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THE WIND RISES AND CINEMATIC MORALISM

Film Crit Hulk thinks THE WIND RISES is one of the best movies of the year, and disagrees with Devin's take on the film's morality.

THE WIND RISES AND CINEMATIC MORALISM

WHENEVER THERE'S A BIG CONVERSATION ABOUT THE MORAL IMPLICATIONS OF A GIVEN MOVIE, HULK ALWAYS THINKS OF THIS ONE SCENE FROM THE WIRE. THOSE WHO HAVE SEEN IT WILL KNOW WHAT HULK IS TALKING ABOUT, BUT FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN'T HULK WILL TRY TO TALK VERY GENERALLY ABOUT IT (AS TO AVOID SPOILING). HERE'S VAGUE MEMORY VERSION: THERE ARE THESE THREE CHARACTERS WHO HAVE BEEN FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES FOR YEARS. AND IT TURNS OUT THAT TWO OF THESE CHARACTERS HAVE BEEN DOING A HIGHLY ILLEGAL, MANIPULATIVE THING FOR (WHAT THEY SEE AS) THE GREATER GOOD AND THE AID OF A LARGER INSTITUTION. THE SITUATION ITSELF REALLY IS AN AMAZING MORAL QUANDARY AND THE THIRD FRIEND, WHO CANNOT BELIEVE WHAT THEY HAVE BEEN DOING, DECIDES TO RAT THEM OUT. IT'S, ON A PERSONAL LEVEL, A HUGE BETRAYAL. AND AFTER IT ALL PLAYS OUT, THE THREE OF THEM MEET OUTSIDE A BAR AND THIS THIRD FRIEND ADMITS WHAT THAT THEY WERE THE ONE WHO RATTED THEM OUT.

THIRD FRIEND: "I'm sorry I just couldn't abide."

SECOND FRIEND: "[SHRUGS AND SMILES] Well, if you couldn't abide..."

AND THE THREE FRIENDS SMILE AND GO BACK INTO A BAR FOR A DRINK.

* * *

VERY RECENTLY, THERE'S BEEN SOME DISCUSSION OVER THE MORAL IMPLICATIONS OF MIYAZAKI'S FINAL FILM THE WIND RISES AND JUST TODAY DEVIN MADE AN IMPASSIONED, COHERENT ARGUMENT ON THE TOPIC. KEEP IN MIND HULK WENT AND SAW THE MOVIE A BUNCH OF WEEKS AGO, HAVING ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHAT IT WAS ABOUT. WHAT HULK DISCOVERED WAS A TRADITIONAL WESTERN EPIC (IS THIS HIS FIRST MOVIE SET IN THE REAL WORLD?) ABOUT A YOUNG BOY, JIRO, WHO ONLY DREAMED OF FLYING, AND DUE TO HIS NEAR-SIGHTEDNESS, HE TURNED TOWARD BUILDING BEAUTIFUL AIRPLANES INSTEAD.

THE PROBLEM IS HE HAPPENED TO BE BORN IN PRE-WORLD-WAR-2 JAPAN.

THE MOVIE IS NOT EXPLICITLY ABOUT THE COUNTRY'S MARCH TOWARD WAR, BUT IT CERTAINLY IS FIGURATIVELY. IT IS TOLD AS A SIMPLE LIFE STORY, COMPLETELY FROM JIRO'S PERSPECTIVE. THE FILM CHRONICLES THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF HIS JOURNEY WITH AERO-ENGINEERING AND IT ALSO SPENDS A GREAT DEAL OF TIME EXPLORING A LOVE STORY. AS FOR THE COMING SPECTER OF WAR? IT IS MERELY PACKED AWAY AROUND THE SEAMS OF HIS REGULAR LIFE. HE'S TOO BUSY FOLLOWING HIS DREAM AND BEING STUFFED INTO CROWDED ENGINEERING OFFICES WHILE ALL THE HARBINGERS TAKE SHAPE AROUND HIM: JAPAN'S DESIRE TO REMOVE FEUDALISM, THE MILITARY HOLLOWMEN, THE RISE OF NATIONALISM, AND THE SCARY ALLIANCE WITH GERMANY. IT'S ALL THERE, IT'S JUST THAT THESE HARBINGERS ARE MOSTLY ALLUDED TO WHILE OUR ENGINEERS REMAIN FOCUSED ON THEIR OWN GOALS.

