaps speaks to the intangible qualities that someone like Anno possesses.

During the casting process, “Kingdom” depicts the production team discussing the potential of a non-actor for the role of Jiro, with Miyazaki citing
the need for a “weird” and “high” voice that isn’t “dainty.” There’s a jovial response triggering the possibility of Anno’s casting, and though at first
Miyazaki seems to laugh at the “joke,” his increased excitement ultimately wins out.

For long time fans of Ghibli, Hideaki Anno should be no stranger, as his work was prominently featured in Studio Ghibli’s first release: “Nausicaa of the
Valley of the Wind
. However in his later career, he became a prominent director in his own right by creating the critically acclaimed (and
polarizing) “Neon Genesis Evangelion series. It is here we see the potential parallels of Anno and Jiro that Miyazaki may have had in mind during
casting: Jiro as a man torn between his desire to create planes and his distaste for war, and Anno, who has had a similarly tenuous relationship with his
own creation. It appears easy to dismiss this point considering Jiro’s actions have had ramifications on a global war effort, but “Evangelion” had
its own powerful impact on the cultural landscape. Though it wasn’t the first, it was one of the more prominent ‘deconstructive’ series of the 90’s in
Japan, influencing not just the future of anime, but Japan’s own cultural lexicon.

At the time of the series’ creation, Anno suffered from a variety of psychoses and depression that consumed and ultimately defined the “Evangelion franchise. In spite of its popularity, it carried with it the burden of controversy, as many considered the series ‘pretentious’ or ‘lofty’ and
the original ending outright terrible (Some fans even going so far as trashing the animation studio and sending death threats to both the studio and Anno).
With this in mind, it’s easier to understand the heart that Miyazaki may have seen in Anno – a man cursed with creative desire, but not necessarily the
ability to impart control on his creation.

There were, likely, other factors involved, since both Miyazaki and Anno were friendly and had a ‘student/master’ relationship (and of course there is the
possibility that Anno may just have had the “weird” voice that Miyazaki had in his head), but given Miyazaki’s involvement in literally every aspect of the
film’s production, it seems fair that he would have weighed these details.

Nahoko Satomi: A love story

In “The Wind Rises, Nahoko Satomi is the wife of Jiro. She first meets him when they are both young adults during the Kanto Earthquake, before
ultimately marrying him near the ending quarter of the film. Her character is ‘nice’ and ‘innocent,’ but rather underdeveloped for arguably the most
important supporting character of the film (her character is even featured exclusively on the film’s marketing posters). It’s a surprising move by Miyazaki
considering his history of not only writing female characters, but also creating leading roles for them. What is most unique though is the relationship
portrayed between Nahoko and Jiro – a romance.

 
Love as a concept has never been absent from Miyazaki’s films, but save for “Whisper of The Heart, it is never shown explicitly as romance; and
its portrayal here is rather…bland. Though Jiro previously meets Nahoko during the events of the Kanto earthquake, their reunion is particularly
underwhelming. The two are of course happy to be reunited, but it quickly becomes a very routine depiction of romance; not insincere, but underwhelming.
Aside from their previous meeting, there doesn’t seem to be much reason behind their love; they simply spend time together. One can argue that it is these
‘little things’ that do lead to true love, but Nahoko as a character is also rather uninteresting – having only ‘painting’ and ‘consumption’ as marks of
her personality. Jiro himself is no more romantic, but considering the film is primarily about him, he obviously does not suffer from a similar lack of
characterization.

It’s here where “Kingdom” proves invaluable for better understanding the nature of romance in “The Wind Rises”. In an interview, Miyazaki is questioned
about the reason he married his wife and his answer essentially sums his sentiments: “I had no choice but to get married. I asked her to marry me. Can’t
back out. […] that’s just how it works […] it’s a secret of life.” Considering how much of himself Miyazaki put into Jiro as a character, it seems likely
that he put his own relationship into the film; both Jiro and him being involved in a rather solemn, yet endearing romance.

Coincidentally enough, Miyazaki’s wife does not appear in any interview during the documentary, appearing only briefly and in the background of certain
scenes. His wife’s portrayal (or rather lack of) in the documentary may cause puzzlement, but perhaps this mystery is the point- an example of Miyazaki
keeping certain details about his life private, just as he carefully controls what to hide and what to reveal in his films. As it is, “The Wind Rises” is difficult to classify as a traditional love story despite having many elements of one; but rather than a story of love between
two people, it is one between a boy and his “beautiful dream.”

Jiro as the Samaritan

 
The majority of Jiro’s characterization is heavily defined by his desire to create beautiful airplanes, and though he spends much of the film doing so, he
also frequently performs various altruistic acts. Starting from childhood, Jiro shows a strong desire to help others, such as when he protects another
child from bullies. As he grows into his adulthood he frequently acts in service of those in need – most notably during the Kanto Earthquake. Miyazaki has
never been one to shy away from deeply imbuing his films with his own philosophies or his personal history, and at first glance The Wind Rises is
no different as Jiro and Miyazaki both share a love of flight and a planes, but support a pacifist viewpoint; “Kingdom” however reveals the
inspiration for Jiro’s humanitarianism.

In the documentary we learn that Miyazaki’s father was the director of an airplane company during the Second World War and therefore developed parts for
fighter planes (also the reason behind Miyazaki’s own fascination with planes and flight.) Though this is evident that Miyazaki imparted many aspects of
his father into Jiro, during “Kingdom” Miyazaki recalls a story of his father aiding a neighboring family after a devastating house fire. He
specifically mentions his father giving away chocolate (a rare commodity at the time) to the family, a selfless act that mirrors many of Jiro’s own.

And yet, Miyazaki simultaneously muses about the conflicts he and his father had, even accusing his father of being a war profiteer. It’s this dichotomy
that both Jiro and Miyazaki struggle with – considering the possibility of an individual being simultaneously capable of both good and evil things. As
such, “The Wind Rises” can be interpreted as Miyazaki’s most strictly philosophical film as the story primarily serves to try and answer this
dilemma. His past films have never ‘chosen sides’ when it came to conflicts and in the end, Miyazaki abstains from outright asserting an answer to the
dilemma of good and evil, as doing so would be uncharacteristic.


 The Ending

Here there is no major set piece, just Jiro meeting his deceased wife in his dreams and her waving goodbye as she tells him to live on; it’s a bittersweet
ending that mixes the black with the white as he observes his creation fly away for the final time.

Unexpectedly though, this was not the original ending. Despite “Kingdom” briefly mentioning this fact for literally only a second, this was in my
opinion the biggest revelation of the documentary. Throughout “Kingdom,” there is an air of finality that settles upon the production. Miyazaki is
of course making his last film, while Isao Takahata, another Ghibli staple, simultaneously does the same. Additionally, Miyazaki’s prediction for the
studio’s future is, while not heavy hearted, fairly accepting of an imminent end. With the fate of the studio and its talent already settled, it makes
sense that the original ending of “The Wind Rises depicted Nahoko saying: “Come” instead of “You must live” as she faded from Jiro’s dreams;
implying a depressing solution to both Jiro and Miyazaki’s own internal turmoil.

However, the more optimistic change in ending may have sparked from Miyazaki’s own real life feelings. As the documentary comes to a close, Miyazaki seems
to have a turned over a new leaf, announcing in his official retirement statement that he “wished to work for ten more years.” Given Miyazaki’s history of
faux retirement, it’s likely that he will return to continue filmmaking in some capacity. Nonetheless, “The Wind Rises” serves as a more than
adequate headstone.

Special thanks to Erik O’Malley.

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