Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind predates Studio Ghibli’s founding, but it’s generally still included in the Ghibli canon for good reason. It is one of Miyazaki’s most powerful and most significant works, representing the artist at his most creative and his most honest. The film is incredibly moving and startlingly detailed from start to finish, putting some of the more modern genre pictures to shame.
Watching Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind unfold before my eyes, I couldn’t help but think of James Cameron’s Avatar. Cameron may or may not have included Miyazaki’s classic in his invention of the world of Pandora, but there are many similarities to consider. The appearance of the world presented in Avatar, for instance, looks an awful lot like Miyazaki’s post-industrial world in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind takes place some 1,000 years after an event called the Seven Years of Fire that destroyed civilization as we know it and took most of the world’s ecosystem with it. Only tiny scraps of humanity remain, clustered into tribes and groups. A thick jungle called the Fukai covers most of the world’s surface and its surface, spores and plant life are poisonous to all human beings. The Fukai feeds on the pollutants from the remnants of human civilization and insects have become dominant forms of life.
In this world is Princess Nausicaä. She is an explorer of sorts and she loves to take in the Fukai. Wearing a protective mask, she becomes enamoured with the insects and the plant life of the deep and dangerous jungle. Nausicaä even has a gift that enables her the ability to communicate with the insects, but things become complicated when a ship crashes in the valley where she lives and her kingdom discovers a deadly weapon inside that the Torumekian, a powerful warrior tribe, hopes to use to gather power.
Miyazaki’s picture goes on to detail how war breaks out between humans and the insects, outlining how this conflict erupts due to fear and disrespect of the environment. Nausicaä is a figure of hope for her people and she is a figure of strength for the whole world. Miyazaki has built an incredible character with this young princess, giving her dimensions and characteristics that are used to do more than simply advance the plot.
Nausicaä is a fascinating character in how she “commands” respect and inspires calm in both the people of her tribe and in the insects that inhabit the world. Instead of opening fire on the “enemy” insects, Nausicaä uses a charm to calm them and deliver them from their agitated state. Her desire to sidestep conflict leads to a greater victory than the Torumekian’s war would produce.
Miyazaki’s animation is, of course, absolutely breathtaking and the scope of this motion picture is immense and deeply compelling. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a classic in animated features and is, without question, one of Miyazaki’s finest films. The depth and beauty of his world is breathtaking, especially in the context of its existence in a post-industrial world. His ability to create gorgeous vistas and awe-inspiring creatures out of insects and grime is astonishing.
If there’s a problem with Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, it’s that it serves to diminish similar films that come after it. In watching this picture, simple and elegant in its approach to nature and the environmental issues that have plagued us for decades, it becomes harder and harder to accept the “splendour” of Avatar as a unique work. Truly one of the finest of the genre, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a perspective-shattering piece of art.