In 1984, before the birth of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki directed an anime film called “Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind”. Here we find all the ingredients that would go on to be the bedrock of his work – the theme of being in balance with the earth, the motif of flight, and the confusion of human beings who wreak destruction in ignorance while trying to make things better. This is the second feature film Miyazaki directed, and it was after this film that the acclaimed Studio Ghibli was founded.
“Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind” is a post-apocalyptic tale about a world where people are struggling to hold on against the ‘Sea of Decay’, an ever-expanding poisonous area full of mutated giant insects. Nausicaa is a strongly empathic person, and through her compassion for all life, including the insects, she learns that things aren’t always as they appear. We see through flashbacks that even in childhood she revered all living things, becoming distressed by the fear and violence of others. She struggles to find a solution that will not end in everyone’s death.
The heroine uses a glider to fly, and flight appears frequently in Miyazaki’s work. It is usually depicted as something pure and peaceful, and in Nausicaa’s case it gives her a measure of control over her surroundings. She is referred to as a wind-rider. Wind powers the windmills in the valley and gives the population a means to live. In the same way it is Nausicaa’s tool to exhibit her power over the hearts and minds of others.
There is a strong anti-war message here. The characters talk about the world being destroyed by war, and the use of weapons from that time is not seen as a good thing. Warring nations have taken up these old weapons – tanks, planes, machine guns and so on. They have uncovered some sort of ultimate weapon that they think will destroy the ‘Sea of Decay’ once and for all. Nausicaa knows that this would not be a good thing, and not only because she doesn’t want to see the insects killed. She doesn’t want to fight against, and possibly kill, people either, so it is a dilemma to find a peaceful solution.
Miyazaki visits the theme of harmony over and over in his films. The best way to live, he says is one that is in balance with the earth. When things are unbalanced, trouble follows. The struggling of the various factions in this story clearly illustrate this. Even though all parties imagine they are doing the right thing, they all act for their perceived self-interest. They believe what they want is more importance than what anyone else wants, that they are right and everyone else should fall in line. Everyone is frightened, and fear makes people violent. It takes Nausicaa, a true pacifist, putting her life on the line for everyone, even those who have attacked her, to make the rest understand and stop fighting.
Miyazaki’s work has increased in quality and sophistication over time, making this earlier film seem crude in its techniques. The animation is still flowing and beautiful, however. I think some of the minor characters are not developed as much as would be ideal. Some of the incidental music comes across as a little ‘video game’-like.
Despite some issues in technique, “Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind” is an exciting and beautiful film. It’s suitable for older children to watch. It teaches us good lessons about ourselves and our world, and how we should treat it, and each other. I can happily recommend this film.
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