Miyazaki Hayao is, without doubt, the greatest animated film director to ever grace Japan. With his famous repertoire, which includes My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service, there is no surprise that he has a substantial international following. But in Japan he has reached almost godlike proportions. You might compare him to Disney, but less processed. His films persistently explore themes such as environmentalism, feminism, pacifism, and really cool things that fly.
I want to focus on Miyazaki’s second animated film, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), because it’s one of the lesser known Ghibli films but, in my opinion, carries the most potent and beautiful message. As with almost all of Miyazaki’s films, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind’s main character is a powerful female figure. Nausicaä is princess of a small seaside settlement in a post-apocalyptic land. A huge proportion of the world is covered by forests that produce fatally poisonous fumes, and that are inhabited by gigantic insectile creatures, one type of which are building-sized isopods called Ohmu.
The conflict is introduced when an airship carrying an ancient biological weapon lands in her valley. The airship’s army, lead by their princess Kushana, kills Nausicaä’s father and orders her people to harvest the biological weapon, which is actually a humanoid giant that contains the destructive capabilities of the atomic bomb. However, the story does not capitulate into a Nausicaä vs. the invaders scenario. Instead we realize that the invaders are only desperately trying to save their kingdom, which is slowly being consumed by the toxic forests. The forests, we learn later, are only poisonous because they are trying to purify the earth from the destruction brought on by mankind thousands of years ago. It leaves one with the question: who is the villain?
Well, according to Miyazaki, no one. What I truly love about Miyazaki’s films, and not only Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, is his exploration of antagonists. His villains are multi-dimensional, with their own morals, allegiances, and loved ones. On some levels, I empathize more with Miyazai’s antagonists than his protagonists. For example, Kushana, the main villain, despises the toxic forests for taking her arm and leg (she has metal prosthetics) and destroying her people, but she slowly develops her viewpoint as the movie progresses.
Nausicaä is based on Miyazaki’s illustrated and written 7 volume epic manga of the same name. Truth be told, the intricacies and philosophical discussion in the movie doesn’t even skim the surface of his illustrated books. Nonetheless, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is imperative to Miyazaki’s impressive repertoire because it is the beginning of his powerful nature-first-humanity-second approach to the theme of environmentalism. Not to mention that one can find so much of his essence, and the essence of his later works, within this earlier film.
Watch the film, even if only for its giant bugs, really cool flying machines, and awesome knife fights. It will not disappoint. It is a perfect balance between a deeply philosophical and nostalgic message and breathtaking action and adventure. I bet you 10 Euro you’ll be crying in the last scene of the movie.