The Manhattan Project’s lead physicist John Robert Oppenheimer was asked a few years before his death about the true effectiveness of halting the spread of Atomic weapons in the cold war era. His answer: “…It’s 20 years too late… it should’ve been done the day after Trinity…”, referring of course to the trinity detonation test he oversaw in the New Mexican desert on the 16th of July, 1945. There was no going back for his team that created the deadliest weapon known to man, and the rest of humanity.
The point at which inspiration, determination and dreams all meet inside the proverbial Pandora’s box is where Legendary Japanese Filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki (Notice, I don’t say Animation Filmmaker, just Filmmaker Period) sets his alleged cinematic swan song The Wind Rises. As he chronicles the life of a brilliant Aeronautical engineer responsible for one of the most infamous planes ever made; the Japanese Zero. Jiro is a dreamer from an early age, only wanting to design the very best and fastest planes by imagining his ideas and models soaring high above the clouds. The times he lives in are quickly changing for the worst as rampant militarization by Japan and her allies signal that another World War is on the horizon.
Jiro is fully aware that providing the designs and concepts for better and improved aerodynamics translates to more effective flying killing machines for the armed forces that financially back his industry. He is no fan of war and violence so he tries to reconcile this inner conflict by leaning on what made him become an engineer in the first place; his dreams of pure engineering creation. We see how he thinks about structural failures, new fuselage designs and what inspires him in the first place. We are privy to just how technicians and engineers alike turn dreams into realities in their minds.
However, he can only find solace in his day-dreams for so-long with his dreams literally crashing and burning time and again. As his designs constantly keep failing on him he must come up with new means of inspiration to think differently and the will-power to go on. But that is exactly what he has been doing since he was just a boy looking longingly at the sky and he finds it again in the form of love for a girl he meets all-too briefly.
Jiro’s journey is fully-packed with the standard studio Ghibli tropes; those of a fantastical world that comes alive with vivid color in a rich whimsical emotional story. This go around, however, is with a narrative rooted in history and drawn on (no pun intended) real-life people. If this is in fact the Icon’s final master stroke, it is as fitting as can be. Fusing together his usual style of vibrant dream-like sequences with those of a melancholic reality. A fantastical vision that soars just as much as having its feet firmly on the ground.
Miyazaki is on record as being staunchly anti-war, he refused to attend the 2002 oscar ceremony (Spirited Away rightfully won that night, as well) due to the U.S’ war with Afghanistan, and there is little nostalgia for pre-war Imperial Japan here. The filmmaker makes it clear how much militarism crushed and mutilated so many dreams. One can only imagine what Jiro thought when he heard of the horrific air-raids conducted from China to Southeast Asia to Pearl Harbor using his beloved Zero Plane design. A few years later one can only imagine something similar in Oppenheimer’s reaction to hearing about Hiroshima and Nagasaki; his words said after the first trinity test coming to nightmarish fruition “I have become death, destroyer of worlds”
The scientists and physicists that were part of the Manhattan Project were some of the greatest minds to have ever lived, including J.R Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller, and Richard Feynman, working together to discover the inner workings of the Atom and Nuclear physics must have been something of a dream come true for all of them. Nonetheless, a majorly loaded question that persists when talking about the main players involved in the Project is why? Why continue with crossing a point-of-no return, a scientific Rubicon if you will. Most of them were pacifists beforehand and they all knew all-too-well the hell they were about to unleash on an unsuspecting world.
The simple answer is that they couldn’t stop due to extreme socio-political pressure to end the war quickly; the more involved answer is that they couldn’t give up on their greatest dreams and aspirations regardless of the dark path they were treading. After all who really ever questions their deepest inspirations?
8.8/10 (An Adventure of the Mind and Soul; A Fond Bittersweet Farewell(?) from the Unique Mastery of Miyazaki)