Only in Dreams
March 30, 2015 § Leave a comment
I actually wasn’t all that blown away by Miyazaki Hayao’s The Wind Rises when I saw it in theaters. Sure, it’s a beautiful movie made with craft out of a lifetime of hard work, but I just couldn’t settle myself entirely with its apolitical outlook on wartime activities and its conflation of Jiro Horikoshi with Miyazaki’s own father. Still, it includes one of my favorite touches in any anime ever: the friendship between Jiro and Giovanni Battista Caproni. More than anything, I like the friendship because it’s shown only in Jiro’s dreams, making it something like a fictive friendship.
Fictive friendship? Don’t I just mean “fake” or “false” instead? Well, let me explain. Fictive kinship is an increasingly deprecated term in anthropology, referring to individuals considered by themselves and by their peers to be kin even though they are physically unrelated. Using wholly modern and Western standards for kinship like it does, it’s proven to be of limited utility when assessing other cultures’ norms and values, which shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. However, it’s still popular among the disciplines of pre-modern history, where “fictive kinship” refers to the outcome of various political rituals that presented magnates of similar rank and station as family, by the very virtue of that similar rank and station. For instance, the late eleventh-century kings of France and England shared a bed on at least one occasional to symbolize their status as brother-sovereigns.
As a side note, that’s been taken as one of the biggest pieces of evidence for the homosexuality of Richard the Lionheart, proving that the basic intimacies of friendship between men were seen as homoerotic long before the word “bromance” became disgustingly ubiquitous.
Anyway, thinking about fictive kinship in the context of the anime I’m watching, as I sometimes do, brought to mind the idea of “fictive friendship” in The Wind Rises. Just as fictive kinship is kinship in the absence of its normal genealogical signifiers, namely blood or marriage ties, fictive friendship as I conceive of it is friendship in the absence of its normal social signifiers, namely personal contact and affection, Instead, it’s on the basis of shared interests or ambitions. Obviously, such a “friendship” would be entirely one-sided, but even that’s debatable (or at least negotiable) in The Wind Rises, bringing us back to where I started.
The Wind Rises begins in a dream. Jiro soars through the air in a birdlike craft, marveling at the joy and ease of flight, until latent anxiety about his poor vision turns the dream into a nightmare of falling. Even though the scene seems straightforward in its content and meaning, the fact that the movie begins with it serves to establish that dreams in The Wind Rises are fundamentally aspirational but also fundamentally limited. When, only a handful of seconds later, Jiro receives an Italian magazine on aviation and dreams of meeting one of its subjects, both of these characteristics are borne out. Caproni appears to Jiro in a fleet of his own planes, first speaking in Italian but then switching to Japanese, which the actual Caproni almost certainly didn’t know, when Jiro informs him that this is his dream. Caproni says that it is his dream, too, or maybe that they are both sharing it. They discuss Jiro’s future, while airplanes behind them soar and then are shot down, before Caproni recommends the dignity of the engineer over the pilot. In response to Jiro’s immediate enthusiasm, Caproni tells him, “Airplanes are beautiful dreams,” in part meaning that they’re aspirational but limited.
I really can’t get over the idea that Horikoshi Jiro became an aeronautical engineer because an Italian nobleman suggested it to him in a dream, like a talking dog telling Homer Simpson to find his soulmate, but that’s the scenario that the movie floats. Honestly, even though the real-life Jiro never mentioned Caproni once in his memoirs, I like it more than a little, the idea that Jiro formed a bond with a real or imagined Caproni and used that for inspiration and encouragement in his own life. That’s mostly what I mean by “fictive friendship,” which The Wind Rises continues to support in later scenes.
When Jiro is helping his colleague at Tokyo Imperial University clean up after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, he finds a postcard of Caproni with his ill-fated Caproni Ca.60 Noviplano. The movie then cuts to that plane collapsing upon takeoff, while Caproni rages in the foreground. Later, scenes like that one will convey Jiro’s anxiety about his own designs, but this is the only time that he has a vision about someone else. A psychic bond? His own imagination? Miyazaki isn’t interested in clarifying.
Afterward, Jiro dreams mostly of airplanes, whether they are flying or crashing. On his way back from Germany, Caproni has to meet him on the train personally to invite him to dream about the count’s final flight. Unlike their previous dream, this one is crowded with people, whom Caproni identifies as his employees and their families. They are all part of the dream of flight that Jiro shares with Caproni, a dream that Caproni now believes (or perhaps has always believed) to be cursed. Seemingly in response, Jiro calls into being his own fantasy of a perfect aircraft, which Caproni praises before announcing his own retirement, saying to Jiro, “Artists are only creative for ten years. We engineers are no different. Live your ten years to the full.” An odd statement coming from a famed director with a thirty-year career, but in the context of the movie and its themes, it works. The dream that the two engineers have shared is now Jiro’s alone to realize.
And realize it Jiro does. The movie ends somewhat abruptly with the successful test flight of the Mitsubishi A5M, the world’s first shipboard monoplane, because Jiro chooses to turn away from his celebrating colleagues towards an empty field, much like the one where he first met Caproni in his dream. As if summoned, Caproni strides out to meet him and asks him how he spent his ten years. Jiro shows him the Mitsubishi A6M, his life’s work if you don’t count the J2M and the A7M, and Caproni remarks again about the curse of humanity’s dream of flight, pointing out how “the sky swallows them up.” He then invites Jiro to his house to meet his wife and have some tea, at which point the movie immediately ends.
It’s a strange place where Jiro meets Caproni a third time for their final conversation. Rather than the pristine fields of previous dreams, this one is covered in the wreckage of aircraft, presumably destroyed by war, while endless squadrons fly above in patterns reminiscent of the “graveyard above the clouds” in Porco Rosso, an older Miyazaki movie that has a lot in common with The Wind Rises. It almost feels like an afterlife for planes and their creators, where they can continue to exist without the selfish and messy demands of the real world bringing them to ruin. Is this where Jiro has already met Caproni, once empty but now full of their mistakes and regrets? Again, Miyazaki doesn’t let us know.
Even more, we’re left to wonder at the nature of the relationship between Jiro and Caproni. Is there a genuine connection between these two men, despite living on opposite sides of the globe and never meeting once? Does the common ground of their hopes and dreams create a space where they can still meet, even just through the proxy of their ideas? Is it correct to call them friends? I don’t know, I’ve stretched everything as far as it’ll go here. “Fictive friendship” is maybe just a fanciful phrase for a common phenomenon known as a “friend crush.” I know I get them for certain personalities on the internet, especially writers and podcasters, whose work I know and respect a great deal.
Does The Wind Rises represent Miyazaki’s pre-internet conception of such a thing? I think so. Jiro and Caproni meet in a way that we aren’t able to acknowledge as true social contact but that still creates a connection between them, just like Miyazaki’s work has reached countless others in the artistic world and led them to make him part of their lives and work, however unilaterally. I think that Miyazaki is aware of all this and lets it show in The Wind Rises, where having someone as a hero is not about inferiority and deference, but about the audacity and tenacity of forming a bond with someone you don’t even know in order to push yourself to meet them, any way you can.
By meeting with Caproni in his dreams, Jiro makes his dreams come true. That’s quite a statement on the power of dreams, right?