Ghibli Movie Discussion: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

This is the first instalment of a weekly series where we watch and discuss Studio Ghibli’s collection of movies to commemorate the studio’s 35th anniversary in June 2020. In this segment, we delve into the post-apocalyptic world of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and its environmentalist themes.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Year: 1984

Synopsis: In a post-apocalyptic Earth ravaged by pollution, a princess must stop the plans of the militaristic Tolmekian nation and bring peace between humanity and the insectoid denizens of the Sea of Decay.

Note: Nausicaä actually predates Studio Ghibli’s founding, but is included in the Studio Ghibli Collection. It was adapted from Miyazaki’s manga series of the same name.

Confession time: before this rewatch, I always thought that Nausicaä’s fashion style involved going commando. Turns out that that wasn’t the case.

I thought this would be a rewatch for me too, but I instead confused it with Castle in the Sky.

Castle in the Sky was actually Ghibli’s first movie, but we couldn’t just ignore Nausicaä since its success was what led to the establishment of Studio Ghibli. (I wanted to cite Hayao Miyazaki’s involvement as another reason, but then we would have to find time to watch The Castle of Cagliostro too.)

But back to Nausicaä. After failing to get into Porco Rosso years ago and struggling to keep an interest in The Wind Rises’ airplane bits, I thought that I had a thing against planes in Ghibli anime. My enjoyment of Nausicaä in its entirety proves that that isn’t the case, although the post-apocalyptic sci-fi designs of its aircraft might’ve helped with that.

I’d consider them to be more like a hybrid of planes and hang-gliders. I honestly found it really cool that Nausicaä could fly with such freedom, especially at the start of the movie.

In hindsight, maybe that hang glider-plane hybrid might have some connotation attached to it. Any thoughts on it, Mel?

It’s just a glider to me, although I suppose you could argue that it represents Nausicaä’s freedom from usual societal expectations, etc. I’m not yet sure if she’s my favourite Ghibli female protagonist, but I definitely like her. She’s very capable but isn’t a Mary Sue, and while she can kick ass, she also has empathy for both people and nature. 

Also, I appreciated how romance isn’t a part of her arc.

I’d find it weird if Nausicaä fell head over heels for someone, given her situation in the movie. Her home and its people are under threat by an antagonistic kingdom called Tolmekia, and that same kingdom is also threatening the Sea of Decay — a massive poisonous forest — and its giant insects. There’s no time to rapidly fall in love with a prince she just met.  

Jeez, I’d actually be mad if she fell in love all of a sudden. It wouldn’t have been surprising if that happened, but it would have detracted from Nausicaä’s journey and diminished her. 

So, the said prince is called Asbel, and he shows about halfway in the movie. Before that, I was actually worried that Nausicaä would end up with Lord Yupa.

Yupa’s a cool guy, and he looks a lot younger without his hat, but it still would’ve felt weird

I actually had the feeling a prince of some sort would appear eventually, although I totally forgot Asbel existed before this rewatch. But, as it turned out, she didn’t fall for him either.

When you mention “prince of some sort,” I almost think of a Prince Charming who’s supposed to sweep her off her feet. And no, Asbel doesn’t qualify for it. He’s too young, but he shows lots of courage, which I like.

And as for Lord Yupa, I don’t think she’d end up with him. She clearly sees him as a mentor and sort of grandfatherly figure in my opinion, so I wasn’t worried lol. 

Yeah in hindsight, I’m really not sure why I thought Yupa to be a potential romantic interest… He’s certainly a badass swordsman though.

As for our main star, I previously mentioned that I liked Nausicaä as the main heroine, which isn’t usually a thing I say about empathetic/pacifistic protagonists. She doesn’t come across as naive or dull, and her attitude makes sense: the humans f*cked up the world and, despite being punished for it, still want to continue messing with nature and foolishly attempt to extend their power over it. To top it off, they also can’t stop fighting amongst themselves. 

Tolmekia, a militaristic nation who wants to resurrect an ancient, living superweapon — to destroy the aforementioned Sea of Decay — and force other nations to join their banner, is the main “bad guy.” But when we meet one of their victims, the nation of Pejite, we see that those guys also have a propensity for contributing to the cycle of self-destruction; they even sacrificed their own city to beat the Tolmekian forces. The sad thing is how these attitudes — the one against nature and the one against their own fellow man — reflects reality. 

Now doesn’t that ring a bell? Ha ha. *sobs*

Sarcasm aside, this movie was released in 1984. Fast forward almost 32 years, and we haven’t seen much improvement in our climate. While we’ve seen improvements like the healing of the ozone’s hole, we also have increasing deforestation in the Amazon Forest again. 

