I was lucky enough to hold off on writing about my Tuesday screening, Ningen, as there were particular talking points that ended up being addressed in my viewing of Miyazaki’s swan song, The Wind Rises, which I had the opportunity to watch yesterday at its North American premiere. Both films, despite their presentation in different visual mediums, spoke quite largely about the way people understand and respond to love.
Love is a difficult thing to adequately write about. It’s a term that carries different emotional connotations for different people, and each person has their own thoughts and feelings regarding the concept of it that, when communicated through story, can result in differing degrees of resonance, even when their messages clash with each other. It’s a bit strange, how the myriad of interpretations of this phenomenon seems to go against the idea that stories speak of the human condition, a universal constant that would otherwise suggest that love is the same for everyone.
I thought I knew what love was when I watched Ningen. With this highly conceptual film, I took in a story taken from different aspects of Japanese folklore; a raccoon and a fox take the form of humans in order to wager with each other who can swindle a human into giving them money. As a stipulation, they are forced to remain humans until one of them wins the bet; time passes without either of the two winning, and their old, frail, human bodies make them forget themselves.
The raccoon, who had taken the form of a failed CEO, is taken away to a mental institute to be treated for his dementia. Somehow, he is reminded of the fox and discovers that she had died long ago. Realizing his love for her, the raccoon ventures to the underworld and begs to take the fox back with him, and wagers a bet with the lord of the underworld to take her back with him. If the raccoon could travel back to the human world without looking back, where his beloved followed him, he could be with her once again; otherwise, he would remain a human for the rest of his life, and the fox would be lost forever. He couldn’t help but look back. He wanted to see her one last time.
Is it considered love to be attached as to travel to the depths of hell itself to see your beloved? The Wind Rises claims otherwise, with its strong message taking from a lyric from Paul Valéry’s poem: “Le vent se lève!… Il faut tenter de vivre!” / “The Wind rises; we must attempt to live!” It is this lyric that brings Jiro Horikoshi and Naoko Satomi together, and is the gesture of love between the two. During Naoko’s final days of her life, stricken by tuberculosis, she abandons treatment and stays by Jiro’s side as he designs the prototype of the A5M fighter, predecessor to the famed Zero fighter during World War II. When she dies, she reminds Jiro in his dream that he must keep going on without her, living a complete, fulfilled life.
Both films make their protagonist take different approaches to the death of their loved one, yet reflect the same truth about the pangs of lost love and the attachment therein. How do we honor those we cherish the most? I identify most closely with Jiro, mostly due to the nature of his relationship with Naoko; they are introduced to each other by chance, brought together seemingly by fate, are separated by distance, and end up marrying out of necessity (by circumstance, they were ready for marriage) to be together. However, it does not necessarily mean I side with The Wind Rises and its message about love.
This is a tricky question, as there are no actual “sides,” or even debate to begin with, when it comes to communicating the concept of love. Everyone has their own different take, their own version of the truth about the matter. They have their own biases and their own experiences that inform them differently from others. This is the whole point of storytelling; everyone has a story to tell, and the story that they tell is reflective of how they truly feel about things. You can argue for or against the validity or applicability of them, but you cannot deny the existence of those feelings communicated from a storyteller to its audience.
As such, I can’t identify with either movie as of yet; I am my own person, and I have my own view of love at this moment, as uninformed as it is. I’m still growing emotionally and romantically, and my love is still in its infancy, despite how strong it is. I still have a lifetime to love my partner, to get married, to have children, to be ever closer and more thankful for the life that I have been blessed with.
When I look back on my time spent with Emily, when I’m old and frail like the raccoon, what will I have to say about love? It’s something I’ll be constantly thinking about right now and as I grow older and even more madly in love, and maybe one day, I’ll tell a story about it. I just hope that I tell it as well as Ningen and The Wind Rises did.