Friday, June 13, 2014

The Wind Rises and Japanese Film Screenings This Summer

The YBCA had Studio Ghibli series from May 1 to June 8.  By my count, that was the third Studio Ghibli series to play in the Bay Area in the last 18 months.  The PFA had a two month series last summer.  The Landmark Bridge had a Studio Ghibli series in 2012, a few months before it permanently closed.

A quick perusal of my film log reveals that I skipped all the films in all three series.  I won't say that I don't like Studio Ghibli films but I don't share the passion that many claim.  Frankly, I think many of the people who claim to be diehard Ghibli fans are poseurs.

I rather enjoyed From Up on Poppy Hill.  That film was directed by Gorō Miyazaki, Hayao Miyazaki's son.  In fact, from his name, I must assume he is Miyazaki's fifth born son.  When I saw the senior Miyazaki's The Wind Rises on the Castro calendar for June 11, I  made no plans to attend.  However, late on the afternoon of the 11th, I changed my mind and decided to go.

The Wind Rises; animation; directed by Hayao Miyazaki; Japanese with subtitles; (2013) - Official Website

The Wind Rises holds two distinctions.  It was announced that the film would be the final one directed by the 73 year old Miyazaki.  Second, The Wind Rises was the highest grossing film in Japan in 2013.  The Castro screened two versions of the film.  At 7 PM, they screened the subtitled version.  At 9:30, they screened the dubbed version (with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead role).  The screening schedule accomodated my preference which was to see the film with subtitles

The film focuses on the life of Jiro Horikoshi.  By the way, his name would indicate he is the second son but in the film, he is the only son.  I don't know why I'm focusing on the Japanese suffixes for male birth order.  From a young age, he dreams of being a airplane pilot.  His poor eyesight puts that dream out of reach so he refocuses his ambitions towards being an aeronautical engineer although I'm not sure if that term existed during the setting of the film which begins in the 1900s or 1910s.

While riding the train to university in 1923, Jiro is caught in the Great Kantō earthquake.  He helps rescue a wealthy young girl named Naoko and her injured maid.  Single minded in his studies and perhaps because Naoko is seemingly underage, Jiro and Naoko part ways without any way to reconnect.

Jiro graduates and gets a job with Mitsubishi designing military fighters and bombers.  Throughout the film, pioneering Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Caproni serves as Jiro's sounding board through a series of dream sequences.  They repeatedly debate the ethics of designing airplanes for warfare.  Although Jiro has his concerns, he ultimately and repeatedly returns to the point of view that the beauty of his aircraft designs trumps their usage.  Frankly, I thought the film played down that inner conflict within Jiro to its own detriment.

While on summer vacation, Jiro encounters Naoko again although it is she who recognizes him.  A kind sort but lacking passion for anything but his work, I'm not sure what Naoko sees in Jiro.  Regardless, their romance progresses quickly.  The are to be wed except for Naoko's tuberculosis.  Not wanting to burden her would-be husband with her illness, Naoko insists that she take treatment at a sanatorium before she agrees to marriage.

In the interim, Jiro's skills as an aircraft designer are coming to the forefront.  He has innovative designs and production techniques for his fighter plane which will become the vaunted Mitsubishi A6M Zero.  Amidst the final push during the design and prototype phase of the aircraft, Naoko arrives from the sanatorium.  Her illness is incurable so she and Jiro decided to be wed immediately so that they can spend the rest of her time together.

As Jiro's professional life flourishes, Naoko's health wanes.  Naoko leaves Jiro on the day of the final testing of his aircraft as her condition has reached its end state.  In fact, the film portrays her passing during the moments of the successful test flight of Jiro's aircraft.

I am lukewarm about The Wind Rises.  The use the dream sequences with Caproni were visually impressive but a little old-fashioned.  The film glossed over Jiro's significant contributions to Japan's role in WWII.  This is done to focus on the tragic love affair between Jiro & Naoko.  Once again, I am viewing a film where I can't help thinking of the story that could have been told instead of the story that was told.  I think a little more emphasis on Jiro's apprehensions about designing warplanes would have made for a more complex portrayal of the man.  More generally, The Wind Rises exhibits the primary reason I am not a bigger fan of Japanese anime.  It tries to obviously to pull at your heartstrings and manipulate your emotions.


I notice that the Roxie is having a monthly series this summer called Nippon Nights - Neon Tokyo Anime World.  They are playing a title I recognize - Akira on August 21.  Not part of the Nippon Nights series is an August 24 screening of Astro Boy.

The Japan Film Festival of San Francisco (July 19-27) is screening several anime films at the Viz.  The film festival is being held in conjunction with the J-Pop Summit.  The film which caught my attention from the lineup is Sion Sono's Why Don't You Play in Hell? on July 20.

Finally, the Sacramento Japanese Film Festival (July 18-20) has announced their lineup.  It has one anime film, Colorful, on its schedule.  All films at the festival screen at the Crest Theater.

The series I'm most looking forward to this summer is the PFA's 17 film retrospective on Kenji Mizoguchi.  The series kicks off on Thursday, June 19 with Ugetsu and runs until August 29.  There are at least a half dozen films in the series which I've already marked on my calendar.  A partial sample of the films I'm looking forward to include:  Miss Oyu, Crucified Lovers, A Woman of Rumor and Street of Shame.  I was most impressed with Street of Shame from my viewing of it during the summer of 2010.  Street of Shame was Mizoguchi's final film.

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