Japanese Nationalists Attack Animation Master's New Film

Hayao Miyazaki, the renowned animator of critically acclaimed films like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle, is courting controversy in Japan and drawing the ire of the aggressively nationalist supporters of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Miyazaki's latest movie, Kaze Tachinu (which will be released in English as The Wind Rises), his first since Ponyo, five years ago, is a marked departure from his usual stories about spirits and magic. The new film is a fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi, the inventor of Japan's World War II workhorse fighter, the Mitsubishi Zero. Japan's role in World War II has always been a fraught topic, but has been a point of contention since Abe's election (or rather, reelection; he was prime minister briefly in 2007) earlier this year. Abe has tried to reframe Japan's role in World War II: He's questioned "whether it is proper to say that Japan ‘invaded' its neighbors" and questioned the 1995 official apology to "comfort women," the conscription prostitutes provided to Japanese troops during the war. Abe is currently pushing for a revision of the Japanese constitution that would not only ease the country's prohibition on military aggression, but would also enshrine the emperor as the head of state and compel "respect" for symbols of Japan's pre-war heyday.

Miyazaki knew that his new film would stir mixed feelings. In fact, he welcomed it. "[A]t a time when social systems and ways of living are going through huge changes," he told Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, "it's impossible for anime alone to remain the same as before and produce fantasies. It is time for us to move into a new direction."

His animation company, Studio Ghibli, released a promotional issue of its Neppu magazine for the film, in which the 72-year-old director reminisced about growing up in the shadow of Japan's defeat and how it shaped his own beliefs about his country. "If I had been born a bit earlier, I would have been a gunkoku shonen (Militarist Youth)," Miyazaki writes, according to a translation by Matthew Penney at Japan Focus. But instead, he grew up in a family in which his father went from building airplane components during the war to opening a jazz club to cater to American soldiers during the postwar occupation. Removed from the "hysteria" of the war years, Miyazaki writes he "had a strong feeling in my childhood that we had ‘fought a truly stupid war'."

"It goes without saying that I am opposed to revising the constitution," he writes. "That is something that should never be done."

Kotaku notes that his comments have drawn backlash online from Japanese nationalists. "I don't get this old coot," one commenter writes; others single him out as "anti-Japanese," another called for the movie to be banned. The controversy hasn't hurt ticket sales, though. Variety reports that it opened atop the Japanese box office this past weekend, setting it on track to be the most successful film of the year in Japan.

Studio Ghibli


Russian Media: Snowden Checked Out of Hotel

For exactly a month, NSA leaker Edward Snowden has sat holed up in a Moscow airport, caught in the purgatory of its so-called "transit zone." Now, he's gone.

Or at least that's what RIA-Novosti is reporting. "If I'm not mistaken he is not here," a hotel employee told the state-run news agency.

If Snowden has in fact left the Sheremetyevo airport, his departure would mark an appropriate end to the media spectacle that has played out inside its terminals. As Snowden has fed documents to his preferred media outlets and the world marveled at the true capabilities of the NSA, the man behind those revelations has stayed almost entirely out of the spotlight. He provided one interview to the Guardian at an early stage in his saga, and then, promptly disappeared.

With the exception of a meeting with human rights groups, Snowden has managed to utterly elude the combined efforts of the global media. False rumors that he had boarded an Aeroflot flight to Havana, sent the media scrambling to buy tickets on the flight. Camera crews dreamed of interviewing him aboard the flight, but his seat remained empty, leaving the disappointed reporters with a pointless one way flight to Havana -- one of the few that doesn't serve alcohol. At one point, the Associated Press sent a reporter to Moscow without a Russian visa for the express purpose of getting himself detained in the hotel where Snowden was allegedly hiding. But Snowden was nowhere to be found, and the reporter's only real accomplishment was to get into arguments with his jailer at the hotel. When Snowden finally appeared in public to speak with human rights activists, journalists weren't invited and were left to deduce what was said from second-hand accounts and tweets from the meeting.

Now, the world's most elusive celebrity seems to have checked out of his hotel and managed to continue his incredible streak of passing unnoticed under prying eyes. Consider for a moment the number of authorities Snowden has now managed to deceive and evade: the NSA, Booz Allen Hamilton, the combined forces of U.S. law enforcement and the State Department, and the international press corps in Hong Kong and Moscow.

So why did he ever leave? Well, for one thing the room service is terribly expensive, according to the AP:

Buffalo mozzarella and pesto dressing starter? 720 roubles (about $20).

Ribeye steak: 1,500 roubles (about $50).

Bottle of Brunello di Montalcino red wine: 5,280 roubles ($165).

A miniature bottle of Hennessy XO cognac: 2,420 roubles ($80).

Or maybe Snowden has grown tired of being holed up in a hotel that functions more like a jail for visa-less travelers than the luxury accommodation its room service makes it out to be. "Should you wish to see the full range of facilities offered by our hotel during your next stay, we strongly recommend you to get a visa before flying to Moscow," a sign at the capsule hotel reads.

Or does Snowden even exist? Out of sight like Schrödinger's cat, he occupies a strange metaphysical space to his global audience, dead and alive to us all at once.