BUT THIS IS THE THING TO UNDERSTAND: THE FILM IS NO WAY MITIGATING THE EFFECT OF WORLD WAR 2 AND THE HORRORS THE JAPANESE UNLEASHED.

IN FACT, THE DETAILS LISTED ABOVE ACT AS A LOOMING SPECTER OF HORROR THAT HANGS OVER EVERYTHING LIKE DREAD. (TO GET SPOILERY) FROM THE VERY BEGINNING, HULK KNEW WE WERE HEADING TO WHERE THIS FILM ENDS. THE HORROR OF WAR WAS INEVITABLE AND THE FILM IS ABSOLUTELY PLOTTED AS A TRAGEDY. AND WHEN THE END FINALLY ARRIVES, THE FILM TAKES A MOMENT TO CLARIFY THAT AWFUL REALITY IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS. WHERE IT CLARIFIES THE SUM TOTAL OF WHAT THIS MAN'S DREAMS ACHIEVED...

AND IT USES THAT REALITY AS A GUT-PUNCH.

IN THE END (TO GET SPOILERY AS ALL HELL), OUR MAIN CHARACTER FINISHES HIS PERFECTED FIGHTER AND EXPERIENCES GREAT PERSONAL LOSS AS A RESULT. WE THEN CUT YEARS LATER TO A MASS GRAVEYARD OF ALL HIS PLANES, CRASHED AND BURNED. WORSE, THE HELLFIRES OF BOMBS ARE TAKING OVER CITIES. AND STILL, HIS NEW PLANES ARE MARCHING OFF TO WAR. HE'S CLEARLY IN HIS MOMENTS OF OPPENHEIMER-LIKE REALIZATION. HIS DREAMS HAVE WREAKED AN ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE LEVEL OF CARNAGE. AND THUS, HE STARES OUT AND QUESTIONS EVERYTHING. HE IS EXISTING IN THAT MOST BASIC DICHOTOMY OF LIFE: HE HAD A SIMPLE DREAM TO MAKE BEAUTIFUL AIRPLANES, BUT IT WAS ONE THAT COST HIM DEARLY AND COST THE WORLD EVEN MORE SO. AND IN THOSE FINAL MOMENTS, THE AS ALL THE FAMOUS JAPANESE ZERO FIGHTERS GO OFF (FAMOUSLY USED AS KAMIKAZE FIGHTERS) THE MUSIC SWELLS, BUT IT IS NOT TRIUMPHANT. IT IS NOT MITIGATING THE POINT. IT IS SIMPLY BITTERLY IRONIC; A MAN'S BOYHOOD DREAMS LITERALLY BEING USED TO SEND OFF PILOTS TO THEIR DEATHS. THERE IS NO DOUBT ABOUT THE INTENTION HERE. HE WATCHES ALL THIS AND THEN SPEAKS WITH THE IMAGINARY VERSION OF HIS CHILDHOOD HERO, THE ONE THAT HAS HERALDED HIM THROUGH HIS WHOLE JOURNEY. AND THE BOYHOOD HERO EXPLAINS THAT, TO PARAPHRASE: [OF COURSE THIS HORROR IS WHAT HAPPENS. LIFE CORRUPTS... BUT AREN'T AIRPLANES ARE BEAUTIFUL?]

IT'S A METAPHOR FOR MANY THINGS, BUT HERE IT IS MOSTLY ABOUT ART.

