Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Hayao Miyazaki Controversy

In July Hayao Miyazaki recently published an essay criticizing the recent course of the country in the areas of foreign and defense policy, in particular the attitude high-ranking government officials have manifested toward the actions of the Japanese state before and during World War II (such as the practice of sexual slavery by the armed forces1), their handling of the Senkaku Islands dispute with China, and their loudly trumpeted moves to amend Chapter II, Article 9 of the Constitution (in which Japan renounces war, the use of force in international disputes and the maintenance of national armed forces)2.

The essay's publication coincided with the release of his first film since 2008, Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises)--a drama about Jiro Horikishi, the designer of the Zero fighter plane of World War II, a story on which this subject matter bears directly--and a parliamentary election where the very policies he criticized have been very much at issue. Unsurprisingly, the essay and the film quickly attracted the ire of right-wing nationalists supportive of the policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who instantly resorted to words like "un-Japanese" and "traitor" to describe the author.

This reaction has drawn rather more news coverage in the American press than the release of the movie itself. It was the controversy that I actually heard about first (over at Kotaku), and which also attracted the attention of venues that do not normally pay much attention to the world of animè (like The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and Foreign Policy).

Both the controversy, and the attention paid it, reflect the larger situation of Japan today, which in itself is reflective of the larger situation globally--the increasing stridency of "culture warriors" determined to make the crimes of the past respectable (Russian neo-Stalinism, the French education system's celebration of colonialism), and the loosening of legal restraints on the exercise of military force (such as Germany's legalization of its military's use of force internally last year). Still, Matthew Penney, who offers by far the most detailed analysis of the issue over at The Asia-Pacific Journal's "Japan Focus," presents a reminder that Miyazaki's attackers do not necessarily represent broader Japanese opinion. As he notes,
lost amid the talking points . . . are the strong anti-militarist, anti-revisionist voices that exist among cultural figures such as Miyazaki Hayao and a host of journalists, authors, scholars, and other public figures. Even amid increasing tensions with China, the percentage of Japanese who wish to scrap the 'peace clause' of the Constitution is by some measures lower than it was a decade ago. Kaze Tachinu fits with Miyazaki’s oeuvre and the film and discussions surrounding it are representative of anti-militarist views and critical views of history that continue to be mainstream in Japan.
One may hope that this does indeed prove to be the case, and that it matters enough to lessen the danger of the worse consequences one can imagine flowing from the situation--in East Asia, and elsewhere.

1. The issue was reignited when Toru Hashimoto--the mayor of Osaka, who, along with Shintaro Ishihara, leads the Japan Restoration Party--defended the policy as a wartime "necessity."
2. The official translation of the text reads as follows:
Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
My Posts on Shintaro Ishihara

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