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Based on a manga that the anime legend Hayao Miyazaki wrote himself, the post-apocalyptical fantasy Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, is one of his first movies. Though Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was released before the foundation of Studio Ghibli, it is the first movie in the Studio Ghibli collection.
Set 1000 years after a devastating war, the world has been turned into an uninhabitable wasteland, covered in toxic jungles filled with mutant insects known as the Sea of Decay. The Sea of Decay is spreading, taking over the few remaining bits of habitable land, pushing humanity further to the brink.
Nausicaä is a young princess of a peaceful village in the Valley of the Wind. A skilled pilot and guider who has the power to talk to the insects. Her village faces the threat of the encroaching environmental destruction and warring nations who use the green valley as their battleground.
Miyazaki’s directional and thematic hallmarks are present in this movie: strong female characters and pro-environmental and anti-war messages. Our hero is a nature loving, pacifist who refuses to use violence, no matter what the situation is. Nausicaä is so devoted to her beliefs she will save people who are trying to conquer her people and will not harm any creature.
Before Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was released in 1984 it was endorsed by the World Wildlife Fund because of its environmental themes. There is the message of protecting and studying nature, that Nausicaä does everything in her power to protect the green world of her valley and seeks to preserve life in whatever form it takes – having the view that if people leave nature alone then nature will leave us alone and that we need to respect our relationship with nature. Considering the efforts that Nausicaä goes through to save the insects, you can see why the WWF praised this movie.
Miyazaki tackles a number of environmental issues in his movie, looking at nuclear and chemical destruction and desertification. The cause of the destruction was a war, which strikes a nerve, with nuclear and chemical warfare being real possibilities in the 1980s. The effects are turning the air unbreathable for humans, showing the threat to life and the environment from nuclear destruction and pollution. The spores that are created in the forest and makes the air toxic falls like snow or ash from nuclear fallout. The spreading of the Sea of Decay turning good land into something unusable is similar to desertification in America and North Africa, where the desert is growing in those regions, destroying farm land.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind uses the Gaia Theory as a part of its story, that everything in nature is linked as an organism, that the planet itself is a living being. The planet is attempting to heal itself from the damage man has done and the insects acting as an immune system that protects the toxic jungle if threatened.
Miyazaki is noted for having anti-war views, with his politics reflected in movies like Howl’s Moving Castle and The Wind Rises. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind also took this route: a war being the cause of the environmental destruction. The world Nausicaä inhabits is still affected by war, with nations at conflict with each other over resources and has a devastating effect on the land and people as Nausicaä’s homeland is occupied by a much stronger force.
Many of Miyazaki’s movies have strong female characters in the lead and obviously has one in the form of Nausicaä, a kind, brave leader who would do everything she can to preserve life. Her story brilliantly follows The Hero with a Thousand Faces template, a young character who lives in a peaceful place has, adventure forced upon her when her home is attacked and she has to leave to find a way to save her people. Nausicaä is the messiah figure of her world as she uses all her intelligence, powers and skills to save both her people and the ohma.
As well as Nausicaä, the movie has other strong female characters. The leader of the Tolmekia, Kushana is a warrior woman in gold armor who commands with strength and shown to be highly resourceful in any situation. Kushana could have been an evil caricature, but has her own reasons for invading and does what she thinks is the best to protect the world from the Sea of Decay. Minor female characters also play a vital role in Nausicaä’s adventure. But if you happen to be a chauvinist pig who does not like to see strong female characters, then there are men who partake in the action, like Lord Yupa.
Like other Miyazaki movies the animation is fantastic and he creates a brilliant fantasy world, mixing a medieval world with elements of steampunk and World War Two technology. Nausicaä’s village is a peaceful place with a castle and people dressed in medieval style clothing, yet they use firearms; the armies of Tolmekia are dressed like knights, yet also have tanks and airships. The movie has excellent aerial sequences and dog battles with the airships having a look influenced by World War Two bombers.
Miyazaki also creates some great landscapes, both the beauty of the green valley and the blue toxic jungles. It is grand in scale with wonderful designs of creatures, buildings and vehicles. The look of the jungle and the flying creatures strongly influenced James Cameron’s world of Avatar. Details of characters are lost in wide shots as well as objects in the distance: but this was a movie made on a $1 Million budget, so it is easy to put it down more due to lack of funds than a lack of ambition or talent from the production team.
Miyazaki is a remarkable talent and many of his movies are classics. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind can easily stand alongside movies like Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, showing off Miyazaki’s trademark animation style. Also present are his themes of feminism, environmentalism and pacifism and the film sets up complex characterisation and world building. A treat for children and adults.