This weekend, in an effort to make the most of my HBO Max free trial, I watched The Wind Rises by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki. I’ve always been a fan of Studio Ghibli and the fantastical world of magical realism it creates that often feature talking animals, witches, and other un-earthly events. This film was different though, and while it’s not a piece of literature it inspired me to consider the intersections of historical and contemporary fiction—and just talk about the film more because it was that good.
Without spoiling much, The Wind Rises is a beautiful and heart-wrenching fictional depiction of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, an aeronautical engineer. Horikoshi is best known for designing military aircrafts—most notably the Zero, which was used in World War II by the Japanese and even in the attack on Pearl Harbor. As The Wind Rises demonstrates, Horikoshi was not interested in war, but he was captivated by designing planes.
The currents of the film moving us along deal with unmatched passion, it’s clear how dedicated Horikoshi is to his dreams and his work. In a dream with his idol Caproni, the man tells Horikoshi, “Inspiration unlocks the future. Technology eventually catches up.” It’s blissful moments like this that propel the film—and Horikoshi’s life—forward.
But the undercurrents of the film are what slowly submerge the viewer into a deeper, more somber viewing. Horikoshi’s dedication is inspiring, but he shows little care that his creations will be used for destruction. In another dream with Caproni, the man asks Horikoshi if he’d rather live in a world with pyramids or a world without. While never directly answering the question, Horikoshi reaffirms his want to create beautiful airplanes. (This article explores the interaction further.) He’s not ignorant to the mass destruction, but rather oblivious. This is paralleled by the love interest Miyazaki fictionally inserted and Horikoshi’s relationship with her.
So, where does The Wind Rises fit in with historical fiction, and where does that fit in with contemporary fiction?
As contemporary fiction paints a realistic view of the current world, historical fiction does the same but with the past. They both achieve similar goals, utilizing a landscape we’re familiar with—either because we’re currently experiencing it or it has already come and gone—to illuminate something about the present day. Not every book in both genre does this, but it’s an overarching goal that has become more common in recent years.
“A new kind of historical fiction has evolved to show us that the past is no longer merely prologue but story itself, shaping our increasingly fractured fairy tales about who we are as a society.” Megan O’Grady puts this beautifully and goes on to talk about the new uprising of historical fiction further in a New York Times piece.
The early 2000’s may have been dominated by dystopian and fantastical literature (Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Twilight), but this new era finds comfort in exploring the well-known to teach us something new. I don’t think Miyazaki created The Wind Rises nearly a century after its events transpired purely to show the world the life of Jiro Horikoshi. It doesn’t fall in line with his other works if you only look at it on the surface. The Wind Rises is a historical film that tells us the story of Horikoshi as a lesson, in an effort to tell us more about the current world around us.
If Horikoshi had been persuaded by his morals to abandon his dreams knowing the casualties that would result, it’s likely someone else would’ve simply filled his shoes. In the end, none of Horikoshi’s planes return from the war, and it’s not his design’s fault. He has achieved his dreams, but the lingering—relatable—question is, at what cost?