In July 2023, "Barbenheimer" swept the nation, reaching audiences including your Facebook-loving aunties. As expected, I was an Oppenheimer boy, and watched the biopic first. Set against the backdrop of World War II, “Oppenheimer” delves into the moral dilemmas faced by J. Robert Oppenheimer, the brilliant mind behind the atomic bomb, and is a classic example of the tortured artist archetype reminiscent of Van Gogh and Cobain.
Soon after on vacation in Spain, I came across the thumbnail for "The Wind Rises" in the Spanish Netflix catalog (yes, they have all the Ghibli movies on Netflix there). Produced by Studio Ghibli and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, the film delves into the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the engineer responsible for the infamous Mitsubishi A6M Zero aircraft, which played a significant role in World War II's Pacific Theatre.
Maybe you can see where I’m going here. While "Oppenheimer" and "The Wind Rises" come from different cinematic backgrounds, they share a common theme. Both explore the lives of talented engineers who, due to the turmoil of World War II, find themselves obsessing over their inventions that just so happen to be weapons of destruction. Both films have also faced controversy for humanizing the creators of weapons without depicting the full impact of their inventions. This raises ethical questions about using such a significant and brutal historical period for entertainment and leads us to consider the messages they convey. Do they inadvertently glorify these creators or serve as cautionary tales? The intricate balance between genius and destruction, as well as the moral implications of harnessing creativity during wartime is sadly a timeless subject.
Serendipitously, “Oppenheimer” and “The Wind Rises” came out at pivotal points of my life. When “The Wind Rises” was released, I was in high school, determining which major to choose, and when “Oppenheimer” was released, I had recently(ish) graduated college with an engineering degree and started the beginnings of my career. As an engineer, I can’t say that I’ve ever had to face a dilemma as serious as Oppenheimer or Jiro, but I know that stories like these have had an impact on my career path and should be continued to be told.