COVID-19 also shows how nature flourishes in the absence of humans. Rare turtles are returning to beaches to hatch their eggs, fish are returning to Venice’s canals, and pollution has decreased because the world has been forced to stop production.

All the indigenous tribes of various countries have always said, “Respect nature, or take only what you need,” and so on. It’s the same message I hear echoing to me while watching Nausicaä

Ah, the Sea of Decay. At one point, Nausicaä discovers that beneath the poisonous forest is a cavern with fresh air. The trees here are trying to heal the land of its poison, which was caused by man in the first place. As we see from Nausicaä’s secret garden, the flora of the Sea of Decay actually aren’t intrinsically poisonous. 

By itself, the Tolmekians and Pejite’s desire to preserve mankind isn’t bad. In addition, the Tolmekian princess Kushana isn’t a moustache-twirling villain, and that’s not simply because she literally doesn’t have a moustache. But there’s an obvious allegory here about mankind destroying the very things that keep us alive and doing other questionable things. 

Yeah, in hindsight, it hits me really hard. Meanwhile, the intimidating Ohms, which look like massive armored slugs with many eyes, are just protecting the forest. Heck, they even revived Nausicaä.

In contrast, I wanted to strangle the Pejite soldiers when I saw what they did to the baby Ohm for the sake of their plan. As Nausicaä put it:

I can’t stand the sight of insects, so I’d never get close to a giant one like Nausicaä does. Still, I’d easily side with the Ohms and other insects over the human idiots.

Okay, I now need to convince you on how cute a baby Ohm is. Also, seeing it trying to use its golden feelers to comfort and heal Nausicaä when she got injured saving it was so heartbreaking. 

That was probably the most — or only — wholesome tentacle scene I’ve seen in an anime.

B-But those aren’t tentacles 🙁 Baby Ohm being all comfy and humane :’) I wanted to hug it so bad and say, “I’m sorry I couldn’t do anything. They shouldn’t have done this.”

I’ll make one concession: I’d rather hug that baby Ohm instead of… this.

We’ve been going on a lot about Nausicaä’s lessons and warnings, so now’s probably the time to quickly mention that the movie doesn’t feel like a sermon. It wants you to absorb its lessons, of course, and Nausicaä certainly isn’t subtle with its themes — although it doesn’t bludgeon you with them ham-fistedly either. But it’s also an enjoyable post-apocalyptic adventure with various sights and creatures to see and some aerial battles to witness. 

I say “battles” like they’re fair fights, but they’re mostly just instances of a single fighter craft owning ships that are many times its size. Still enjoyable though!

Like you said, the movie’s themes and messages aren’t subtle. Nausicaä is a very strong and powerful medium that not only advocates for coexistence with nature, but also gives us ample warning about the worst and best sides of humanity, that’s for sure. It’s a memorable movie, and I am starting to see why Hayao Miyazaki is regarded as a legend. While the animation and art cannot be compared to current times, the movie’s plot and its themes elevate the movie to being a classic, and will remain so for a long time.

I think you’re being a teeny bit harsh on the production values. The characters do conspicuously look like 80s anime, and the sword fighting choreography undeniably pales to, say, that final duel in Sword of the Stranger. But there’s plenty of smooth animation, especially during Nausicaä’s flying sequences, and the realization of the creatures, aircraft, and scenery managed to immerse me into Nausicaä‘s strange setting. I think Nausicaä’s expressions do a great job of articulating her emotions too, even though the faces in the show aren’t super-detailed. It’s a recognisably 80s-looking product, but not necessarily in a bad way. 

The soundtrack, on the other hand, has some very 80s-sounding tracks that feel a bit dated, but the orchestral stuff still rocks. 

Since we seem to be wrapping up this discussion now, I’ll just obligatorily bring up the Giant Warrior cuts that were key-animated by Hideaki Anno of Evangelion fame. You can check them out in full at sakuga booru, but here’re some screenshots.

Just look at that melting monstrosity. It’s remarkable to look at even today.  

And since we’re on the topic of Giant Warriors, I’ll just throw in this memorable shot from the opening credits sequence.

The Giant Warrior was definitely a sight to behold. I can only imagine how much time and effort was spent on it. 

We’ve covered quite a bit for this week for Nausicaä. Our next installment will be on Castle in the Sky. It’s a rewatch for me, and I’m excited! Who knows if I’ll spot things that I missed during the first time I watched?

Sky pirates next week, woohoo!

And that’s it for this week. Join us next week for a visit to Castle in the Sky’s, well, castle in the sky, as well as its world of sky pirates and automatons. 

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