Thoughts on Human Experience: Revisiting Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises”

The wind rises 2

Who has seen the wind? Neither I nor you: But when the leaves hang trembling, the wind is passing through.- Christina Rossetti, 1830 – 1894

Yesterday, my friend Erica and I watched Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises (2013). For the last five years, it has remained one of my favorites and each time I see it I experience its story differently. This time, to my surprise, as the film ended my friend screamed in frustration and became very upset because there was no “happy ending”. Honestly, I had never really thought about it that way, though when I watched it the first time I cried, quite earnestly.

The Wind Rises tells the story of an aeronautical engineer Jiro who designed airplanes for the Japanese in the interwar period between the 1930’s and 1940’s. It is a complicated weave of political and social issues to be sure, but at the heart of this story is simply a man trying to create something beautiful in a world which seemingly is not so. Jiro finds love and does build a beautiful airplane, but in the end his wife Nahoko dies and his plane is used and destroyed by war.

This film’s end is somewhat jarring for those who are unprepared. On the surface we see the man who has lost everything, but beneath the surface is ALSO the man who had everything. The defining difference I feel is perspective on suffering and personal human experience.

Caproni, Jiro’s muse, asked Jiro a very thought-provoking question: “Do you prefer a world with pyramids, or with no pyramids?” This question, as tensions rose in Jiro’s world of upcoming war, death and heartache, reverberated throughout the latter half of the movie. It is a question which made it clear Jiro’s beautiful dream, his design, his passion was to be misused.

It is also a question which triggers other questions concerning upcoming events in jiro’s life. Would it have been better if he never experienced the pain of losing Nahoko? Would it have made a difference if he had never finished his airplane? Furthermore,these questions provoke even deeper ones which can be applied to each individual person. For example, is it better to love and feel the pain which comes from losing that love or to never love and escape suffering? Or: Should we abandon our dreams and aspirations because the world is an evil place?

In my mind, asking these type of questions is very enlightening. This is because in our lives we are all like Jiro, living out our dreams, experiencing life’s pains and trying to find reasons for our suffering. It is easy to paint Jiro’s life as a tragedy. But I don’t think it is at all.

As I wrote in my review several years ago,

“The story centers on dreams to be sure, but it also focuses on living: living through a time of tragedy, living for a loved one, and living for a dream doomed to be exploited. Watching Jiro as he grew from a boy to a young man I marveled at his genuine love for others and kind demeanor. At a glance he is no one extraordinary, yet for me, he was one of the most inspiring heroes and men I have ever seen in film.”

Just as the title insinuates, this film’s theme is, “The Wind is Rising! We must try to live!” What this means is our world is a constant stream of changes, which oftentimes come suddenly: people we love die, we lose our jobs, a child is born, we unexpectedly travel to a beautiful new place, a natural disaster destroys everything we have etc. In Jiro’s case, there were multiple events where the wind rose and his life shifted: the great earthquake which destroyed Tokyo, the first time he witnessed a plane design failure, his own design failing, Nahoko’s first lung hemorrhage and so on.

On the surface it is easy to see the difficulties he assuredly faced in the midst of these trials. But through it all, I marveled at how he continued to live as a man of purpose and kindness. Though surrounded by negative people, he still remained positive. Though he knew Nahoko would surely die, he still married her and loved her despite their inevitable separation. He took time to stop and listen to classical music, knew multiple languages, helped others in need and saw the sorrow in his world with the eyes of a dreamer and a believer.

Lord of the

So what does that mean for us? I believe it is a cry for us to see with eyes unclouded by hatred and suffering. It is very easy to give in to life’s tragedies, to see the proverbial suffering of those who built the pyramids, but it is harder to live on in love and kindness. I think this idea is demonstrated very well in The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).

“Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.”

Yesterday, a man in my ward spoke to us about living in happiness. He told us how instead of focusing on the negative, perhaps we could take a different approach. What would our lives be like if we simply strove to be happy despite our circumstances? I believe it is the difference between standing frozen, alone in doubt and fear and walking with God with faith on a path of hope. Both look towards the future, but the contrast lies in our attitude and perspective. In my review for The Wind Rises, I also surmised,

This film teaches us that we must live, though there will be war, famine, grief, loss, hatred, death, violence, illness and pain. What do we gain by enduring these things and dreaming despite them? For Jiro he found an irreplaceable love and created something extraordinary. Yes, it seemed like he lost both his dream and his love, but in the eternal perspective this is not so. Memories of such experiences live on forever and so does genius.

I wish to add this. I believe we must live on with an eye focused on the beauty in this world God has given us. It is so easy to be consumed by the evil around us, but it is worth it to rise up and see how wonderful life truly is. Also from Lord of the Rings, is a great example in seeing beauty, even when surrounded by darkness. “There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him.” (J. R. R Tolkien)

I pray we may all in time see the beautiful events of our lives with faith and confidence.

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