LIKE PROSPERO'S MONOLOGUE, WHAT WE ARE WITNESSING IS THE FINAL, BITTERSWEET STATEMENT OF A MASTER FILMMAKER WHO IS RE-EVALUATING A LIFE SPENT IN THAT SINGULAR ARTISTIC PURSUIT. HE WAS A MAN WHO JUST WANTED TO MAKE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL, WHO EVEN ACHIEVED IT, BUT COULDN'T HELP BUT HAVE THEM ALWAYS BE DIRECTED TOWARD THE PATHS OF CRASS COMMERCIALISM. IT WAS A PURSUIT THAT TOOK HIM AWAY FROM FAMILY. THAT SUCKED AWAY EVERY BIT OF TIME. AND INSTEAD OF MERELY SETTING THAT CONFLICT IN A MOVIE ABOUT THE LOWER STAKES WORLD OF CINEMA, MIYAZAKI KNOWINGLY PUTS THAT MORAL QUANDRY INTO THE HIGHEST STAKES REAL-LIFE SITUATION EVER: PRE-WAR JAPAN. IF THE PURSUIT OF A DREAM IS A SELFISH THING, THAN NOWHERE IS IT MORE SELFISH THAN CREATING THAT WHICH WILL BE TURNED INTO WAR MACHINES. AND THE ENDING EFFECT OF THIS WARPLANE-AS-ART METAPHOR WAS SOMETHING HULK FOUND DEEPLY POWERFUL. IN FACT, THE FILM HONESTLY PUT HULK INTO AN EXISTENTIAL CONFLICT ABOUT THE COST OF THESE SELFISH, ARTISTIC CHOICES WE MAKE. WHY SPEND A HUNDRED HOURS A WEEK WORKING FOR SOMETHING THAT WILL LIKELY BE PERVERTED? WHY IGNORE OUR FAMILIES IN LOVED ONES IN THAT PURSUIT? WHY MUST AIRPLANES BE SO BEAUTIFUL? JUST WHAT IN THE HELL ARE WE DOING, ANYWAY?

BUT IF YOU ACTUALLY THINK THAT MIYAZAKI IS TAKING THAT MESSAGE (AND THE HUMANE WAY IN WHICH IT IS CONVEYED) TO THE POINT OF IGNORING THE DISASTROUS HISTORY OF JAPAN, THAN BY ALL MEANS READ THIS ARTICLE ON THE ESSAY HE WROTE TO THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT, WHEREIN HE PLEADS WITH HIS GOVERNMENT TO RECKON WITH THIS HISTORY AND STOP CHANGING LAWS THAT HIDE. FROM THE LINKED ARTICLE:

"I am taken aback by the lack of knowledge among government and political party leaders on historical facts." ... Miyazaki was born in 1941 and wrote... about his memories of World War II and its aftermath. Miyazaki wrote that he was ashamed and felt "hatred against Japan" for what the country did in China during the war, and said that Japan should apologize and pay compensation for its crimes during the war, including the use of "comfort women" (women from China and Korea who were used as prostitutes during the war). The issue of "comfort women" has been a hot topic in Japan recently after Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto made a controversial comment on the subject in May."

YEAH, IT'S SAFE TO SAY THE HISTORIC CONTEXTUALIZATION OF JAPAN IS IMPORTANT TO HIM. AND WHEN YOU REALIZE THAT IT IS IMPORTANT TO HIM, THEN YOU REALIZE PRECISELY WHAT THE WIND RISES IS ACTUALLY DOING. HE IS TELLING THE STORY OF THE PEOPLE WHO DID THIS. IT'S TRYING TO TELL THE STORY OF HOW THAT IGNORANCE HAPPENS AND HOW ARTISTS AND SCIENTISTS WITH NOBEL ASPIRATIONS ARE CORRUPTED BY THE PURSUIT OF PERFECTION. AND INSTEAD OF CASTING BLAME OUTWARD, MIYAZAKI IS EVER THE HUMANIST AND USES HIS UNDERSTANDING OF HIS OWN STORY AND DREAMS TO IN TURN MAKE BOTH HIMSELF AND HUMANITY COMPLICIT. IT IS A STORY OF PERSONAL FAULTS TOLD THROUGH THE LENS OF HOW JAPAN'S HISTORICAL FAULTS. AND IN THE END, THE DREAMS, THE NIGHTMARE, THE COST, IT ALL BECOMES SO EXPLICIT: THEY ARE ALL ONE.

AND HONESTLY, HULK HAS NO IDEA HOW ALL OF THIS ISN'T CLEAR.

