By: Sarah Shachat (Two Beers) –
Jet packs, giant bugs, and traveling swordsmen aren’t always what you think of when it comes to an animation studio’s proof of concept, but they totally should be. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind may not technically be the first Studio Ghibli picture and it certainly isn’t Hayao Miyazaki’s first cell-drawn rodeo; but it is the film that helped solidify the core themes, idiosyncratic characters, imaginative scale, and impressive style which color the studio’s output.
Based on Miyazaki’s own post-apocalyptic Manga series, the film’s heroine, Princess Nausicaä, is, oddly enough, based in part on a Japanese short story from the 12th century, with a healthy helping of the character in The Odyssey who shares her name. The mishmash of traditions, genres, and tendencies leads, as it so often does, to a tale that feels both new and resonant.
The world as we know it has been laid waste, giving rise to toxic jungles and giant insectoid mutant monsters called Ohmu. A small valley remains peaceful and verdant, protected by its princess and counseled by the formidable traveler-swordsman, Lord Yupa. Though not, obviously, for long. Just as Nausicaä begins to find a way to communicate with the Ohmu, an aircraft from a rival, militaristic state crashes in the valley. The calamity leads to the arrival of an army that seeks to weaponize pretty much everything, building-sized trilobites included; and that showdown, as well as a subsequent discovery about what the jungle and Ohmu are actually doing to the environment, is consuming. The question is, will it consume Nausicaä?
You can’t say Miyazaki didn’t come swinging right out of the gate. Everything that defines him – the ecological message, intricate world and creature design, arch mythos, and a protagonist who gets by on equal parts empathy and skill – is already here. This is, in any medium, absurdly impressive. The scale is very large in terms of all of these things, as well. It’s to the point where the Corruption Man Hath Wrought Upon The World and the Princess Savior are TV Tropic-enough to turn someone off the story. The movie is only a couple stops removed from the old Greek myths, where Anger or Despair or Memory would play an active part.
The choice is deliberate, and the film’s tone proudly unsubtle. Miyazaki does his characterization – and sometimes its lack – consciously, in service of a coherent vision. If you don’t like it, if you think it’s too much too fast, or the movie’s archetypes are sins… that’s on you, not him. This is a whole vision, a vehicle for feeling about giganimous things like nature and peace. Nausicaä is a representative – not just for her people, but for any feeling person.
Regardless of how the story lands, the design of the film is compelling. There’s great density and alien textures, the fluid melding of steampunk and feudalism, which all make the world of the Valley of the Wind a kind of future steampunk Narnia. It’s almost as wonderful and just as easy to get lost in. Equally strange, allegorical, and beguiling is Nausicaä herself. Her earnestness, curiosity, and commitment to peace feel fresh even among Miyazaki heroines. You can’t quite touch her, and the story never feels more-than-fable. But maybe the stakes do have to be ramped up this high for a us to feel the weight of the decision when any person in a position of power avoids the pitfalls of violence, and pays the price for compassion.
Nausicaä of The Valley of The Wind is a deep well. And it’s one from which Studio Ghibli, in more than one respect, is still drawing. The film is a must for fans of the studio, and a damned fine myth for those who like their sci-fi blended with fantasy and a little ecological compassion, BAMF female characters, or funny hats. It’s great for kids of any age, and its lesson – that thoughtfulness and heart can open up doors machine guns and tanks never will – is one that’s only going to get more relevant, not less.
Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind (1984) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever anything crashes.
Take a Drink: in the sub, whenever anyone yells “HIME!”
Take a Drink: in the dub, whenever Edward James Olmos is definitely not Admiral Adama.
Take a Drink: for wardrobe changes.
Do a Shot: when Nausicaä explains why humans can’t have nice things.
Finish Your Drink: for the littlest Ohmu.