Special Christmas Review of Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind (1989)

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Director and Screenwriter: Hayao Miyasaki

The world around her is desolate. A gas mask covers her face. Nausicaa gracefully soars through the air on a glider. She enters a cave where there is a giant shell of an Ohmu.  It looks like it belongs in a sea bed, domes adorn it as the spirals of the shell slot in on themselves for movement. But it is still, hollow. Whatever had lived inside had long gone.

She climbs to the top, carefully chipping away at one of the domes until finally it comes loose. Nausicaa spins with the dome above her head, a see through umbrella in the cave. She stands above the shell of the Ohmu as white poisonous pollen falls suddenly like snow.  It covers the dome with Nausicaa inside as she rests and waits for it to settle.

In awe of the beauty of the toxic snow.

1*wrdzyZry-R3A1lJZ4Gt46wNausicaa steets away an Ohmu

The origin of Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind comes from the poem: Homer’s Odyssey.  Within this story Nausicaa is a mother figure who guides Homer in his journey. On leaving her, Homer recounts their meeting, mourning the woman that he had left behind. It is one of the first stories of unrequited love. Miyazaki, fascinated with this character, wanted to delve further on who Nausicaa was and chose to expand on a character so briefly touched on in Homer’s Odyssey.

Miyazaki’s cinematic story however, is more straightforward.  Especially compared to his manga in which he based the film on, and which was still an ongoing series as the film was released.  To create a tangible narrative parts were cut, a 7 volume manga written over 12 years would have lasted over 90 minutes and would have a presented a story that would have been too complicated to digest for the average cinema goer.

Nausicaa is unapologetically fierce, strong willed and is revered by her people.  She cares for the Ohmu, and has a unique ability to communicate with them. Throughout, the Ohmu are often dangerously close to invading colonies, or close to becoming violent when threatened, but while most colonies instincts are to attack or to retreat Nausicaa guides them to safety. She understands their panic, their loneliness.

Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind is inspired by the Japanese folktale:  The Princess who Loved Insects. A tale of a girl who wished to frolic naked in nature and didn’t care for the conventions of tradition, too adventurous and wild to ever want become a bride. The ‘Insect Princess’ was a woman who was happy enough to spend her time watching the wings break free of a caterpillar’s cocoon rather than contemplate marriage or to settle down in mediocrity.

It’s understood Miyazaki wanted to cast a female lead was due to the complexity of Nausicaa.  The 1980’s lead male was a fight-now-talk-later macho man, a far cry from the compassionate Nausicaa who would prefer to understand her opponents that simply kill them.  A contrast then to the lead antagonist of the film Kashana, a woman who fits the mould of the 1980’s fight-now-talk-later macho attitude. Kushana is the general of Torumekia. It’s when Torumekia declares war on the other nations that their plan is to utilise an old destructive power, a giant controlled by a mysterious stone that the true cause of peril shows itself.  The language used throughout of a force of destruction that should never be used again is clearly representative of Hiroshima.

So with an impending attack of the Ohmu that is coincidentally brought about by the abduction of a young Ohmu by the Torumekia army that Kushana has enough justification for raising the giant. With several roars, large terrifying blasts annihilate hundreds of thousand of Ohmu at once. However, Kashana rushed to wake the giant, and in its weakened state it crumbles. Its flesh becomes sand as its bones pierce out with a final flicker of light.  It’s hard not to compare this to the real life warmongering of the Bush/Blair era where Weapons of Mass destruction were allegedly found in Iraq to justify war. Of course history made it clear no weapons were really found, and it was merely a reason to appease the appetite of warmongers. It’s interesting to see the similarities between these events despite Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind predating them by fifteen years.

nausicaa-27-the-giant-warrior-attempts-to-raise-itself-at-kushanas-commandThe destructive giant takes aim on the Ohmu

Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind is a non-canon Studio Ghibli. Released shortly before the studio was established.  Created by the studio Topcraft, the same studio that created the Hobbit, it brought along a lot of the animators from Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind onto Laputa: Castle in the Sky, the first film of Studio Ghibli. It may be non-canon but it’s as close to being a Ghibli film as one can be without simultaneously not being one.  With this aside, it still creates one of the most well rounded and relatable heroines in its back catalogue along with one of the most realised dystopian worlds not only within the Studio Ghibli universe but in science fiction as a genre.

The best science fiction stories are those that manage to stay relevant years from when it was released.  George Orwell’s 1984 remains relevant each day with online monitoring, Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World took on new layers when its drug Soma arguably foreshadows the escapison of Social Media, and Nausicaa Valley of the Wind, released in 1984, echoes our own struggles of environmental catastrophe.