PERHAPS THE PROBLEM OF JIRO'S OPPENHEIMER MOMENT IS HE DOES NOT HAVE A OPPENHEIMER-LIKE QUOTE OF BECOMING THE DESTROYER OF WORLDS OR SOMETHING. THAT IT DOES NOT SOLIDIFY THE MORAL JUDGING OF THE MOVIE'S PERSPECTIVE. INSTEAD, IT ENDS ON IRONY (AND WE'RE SO GOOD WITH THAT!). BUT WHAT'S TROUBLING ABOUT THAT IS THAT IT GETS INTO THE PROBLEM OF HOW SOMETIMES WE IDENTIFY THE MORAL STATEMENT OF A FILM FOR BEING "WHAT IT'S ABOUT" INSTEAD OF "HOW IT'S ABOUT." YOU CAN LOOK AT THE WIND RISES AND SAY "That character is disconnected from the horror of what they've created!" AND THAT'S EXACTLY RIGHT. BECAUSE THAT'S THE POINT. HE'S DISCONNECTED. THIS THE FILM THAT TELLS THE STORY OF HOW ONE CAN BE DISCONNECTED FROM THE HORROR OF WHAT THEY CREATE AND IT JUST HAPPENS TO EXPLORE THAT IN A VERY HUMAN AND UNDERSTANDING WAY. BUT IF HULK ARGUES THE FILM ABSOLUTELY CONTEXTUALIZES ALL OF THAT, THEN WHY ISN'T THAT CLEAR TO PEOPLE? DOES IT SIMPLY FEEL DRAMATICALLY "TOO LITTLE TOO LATE?" DO WE NEED TO BE BEATEN OVER THE HEAD WITH IT? THAT WOULD BE TRUE OF SOME OF THE MASSES, BUT NOT FOR THE INTELLIGENCE LEVEL OF SOME HULK'S DEAR FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES. SO OF COURSE THE CONVERSATION IS MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT.

TO "REQUIRE" THAT MOVIES ARTICULATE A POINT TO CERTAIN LEVEL OF OUR PREFERENCE IS TO ARGUE THAT CERTAIN THINGS ALWAYS HAVE TO BE CONTEXTUALIZED IN A WAY BEFITTING TO THE AUDIENCE MEMBER'S VIEW. AND THAT'S BOTH TROUBLING AND UNDERSTANDABLE. IT'S A DYNAMIC STRANGELY REMINISCENT OF LAST YEAR'S NEEDLESS ZERO DARK THIRTY BROUHAHA WHERE THE ACCEPTANCE OF SUBTLETY SEEMED TO GO OUT THE WINDOW AND EVERYONE WHO GOT ANGRY SEEMED TO MISUNDERSTAND WHAT WAS HAPPENING ON SCREEN OR HAD NOT EVEN SEEN THE MOVIE. AT THE SAME TIME, HULK FULLY ADMITS THAT HULK ALSO HAS LEGITIMATE GRIPES WITH MOVIES THAT HULK THINKS ARE ARGUING FOR SOMETHING HULK FINDS TO BE REPULSIVE (I.E. THE RECENT SEXISM OF PROJECT X, OR EVEN THE NATURE OVER NURTURE / GENETIC DETERMINISM BULLSHIT OF THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES). IN MANY WAYS, WHAT YOU REALIZE IS WE EFFECTIVELY COME TO A PLACE WHERE WE REVERT THE "WHAT IT'S ABOUT" AND "HOW IT'S ABOUT" DYNAMIC TO DETERMINE QUALITY. MEANING HULK'S PROBLEM ON THESE MOVIES IS AN ARGUMENT AGAINST THE "WHAT." FOR INSTANCE, PROJECT X'S "HOW" IS PRETTY FUNNY AND THAT'S PART OF THE PROBLEM. BUT IF SOMEONE CAN ACTUALLY CONVINCE HULK THAT IT'S ARGUING FOR THE OPPOSITE, HULK WOULD BE WILLING TO AMEND. GOT AN ARGUMENT FOR WHY PROJECT X ISN'T SEXIST? OR THE REAL MEANING OF THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES? THEN HULK'S READY TO SEE IF THE "WHAT" CHANGES. DOES THAT MAKE SENSE? AND LORD KNOWS THERE'S THE ADDED COMPLICATION OF WHEN WE WATCH SOMETHING WHERE THE "WHAT" IS OBJECTIONABLE (THINK EXPLOITATION), BUT WE ARE VIEWING IT THROUGH THE LENS OF FASCINATION AND UNDERSTANDING THE ARTIST. BUT THE CORE POINT REMAINS THE SAME: THERE ARE THE THINGS WE CANNOT ABIDE.

