Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind is playing select Drafthouse theaters Sunday, February 19. Tickets available here!
Flight. War. Environmental skirmishes. Tough love pacifism that pragmatically involves violence. Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind planted the seeds of Studio Ghibli.
Before the birth of Nausicaa, artist Hayao Miyazaki had undergone rejections of his movie ideas and an aborted film project. Titled originally as Kaze No Tani No Naushika, Nausicaa begun in serialized manga pages in 1982 on the ironic condition it wouldn’t be made into a film. But having a resume of directing anime television shows and Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro, it was inevitable Miyazaki would adapt his own manga pages. The acclaim of the manga was the greenlight for him to make his film.
Nausicaa opens on a booming drum overture by minimalistic composer Joe Hisaishi, who like the frequent Stephen Spielberg and John Williams duo, would become Hayao Miyazaki’s lifelong director-composer collaborators. We scan through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, wracked with skeletons of beasts and toxic pollens, ravaged by the consequences of pollution, the Sea of Corruption.
Young Princess Nausicaa conducts her solo trips out into the wasteland on a glider to salvage items for tools and study the creatures. Then she returns home to a loving village and her ailing father. Her relative peace is disturbed when an aircraft transporting a dangerous weapon crash lands nearby. A band of humans from another kingdom, set on retrieving the weapon, terrorize her village.
Nausicaa is whisked into the landscape beyond her kingdom’s borders, where the mountain-sized Ohm insect creatures stampede across the scenery. While the Ohm are titanic in threat, Nausicaa doesn’t view them as villains, but forces of nature that can be reasoned with. Their monstrous appearance is only the surface. But these ferocious creatures do not have human ears. While Nausicaa can forge negotiations with her people and even the rivaling kingdom, it’s not words or speeches that can reach them, but the right course of action.
Nausicaa’s advent into American territory went off on a rocky start. In 1985, New World Pictures bowdlerized and sliced down its running time into a children-marketed Warriors of the Wind, converted it into a shameful garbled mess. Thus, for foreign distribution, this set the Studio Ghibli “no-cuts” precedent (reinforced by the katana-incident in the Miramax distribution of Princess Mononoke).
Nausicaa's existence birthed Studio Ghibli. Although a pre-Ghibli motion picture, it is included in the Studio Ghibli line-up. Nausicaa preceded Miyazaki’s next aerial adventure thriller Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Flight reoccurred in the quasi-realistic post-WWI Porco Rosso, his first “post-retirement” piece Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and then his “final feature-film masterpiece” The Wind Rises.
Environmental themes also flourished in his realms. I often perceive Nausicaa as the conceptual rough draft that would evolve into Miyazaki’s first intended swan song Princess Mononoke, where its identical nature-versus-mankind conflict was nuanced and meditative. Princess Nausicaa was reincarnated into the compromising but harsh Prince Ashitaka. While they both aspired for world peace, they understood too that peace has to be achieved by brute force and pragmatic violence. In Nausicaa, the worlds in conflict unite. In Princess Mononoke, there’s an inferred contract of un-bridged co-existence. To this day, there are frequent debates on the comparative epic qualities of Nausicaa and Princess Mononoke.
Nausicaa concludes on the meditative image of the Princess’s headgear and a sprout, a visual cue of the polluted landscape destined to transform into a new healthy garden. The Princess’s unworn headgear signifies the sowing of her legacy, which budded into the fruits of Studio Ghibli.