As mentioned, and like other Studio Ghibli films, Nausicaa shows how the Japanese consciousness is still burdened by the tragedy of Hiroshima.  It has a similar message to Grave of the Fireflies by emphasising the horrors of war and destruction, whilst Grave of the Fireflies showed the realities of war, Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind chooses to show the the dystopia.  Along with Laputa: Castle in the Sky they act as a companion piece that showcases both the destruction of war and the balance of environment. Interesting then, that this first Non-canon Ghibli film manages to hold all three films as a joint set, to be left out of canon removes the bridge that showcases the similarities of all three.

Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind has an environmental and political message.  The world is in ruins, the decaying trees have withered away and become sand, crystalised underground and the Ohmu have become the guardians against mankind, who were the likely the catalyst towards its initial destruction while the world is hellbent of creating conflict rather than looking for peace.  It’s a message that’s clear in today’s environment. We will likely never have our own Nausicaa that will lead us into a utopian paradise. We can only learn from Nausicaa’s compassion, or to learn from Kashana’s mistakes.

Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind is a beautiful film. Both in terms of narrative and its visuals. It acts as the stepping stone for all future Studio Ghibli films to come. Not only confident in its message and direction but also in its identity.  It is a catalyst and an incubation chamber for future creations. It builds on the strong female character infrequently used in its era and never shies away from complicated political issues, all the while drawing from several sources of mythology to create something unique.  Ultimately it is the most integral Studio Ghibli film there is and has the blueprints of its offspring throughout. While Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind warns of dystopia, the rewards of viewing it are paradise.
10 out of 10 Totoros

10 totoroz

2 thoughts on “Special Christmas Review of Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind (1989)

  1. A good excuse as any to review Nausicaa – I suppose it doesn’t sit comfortably within the rest of the canon in a chronological order, however I was pleased to read you noted that actually Nausicaa so deftly weaves the majority of themes so common in the rest of the Ghibli catalogue.

    I didn’t particularly agree with your interpretation of the Torumekia goading the Ohm into war. I have never really found enough evidence in the film for this. At it’s core, I think that the majority of the humans who are left are – with reason – scared of the Toxic Jungle, and assume that the Ohm are bringers of bad omens. It’s logical (we wouldn’t think so) then that their goal is to destroy the Ohm using a weapon of mass destruction that they’ve unearthed. Evidently there isn’t enough power left and they don’t know how to use it, so it crumbles away ineffectively.

    I think you would need significantly more evidence to tie it to the Bush/Blair administration and their approach to war. The Ohm are obviously enraged by having their young kidnapped – it’s a tactical move used by Kashana in order to get them all in one place so it’s easier to kill them all. They’re not the enemy, but humans see the insects as their enemy. I’m not really sure why, beyond the fact the insects eat their crops, when it’s the spores and the toxic jungle which pose the biggest threat to humanity.

    Nevertheless it’s commendable that you chose to talk about something else other than the environmental messages that Nausicaa decides to focus on. I liked the tidbit about the animators having worked on the 1980’s Hobbit animated film too. Now that I think about it I can see a lot of similarities in the style.

    I also wanted to pick up on your comment about the seven volumes of manga – if they were in a film, yes, it would be too long. I’m unsure the plot would be too convoluted for an average audience, though. We’ve all been brought up with film so we’re all quite skilled at reading film even if it’s only subconsciously. With that said, it’s films with alternative and non-straightforward methods of storytelling which are the most confusing. You don’t get a lot of them in mainstream (e.g. Melancholia) because they’re definitely difficult for the average audience to digest. I wouldn’t say Nausicaa wouldn’t have at least surface level to enjoy. Perhaps Miyasaki’s last film is more difficult, as it involves dream sequences and covers a large portion of time in the film, but beyond this I’m not sure how much you can claim that Nausicaa would have been too complex.

    Looking forward to the next review. ^_^

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    • I wrote it for someone I lost this year as a Christmas present. It was a last request.

      It was interesting to see how the Ghibli identity so fully formed at this point. Miyazaki clearly had a vision from the very start. Makes me want to visit some of his earlier works.

      What you’re describing there is fearmogering and could easily be placed into the modern era with immigration, the Ohmu are the immigrants and the toxic jungle is the land we don’t understand. They must be dangerous, right? That’s my thought process behind it. I’m not saying you’re right and I’m not saying you’re not wrong.

      I’d have gone into it more regarding the Bush/Blair era however I’d already written more on this review that I had with any other, and it felt like a can of worms, a can that I’m not sure many would be that fascinated reading about.

      It was a multi dimensional film so it was easy to discuss more than the environmental impact. Most interestingly, you really get the feel or Miyazaki’s broad reading background as his inspirations come from everywhere. It’s impressive

      Complex maybe the wrong word? But perhaps a better one would be too grandiose? I’ve not read the Manga so I can’t really have a solid opinion but my initial thoughts were akin to the hobbit films. 1 is fine, 2 is a stretch, and 3 is too many. It’s probably best it stayed as a singular film.

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