THERE IS, OF COURSE, A SPECTRUM TO ALL THIS. SOME MORAL ARGUMENTS SEEM TO FALL WITHIN ACCEPTABLE, NUANCED DIFFERENCE. AND SOME ARGUMENTS MERIT OUTRAGE. AND WHEN YOU GET TO THE ENDS OF THE SPECTRUM OF HUMAN PERSPECTIVE IT TENDS TO GET TRICKIER. IS IT "VALID" FOR A GROUP OF HIGHLY RELIGIOUS PEOPLE TO CONDEMN MOVIES IN GENERAL? WHAT MAKES THEIR OBJECTION DIFFERENT FROM HULK'S GIVEN OBJECTIONS TO A SINGLE MOVIE? DO WE SIMPLY THROW UP OUR HANDS AND CHALK IT ALL UP TO SUBJECTIVITY? DO WE JUST AGREE "WE'RE ALL RIGHT!" AND CALL IT A DAY?

THE ANSWER IS "NOT REALLY, NO." WHETHER IT IS THE SOLIDIFICATION OF LEGALITY, HISTORY, OR OUR SOCIAL MORES: MORALITY IS ALWAYS A DISCUSSION. BUT IN THAT DISCUSSION, HULK WOULD ARGUE THAT WE CAN NOT SIMPLY DISMISS SOMEONE'S OFFENSE. YES, DEMOCRACY IS BUILT ON THE IDEA OF ADHERING TO THE CONSENSUS MAJORITY, BUT IT IS EQUALLY ABOUT PROTECTING THE MINORITY. IT'S PARAMOUNT TO THE SYSTEMATIC FUNCTION. AND IF YOU SEE A MOVIE LIKE MIYAZAKI'S MOST RECENT AND SIMPLY BELIEVE THAT THE HORRORS OF WORLD WAR 2 ARE TOO IMPORTANT TO BE LEFT TO SUCH SUBTLETIES? WELL, THEN WE HAVE TO AT LEAST UNDERSTAND THAT THE CONCERN IS VALID. BECAUSE IF YOU DO THAT THEN AT LEAST THEN YOU CAN START ASKING BETTER QUESTIONS ABOUT THE FILM'S UNINTENDED AFFECTATION: LIKE HOW WOULD THIS MOVIE LOOK DIFFERENT TO SOMEONE WHO DIDN'T KNOW THE HISTORY OF WORLD-WAR 2 JAPAN? WOULD THAT MITIGATE THE ENTIRE POINT? OR COULD YOU MAKE AN ARGUMENT THAT THE FILM INADVERTENTLY GLAMORIZES WARPLANES IN A WAY THAT DOESN'T CORRECTLY ARTICULATE THE INTENTION OF THE ENDING? SAY WHAT YOU WILL, AND HULK HAS COUNTER-POINTS TO EACH QUESTION, BUT THERE'S AT LEAST A DISCUSSION THERE.

