Clearing the air on controversial film

Clearing the air on controversial film
Studio Ghibli's international division chief, Mr Geoffrey Wexler comments on the success of The Wind Rises, which tells the life of Jiro Horikoshi (above), a designer of Japan's World War II fighter planes.

Most of Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki's films are fantasies in which his imagination roams free and soars. Popular and acclaimed works such as Princess Mononoke (1997) and Spirited Away (2001) featured plucky heroines rising to challenges in gorgeously illustrated worlds.

His latest, too, is about taking flight - literally.

The Wind Rises fictionalises the life of Jiro Horikoshi, a designer of Japan's World War II fighter planes.

But the choice of subject matter has been the cause of some controversy, given the death and destruction wrought by planes such as the Mitsubishi A6M Zero.

Even within Japan, some have questioned why Miyazaki would make a flattering film about a man who built such machines.

The Wind Rises is showing in cinemas here.

Speaking to Life! at The Fullerton Hotel on Tuesday, Mr Geoffrey Wexler, Studio Ghibli's international division chief, notes that the reaction of those who have seen the movie is that it is "definitely not glorifying" war. The animation film studio was co-founded by Miyazaki in Tokyo in 1985.

"I hear more about the word 'controversy' than I actually hear controversy," adds Mr Wexler, 49, who was in Singapore on a business trip and to promote the film.

Asked if the film is a tough sell internationally, he points to how well it has been doing in various markets. In Japan, it was last year's top-grossing film, with takings of 11.6 billion yen (S$145 million).

He says: "There are plenty of people in Japan who are just as sad about the history as anywhere and seek a peaceful world."

It was "reasonably successful" in South Korea and did "quite well" in Hong Kong and Taiwan. It has "done well" in France and was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars.

"When people haven't seen it, they'll talk about what they think it's about. And when they see it, they don't walk out talking about war planes, they talk about pursuing your dreams, they talk about pursuing something beautiful."

There is also the fact that hindsight is always 20-20, he points out. "You can't choose the times into which you're born. We look back and know that when the war ended, we know that the war ended. The people living in the times don't know that so they're going to live their lives the best they can and pursue their dreams the best they can."

Besides the prickly topic, Studio Ghibli films can also be challenging to market because, as Mr Wexler admits, they are made for the Japanese market and not with an international audience in mind.

Miyazaki and fellow film-maker Isao Takahata founded Studio Ghibli "because they wanted to make the films they want to make".

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