Project Ghibli #6: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Original Release: 11th March 1984
Director(s): Hayao Miyazaki
Producer(s): Isao Takahata
Screenwriter(s): Hayao Miyazaki
Alternative Title(s):

We’ve had a busy couple of weeks, but time to pick up where we left off with the next instalment in our series. We’re entering more recognisable territory here with Nausicaä being affectionately considered the beginning of Studio Ghibli, despite being released before its official founding a year later.

Following the release of Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro with Tokyo Movie Shinsha in 1979, Miyazaki was involved in several projects including Little Nemo (Takahata was also involved in the project which was eventually released in 1989 as Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland under different Directors), Rowlf (1981, an adaptation of Richard Coben’s comic that was ultimately aborted), and the Sherlock Hound the Detective (1982) television series.

In 1981, the August issue of Animage magazine dedicated a feature to Miyazaki which led to his creation of a manga series for the publication, entitled Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1982 – 1994). Inspired by the twelfth century Heian period fictional story The Princess Who Loved Insects, and the mercury poisoning of Minamata Bay, Kyūshū, the manga was a commercial success and Miyazaki left Tokyo Movie Shinsha in 1983 to join Takahata and colleagues from The Little Norse Prince at Top Craft to produce a theatrical version.

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Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind tells the story of humanity’s struggle to survive in the toxic wasteland left following ‘the seven days of fire’, an apocalyptic war that decimated all industry and left earth’s surface covered in a poisonous, growing jungle known as the ‘Sea of Decay’. The titular heroine, Nausicaä, is Princess of the Valley of the Wind, a resourceful, skilful leader and well-loved by her people. She is something of a horticulturalist-cum-chemist, hoping to unlock the secrets of the Sea of Decay so that her people may live in harmony with nature.

Her people live a humble but happy life, farming the valley, while protected from the toxic forest spores by favourable sea-borne winds, however this is interrupted by the arrival of the Tolmekians, a military-state, intent on reviving a Giant Warrior, one of the weapons of mass destruction from the Seven Days of Fire. The peaceful Valley is caught between the military might of Tolmekia and the desperation of rival country, Pejite.

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Nausicaä is a beautiful film and the animation is simply stunning. The attention to detail of the forest and its inhabitants is impressive. Falling spores are beautiful but deadly, and there are insects of all kinds, including the  impressive Ohmu, which instil both fear and wonder in the film’s characters. The sweeping shots of the Valley of the Wind, too, are gorgeous and I especially like the animation of the windmills.

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Miyazaki shows his love of flying machines throughout the film, from the big, polluting war-machines of the Tolmekians, to the nimble, delicate gliders of the Valley people. The opening scenes showing Nausicaä’s skill as a glider pilot she swoops around to soothe an enraged Ohmu are breathtaking. Similarly, the charging of the rampaging Ohmu is fast-paced and intense.

As Miyazaki’s second feature film, this is his first with a strong female lead but not his last. Nausicaä herself drives the film forward and, when all around her seem to give in to fear, retains her strength, open-mindedness, and optimism. Her Tolmekian counterpart, Kushana, has a similar strength of character, but where Nausicaä is the compassionate voice of the film, Kushana is blinded by her uncompromising hatred and ignorance. Their opposing views repeatedly clash.

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Supporting characters are also similarly matched. Lord Yupa, visiting the Valley of the Wind at the start of the film, is revealed to be a terrifyingly able swordsman. However, where he exudes a gentle nature and exercises disciplined self-control, his counterpart Officer Kurotowa, Kushana’s second in command, is an envious, impulsive character, always looking to indulge his own selfish desires.

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The themes here are those found in many Ghibli films, key among them being living in harmony with nature and a strong, understated, anti-war message. Miyazaki has been quite politically outspoken throughout his career and his films reflect his anti-militaristic, pacifist views. Despite his love of aircraft, in particular, including fighter aircraft, he admires the craftsmanship and design, rather than the intended use. Nausicaä is a film which explores this idealism, how the best intentions can be twisted by human desires, and ultimately how we can seek to create and heal, when all around us seek to destroy.

Next up: we go in search of the last floating city, hidden up there, somewhere, in the clouds

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