AND TO THE LARGER POINT, HULK BELIEVES THE INTERNET HAS TO GET BETTER AT ACCEPTING AND REACTING TO PEOPLE'S VARIOUS OFFENSE IN GENERAL. BECAUSE IT OFTEN SEEMS LIKE THE ENTIRE INTERNET IS IN THIS PERPETUAL DESPONDENT PHASE WHERE IT REACTS TO EVERY MORAL OUTCRY WITH KNEE-JERK EYE-ROLLING. IT IS AS IF THE INTERNET SEES EVERY OFFENSE AS THE NONSENSICAL OUTRAGE OF A COLLEGE FRESHMAN JUST LOOKING FOR SOMETHING TO BE ANGRY ABOUT, WHICH IS A VILE HALF-TRUTH. BECAUSE IT'S EQUALLY JUVENILE NOT TO REALIZE THAT AN OFFENSE OUTSIDE OF YOUR PERSPECTIVE CAN BE A PAINFULLY REAL THING. AND TO SCOFF AT THEM IS NOTHING MORE THAN CRUEL MITIGATION OF GENUINE SOCIAL CONCERN. WE COULD REACT "What!? THE WIND RISES is a masterpiece! You're an idiot!" AND BY GETTING STRAPPED INTO THE BINARY OF THE THINGS WE LOVE AND HATE, WE JUST END UP FUELING THE PROVERBIAL FIRE. WE FORGET THAT THERE ARE PLENTY OF THINGS WORTH GETTING OFFENDED ABOUT. AND WE FORGET THAT SOMETIMES OUR OFFENSE MUST BE REGISTERED IN A WAY THAT COMMUNICATES. WE GET LOST IN THE CLUSTERFUCK OF RELATIVISM AND OFTEN FAIL TO REALIZE THAT WE'RE ACTUALLY RELATIVISM ALL WRONG IN FIRST PLACE, USING IT AS A MERE MODE OF DIGGING IN OUR HEELS AND RENDERING EVERY ARGUMENT INTO WORLD WAR I-ESQUE TRENCH WARFARE... IF THIS ALL SOUNDS COMPLICATED, THAT'S BECAUSE IT IS. NAVIGATING THIS STUFF IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT, BUT IT IS CERTAINLY NOT IMPOSSIBLE.

HULK GENUINELY BELIEVES THE WIND RISES IS ONE OF THE BEST FILMS OF THE YEAR; A NEAR PERFECT STATEMENT ABOUT THE PERVERSION OF NOBLE INTENTIONS AND THE PERSONAL COST OF ART. IT IS A BEAUTIFUL, HAUNTING FILM THAT IS KEENLY AWARE OF EVERY MORAL COMPLICATION AND EXPLORES THEM IN A FASCINATING, HUMAN WAY. BUT IF YOU CAN'T ABIDE THE TREATMENT OF THE SUBJECT MATTER, THEN IT IS ACTUALLY HULK'S JOB TO TRY AND CONVINCE YOU OF THE OPPOSITE IN A KIND AND HUMANE MANNER. WE NOT TO DRAW A LINE IN THE SAND, CHALK IT UP TO SUBJECTIVITY AND DECLARE US EQUALLY RIGHT. NOR DO WE DRAW A LINE IN THE SAND AND DRAW SWORDS. IF WE DO EITHER, WE ACTUALLY ENTER THE SAME "PATH TO HELL" PREDICAMENT THAT PERMEATES THE FILM ITSELF. INSTEAD, WE HAVE TO TALK IT OUT AS HUMANS. WE HAVE TO COME TO THE DUMBFOUNDING REALIZATION THAT SUBJECTIVITY IS ACTUALLY ABOUT RESPONSIBILITY. WE HAVE TO SLING OUR ARMS OVER EACH OTHER'S SHOULDERS AND GO INTO THE FIGURATIVE BAR FROM THE WIRE. AND WHILE DOING SO, WE HAVE TO REMEMBER THAT VONNEGUTIAN PLATITUDE ABOVE ALL ELSE:

"THERE'S ONLY ONE RULE I KNOW OF, BABIES - GODAMMIT, YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIND."

BECAUSE THE FUNNY THING IS THAT WHEN WE STICK TO THAT RULE, MOST OF THE OTHER STUFF SEEMS TO WORK A LITTLE BIT BETTER.

<3 HULK

Film Crit Hulk's photo About the Author: FILM CRIT HULK WAS CREATED IN A CHAOTIC LAB EXPERIMENT INVOLVING GAMMA RADIATION, TELEPODS, AND THE GHOST OF PAULINE KAEL. NOW HULK HAVE DEEP AND ABIDING LOVE CINEMA.
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