The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 38 – Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Having last week covered something rather risqué, it’s time we looked at something much more family friendly. For the next few articles we shall be looking at a series of films, primarily those of connected to the most famous anime producers, Studio Ghibli.

Strictly speaking however Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is not a Studio Ghibli film. It was made just before the company was founded. However, it is so alike the Ghibli movies in terms of theme and ideas it is often counted unofficially as one. It began as a manga by the co-founder of the company Hayao Miyazaki in 1982, with his 1984 film being an adaptation of what became a much larger project. Studio Ghibli was founded a year later.

Miyazaki, often referred to as the Japan’s Walt Disney amongst other titles, is a man who has produced some of the great anime films. His most famous is Spirited Away, currently the only foreign language film to win the Oscar for “Best Animated Feature Film”. He also has the habit of announcing his retirement and then returning. Last September he said his latest film, The Wind Rises, would be his last feature project. This month he said that he was coming back – again.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a post-apocalyptic fantasy film, set a millennium after the “Seven Days of Fire”, a war which destroyed civilization and resulted in the creation of a vast area referred to in different translations and versions of the story as the “Sea of Decay”, the “Sea of Corruption” and the “Toxic Jungle”. In it everything is deadly poisonous to humans and gigantic crustacean-like creatures called “Ohmu” roam the lethal lands. There are some safe spots however, such as the Valley of the Wind, a country of 500 people protected by sea breezes.

Nausicaä is the princess of this land and is one of the few who truly understands the environment she is surrounded by, hoping to find a cure for the world’s ills. She travels into the Sea of Decay on a glider with Teto, a “fox-squirrel” she adopts, and she is even able to communicate with the Ohmu.

One day an aircraft from the militaristic Tolmekia Empire crashes in the Valley of the Wind. After rescuing a captive princess they learn about a deadly weapon on the craft, but the next day the Tolmekians, led by Princess Kushana, return to claim it, hoping to use it to destroy the Sea of Decay. Nausicaä however, believes she has made a discovery that could result in a peaceful solution. Whether she can achieve it is problem.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind features many of the elements and themes which go on to standardise Miyazaki’s work: feminism, pacifism and environmentalism amongst them. Most of Miyazaki’s films feature heroines like Nausicaä as the main character. The environmental theme is clear throughout and while Nausicaä is always trying to promote peaceful methods, only fighting when she needs to or at times of great emotional pain.

This also relates to the organisations that have supported the film. When it was released it came with a recommendation from the World Wildlife Fund. In 1995 it was screened as part of a film festival in London that marked the 50th anniversary of atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Other elements which appear here and other Ghibli projects include the role of the villain, or rather “villain”. While it is not true of all Ghibli movies, in this one the villains are rather ambiguous. Kushana may at first be seen as evil and a warmonger, but as you watch you see she has a caring side to her, as well as display hesitancy about what her superiors want to do with the weapon.

Another aspect to take into account is that despite the fact these films are made for children there are some elements which are surprisingly adult. Not only are there the themes displayed, but also you also see blood in the fight scenes – something you tend not to witness in Disney movies or indeed most films with a PG rating. The manga also deals other complex themes too such as religion.

But centrally Nausicaä is the driving force throughout. Her message of peace and harmony is foremost in the film, and the importance of respecting both Mother Nature and each other. This is a message that would be repeated in many of Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki’s later films.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is released by Studio Canal in DVD, Blu-Ray and Steelbook Blu-Ray & DVD collections. The complete manga is published by Viz Media.