Although English-language critics have largely raved about Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises -- Film.com's David Ehrlich called it "perhaps the greatest animated film ever made" -- the film has been attacked in both South Korea and Miyazaki's native Japan for its politics. During today's vote by the Boston Film Critics Society, Village Voice critic Inkoo Kang opened a Stateside front, reading aloud a statement on the film before the vote on Best Animated Feature. Calling the film "morally repugnant," Kang explained, according to a copy of her statement provided to Criticwire:
The Japanese Imperial Army killed 30 million people -- a fact that is barely alluded to by the film.
As you may know, its most egregious offenses during WW2, which include orchestrated mass rape, slave labor, and medical human experimentation on live and conscious human beings, are not taught to students, nor are they mentioned in textbooks.
After decades of denying that Japan had forced tens of thousands of Korean and Chinese women into sex slavery, one Japanese prime minister finally admitted his country's actions during the war. Every other prime minister has since reversed the apology, either minimizing or wholly denying those war crimes.
Miyazaki's film is wholly symptomatic of Japan's postwar attitude toward its history, which is an acknowledgement of the terribleness of war and a willful refusal to acknowledge its country's role in that terribleness.
The film also pits European and American powers, in the abstract, as Japan's rivals, but in fact, those planes were used to "pacify" Japan's Korean colony and invade China, the Philippines, and Vietnam, and many other countries, including, of course, the U.S.
To me, the fact that the film glosses over the true purpose of those planes -- and never mentions the fact that those planes were built by Chinese and Korean slave labor -- is morally egregious.
"To me, the beauty of Miyazaki's film is obscured by its moral irresponsibility," Kang concluded. After what Boston Globe critic Ty Burr described as "an impassioned (but friendly) debate," The Wind Rises won the award for Best Animated Feature, narrowly beating Frozen, with three voters abstaining. But as the final film by one of the world's greatest animators progresses towards a likely Academy Award nomination -- and the film is finally seen by audiences outside of New York and Los Angeles -- it's likely this argument will continue for some time.