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Saturday, February 22, 2014

THE JAPANESE ZERO


I've been fascinated with the Japanese Zero fighter plane.  So much so that I actually went to an animated film yesterday, the Oscar nominated The Wind Rises, a Japanese film by Hayao Miyazaki portraying the life of Jiro Hirokoshi, designer of this plane.  Also interwoven into the bio are love, rainbows and dreams.  Rotten Tomatoes reviewers rated it at 87%, with the audience at 81%.  

Miyazaki's Spirited Away, made with Disney, won an Oscar in 2003, and is the top grossing film in Japanese history.  He has been called a traitor for his pacifist tendencies, and, as much as The Wind Rises is about a weapon of mass destruction, his message is anti-war.  His personal life is infused into the script, as his father worked on the Zero and his mother had tuberculosis (Jiro's wife is so affected).  He is about my age and said this would be his final production, officially retiring last year on my birth date.  He is a master of anime and manga, which could well be the same thing.  

Jiro Horikoshi graduated from Tokyo University and traveled widely to learn about airplanes, mostly to Germany.  In 1937 he was asked to design the aircraft projected to attack ports from an aircraft carrier.  Three years later the Mitsubishi Zero Fighter was developed, which figured prominently in the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack.  It was the most capable carrier-based fighter at that time and had a 12:1 kill ratio in dogfights.  However, by 1942 American tactics and technology caught up, for the Zero lacked a powerful engine.  This was, however, like the B-24 for the U.S., the most prominent of all Japanese planes in World War II.  This version above crashed in New Guinea, but was rebuilt and flown for the movie Pearl Harbor.

Four years ago I visited the Yasukuni Shrine and had my photo taken next to the Japanese Zero in the military museum there:


The cherry blossoms were mesmerizing:


I wondered if I should stop by at this site, for 14 Japanese War criminals, including General Hideki Tojo, along with 2.5 million war dead, are here.  When current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a couple of months ago came to pray for their souls, he was publicly condemned by China and South Korea.


In the release of The Wind Rises, Miyazaki criticized Abe for this visit and attitudes regarding expanding Japan's military role.  I travel to Japan in a few weeks.  Do I return to Yasukuni...for the Sakura and to gain a better appreciation for the Zero?

Back to this animated film, I noticed there were mostly adults in the audience.  The title, The Wind Rises, comes from a novelette of the same name by Tatsuo Hori, taking a line from Paul Val e ry's poem

     Le vent se leve, il faut tenter de vivre or...The Wind is Rising.  We must try to live.

Life was tough in the period of the film, for Horikoshi was a student at Tokyo University when the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 stuck, crippling the economy even before the Great Depression.  There were 142,800 deaths, and the cataclysm was graphically illustrated.  At 7.9 magnitude, this was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan until the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011.  However, he did meet his future wife during this disaster, and their relationship was an important part of the story.  But the war, devastation and agony combined to make this an adult film.  In the 60's and 70's Horikoshi went on to teach at Tokyo and Nihon Universities, and passed away at the age of 78.


The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics
Medal standings
       COUNTRY                GOLD             SILVER              BRONZE
1
Russia
11
10
8
29
2
Norway
11
5
10
26
3
Canada
9
10
5
24
4
United States
9
7
11
27
5
Netherlands
8
7
9
24
6
Germany
8
6
5
19
7
Switzerland
6
3
2
11

After all their tribulations, Russia surged into the medal lead with 29.  The USA is two back with one day of competition left.  The Closing Ceremonies are tomorrow.

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