Japanese Title: Kaze no tani no Naushika
Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki
Produced By: Isao Takahata
Originally Released: March 11, 1984
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind WAS NOT made by Studio Ghibli. It’s important to get that out of the way. Many people consider it a Ghibli film. In fact, there are those out there that you could ask “What is your favorite Ghibli film?” and they would say Nausicaa. Bzzzt! Wrong! Nausicaa IS the catalyst for everything Ghibli. Not only did it allow for the formation of Ghibli, but all of its themes and many of the questions it raises about man vs. nature as well as environmentalism vs. industrialism are common themes that will go on to shape the world of Ghibli. For now, though, Ghibli is non-existent. All that exists is Hayao Miyazaki, an unfinished manga and the will to turn it into a film. Have I set the scene for you? Alright, let’s continue.
In 1982, Miyazaki began working on a manga for Tokuma Shoten Publishing’s Animage magazine. The publication was mainly aimed at analyzing the trends of the anime market of the time. He signed on to create Nausicaa for the magazine on the condition that he could have full control of the script. In the early days of the manga, chapters were released frequently. Miyazaki, out of work at the time, was producing content faster than anyone expected. The success of this new series for Animage magazine was huge. So much so, that they agreed to finance a feature-length film of the project. To do this, they employed animators on a ‘per cel’ basis which meant that they weren’t on contract but rather being paid for each cel of animation they produced. This meant that costs were kept to a relative low.
The production, coordinated mostly by Miyazaki, went at an insane pace. Between the conception of the idea and the release of the film, only ten months actually passed. During this time, Miyazaki would have to re-focus the film and, ironically, halt work on the manga that had made it possible. He would eventually finish the manga years later. During the process, he befriended Joe Hisaishi, the composer of the film. This friendship would become one fated by the stars as Hisaishi would go on to do the music for ALL of Miyazaki’s films. Considering the low budget and tight time constraints, you can imagine the studio’s excitement when Nausicaa took Japan by storm.
Before we get into the actually analysis of the film, I want to take a moment to speak to the controversy surrounding this film’s release in the United States as it seems to come up in every bit of research I’ve found. Many times throughout the anime story, the United States film distributors took it upon themselves to alter the films, which of course Miyazaki was firmly against. This film actually made Miyazaki take a hard and fast rule for distribution: NO ALTERATIONS. Nausicaa was released a year after its Japanese debut in the US with over 20 minutes of footage removed from the film. Furthermore, it had been recut, re-edited and given a poor quality dub. To top it off, it was renamed Warriors of the Wind and the titular character’s name was changed to Zandra. From here on out, Miyazaki would not tolerate changes to his films. For this article, we watched the full version of the film in Japanese, changing the audio track to English only occasionally to listen in on the star studded English speaking cast.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind takes place 1,000 years after an apocalyptic event know as the Seven Days of Fire. This event marked the days when the Warrior Giants basically ruined the Earth and destroyed Civilization. In their wake, they left behind a vast toxic jungle, a Sea of Corruption. This forest is teaming with huge giant insects, particularly one species which takes center focus known as the Ohm. A prophecy foretells of a blue clothed savior with will lead the people to pure lands. Our story essentially begins with the crash of a cargo aircraft from the Tolmekian Kingdom. Unfortunately, this ship is carrying the embryo of one of the Warrior Giants. And doubly bad is the fact that the Tolmekian troops descend on The Valley of the Wind, kill Nausicaa, the princess’, father the King, and vow to destroy the forest with the Warrior Giant. As Nausicaa works to stop them, she, along with a boy named Asbel, from another warring kingdom known as Pejite, discover a clean world filled with viable soil underneath the Sea of Decay. It becomes clear that the poisonous forest is actually cleansing the land. Now its up to Nausicaa to stop two warring kingdoms, as well as the Ohm, from destroying the entire world before it’s too late.
If the story sounds complex, it’s because it is. This isn’t a straight linear story like what we’ve come to be used to in the Vault Disney series. While there is a catalyst, a mid-point and a climax, characters are really driving the story here in crazy ways. Asbel starts his story attacking the Tolmekian ships, and it would be easy to see him as a rogue or a bad guy, but actually he turns out to be a really good character who is just trying to save his people. Princess Kushana, leader of the “Let’s use the warrior to burn it all” method is actually the villain, but also plays as a very complex character in the fact that she wants to end the insects for taking away her arm. The whole film seems to play with this idea of ebb and flow.
Take the central theme of environmentalism, played by Nausicaa, versus Industrialism, played by Kushana. It seems simple enough, but consider that Nausicaa’s people are also industrial. She even rides a machine, her air glider. There’s this balance that must be kept in order for everything to co-exist, but finding that balance is easier said than done. The idea then becomes more about ideals. These two women are looking for the same thing. They both want to end the spread of the Sea of Decay so their people can thrive. Yet, their actions and the way that they go about this task are what divides them. Nausicaa seeks to learn and to use knowledge to stop the Sea by understanding it. Kushana wants to burn it all down. They both seek the same endpoint, but the means of delivery couldn’t be more different. Even in this first film of our new series, I found myself taking notes, trying to understand where each character was coming from. What were their motivations? The thing is, they all make very appropriate decisions and moves in the story based on these motivations and that is what makes Nausicaa an example of superb story-telling.
Not only is it an incredibly deep and formidable story to digest, but the production value is through the roof. The animation is sharp and the characters seem to live and breathe. This doesn’t feel like a cartoon or a fantasy. It feels so real. A special shout-out must be thrown to Joe Hisaishi for what may now be one of my favorite musical scores EVER. The sound of this film is futuristic yet fully 80’s. Synthesizers mix with sweeping movements of an orchestra to create something that I frequently stopped the film to ponder. To say that this film both looks, sounds and feels different than anything we’ve watched before on this blog is a gross understatement.
Before we close out, I want to touch on the feministic value of this film. I often say that Disney seems to really have to try to be feminist. And even when they try, it often feels forced. Four years before Ariel embodied the fact that girls need men to save them in The Little Mermaid, Nausicaa was showing that women are extremely powerful and courageous and can affect positive change in the world. This doesn’t feel like a male or female driven world. The fact that the two sides of this political debate are both powerful women is a big plus, but at no point did I think that because this was a film about two women with opposing values that this was a film primarily for girls. In fact, if I had to name an audience for Nausicaa I would simply say that it was made for people who like really amazing films. The point is, I’ve talked A LOT about how to write female characters who seem real and strong and on par with the way that male characters are written and this film does it beautifully.
I could go on about this film. Dissecting Nausicaa has proven to be the most formidable film I’ve written about for this site. That’s not an exaggeration. To think that this is just the beginning makes me feel a bit terrified, but I am also exhilarated at knowing there is far more to come. The themes here will branch out and become everything we know as quintessentially Ghibli. From strange flying machines to the idea that balance is needed for nature and machine to co-exist, it all started here. Nausicaa was SO successful that it opened the doors for Miyazaki and Takahata to start Studio Ghibli. This film marks the beginning of our story, and even now I’m itching to see what lies in Chapter Two.
NEXT UP: Laputa: Castle in the Sky