Anime Feature Film Review – Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
by HELEN GEIB
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is an enjoyable ecological fable for older children and teens. Highly regarded by anime enthusiasts for the quality of the animation, it is the second feature film directed by Hayao Miyazaki, who also wrote the screenplay based upon the first part of his own, then on-going manga series of the same title.
The film is set in a post-apocalyptic world 1000 years after the collapse of industrial civilization, to paraphrase an establishing title. The remnants of humanity have organized themselves into petty kingdoms, most militarily aggressive and all threatened by the encroaching “Sea of Decay,” a toxic rainforest populated by poisonous insects of unusual size. Heroine Nausicaa [now·sh·ka] is the teenage princess of the kingdom of the “Valley of the Wind,” an idyllic pastoral community nestled between an acid sea and a barren sand desert, the latter a buffer between the valley and the Sea of Decay.
The Valley of the Wind appears to be patterned on a minor fiefdom of Western Europe in the late-medieval period. The kingdom is an agrarian society, its single village nestled at the base of a small castle and ringed by fields and orchards dotted with windmills. The people are solidly-built Caucasians; the adult men sport notably bushy mustaches and beards. The peasantry wears clothing in earth-tones and of a style in keeping with the period flavor of the architecture.
Nausicaa– pretty, slender, and highly athletic– is introduced wearing a short coat, breeches, boots, gloves, and cap reminiscent of the flight uniform of a World War I-era aviator. In the most immediate terms, her outfit is both practical and appropriate: she is a master pilot of small aircraft and the motorized glider she rides to explore the outlying territories.
The deliberate incongruity between her clothing and the retro-medieval aesthetic of her homeland signifies her exceptionalism. It also introduces her role as bridge and mediator between the Valley of the Wind and the outside world. The uniforms, small arms, tanks, and planes of the invading army of the kingdom of Tolmekia evoke Europe between the wars, as do the armaments of the anti-Tolmekia resistance of Pejite, the valley kingdom’s already-subjugated neighbor. (The people of Tolmekia and Pejite are also Caucasian, but not as bulky as the people of the Valley of the Wind and, where applicable, wear their mustaches closely trimmed.)
The bright blue of Nausicaa’s coat is a key to her part in the film’s eco-message. Nausicaa’s environmentalism is based in Shinto, the animist belief system indigenous to Japan. Key elements of Shinto are represented in the film, particularly respect for nature and the belief that living and non-living things are imbued with divine spirits; the related belief that a person who is close to nature is in contact with the spirits; and purification rites, particularly purification through water.
In the film’s visual scheme, blue symbolizes renewal. The spirits desire to restore harmony to a natural world poisoned by humans, and blue-coated Nausicaa is their priestess. She is the only person able to perceive the mysterious beauty of the Sea of Decay (at least, the only character– the splendidly animated landscape is very beautiful). She communes with the forest’s guardian deities, the ohmu (enormous, many-eyed, blue-blooded, somewhat snail-like insects with a protective shell of hard, over-lapping plates like an armadillo’s that they shed like a locust’s skin) and a species of giant flying insects. When Nausicaa is in danger, the Sea of Decay saves her by pulling her into itself: she falls below the forest floor into a luminescent blue cavern supported by mammoth fossilized trees that cleanse the water and soil of toxins. It is a purification chamber for the earth.
Red symbolizes destruction. Images of the past apocalypse are bathed in red. The fiery inferno of a Tolmekian plane that crash-lands in the Valley is an augury of the coming invasion. The peasants set fire to a once-healthy forest infected by parasitic spores. When the Tolmekians attempt to re-animate the skeletal remains of an ancient giant warrior, it is transmogrified into a hideous creature of burning red eyes and molten red flesh. The red/blue dichotomy is explicit in the character design of the ohmu: calm, their eyes are a placid blue; enraged, their eyes turn red; once pacified, their eyes return to blue.
The feminism of Nausicaa is real, but constrained by the hierarchical social system of the film’s future-world. Nausicaa is a very appealing protagonist: courageous; intelligent; devoted to her people; of strong moral principles. However, she can be who she is because she is a princess/priestess in a feudal society. Tolmekia’s princess/warrior Kushana, Nausicaa’s social analogue, is a similarly compelling character. The other significant supporting character is also royalty, Pejite’s prince Asbel. The prince, in contrast to the princesses, seems not to have inspired Miyazaki’s interest; although Asbel’s role in the narrative is as significant as Kushana’s, the character is comparatively lackluster.
Review Series – Directed by Hayao Miyazaki