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'The Wind Rises': Hayao Miyazaki's new film stirs controversy

By Rebecca Keegan

5:06 PM EDT, August 15, 2013

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"The Wind Rises," Hayao Miyazaki's first feature directorial effort in five years, will premiere at the Venice and Toronto film festivals in coming weeks, and a new trailer has piqued the curiosity of the 72-year-old animator's devoted fan base.

But "The Wind Rises," or "Kaze Tachinu," has already stirred a controversy in Mayazaki's native Japan, where it opened July 20.

In stark contrast to Miyazaki's fantasy-based animated family movies such as "Spirited Away," "Ponyo" and "Howl's Moving Castle," "The Wind Rises" is a biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Zero fighter plane, which the Japanese used during World War II.

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The movie's subject dovetails with an issue currently under heated debate in Japan: the new prime minister's plan to amend the country's constitution to allow for the building of a full-fledged military, boosting the limited self-defense forces put in place after the war.

Miyazaki, a venerated cultural figure in Japan, published an essay last month objecting to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan, in the process raising the ire of some Japanese conservatives, who on Internet message boards labeled him "anti-Japanese" and a "traitor."

Miyazaki's movie, which is seeking U.S. distribution, reflects his pacifist stance. In the subtitled trailer above, he depicts Japan in the years leading up to WWII, when it faced some of the same problems that have plagued the country in recent years, including a devastating earthquake and economic stagnation. The character of Horikoshi appears as a contemplative young man, tossing paper airplanes with a girl, gazing at the Japanese countryside from the window of a steam train and working in a factory, until the war hits and the tone shifts, with a plane breaking up in the sky and blood falling to the ground.

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Miyazaki has some shared history with Horikoshi. During the war, his father's company made rudders for the designer's Zero planes. He also has another connection to the war: when Miyazaki was a child, his father ran a club that served occupying American soldiers.

In 2011, Miyazaki told Japan's Cut magazine that he was inspired to make "The Wind Rises" by a quote he read of Horikoshi's: "All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful."

The controversy over the film hasn't hurt its box office prospects in Japan. "The Wind Rises" has been the No. 1 film since it opened four weeks ago, and has so far grossed $57 million there. 

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