Let’s go back to the beginning!
Welcome back to Miyazaki March (HERE is the directory to all posts related to Miyazaki’s features) where today we will travel back to 1984 and have a look at what is canonically considered to be the first Studio Ghibli animation feature: Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Fasten your seatbelts and ready for takeoff!
Technically, Nausicaä is not a Studio Ghibli film since the studio was founded after production and release of the film. However, folks at Ghibli themselves don’t seem to think that’s true and consider the 1984 release as the starting point for Studio Ghibli, listing it as the first feature by the studio and including it in their DVD lines. Nausicaä is based on a manga series of the same name by, whoda thunk it, Hayao Miyazaki himself, but the series ended only after the movie had been released. It was presented by the World Wide Fund for Nature, and in the discussion below it’ll become clear as to why (not that reviews so far wouldn’t have pointed that out…). Internationally, New World Pictures released the film under the title Warriors of the Wind and re-edited the thing to erase the environmentalist themes and market it as a more action packed feature (with a ridiculous VHS cover featuring male characters that aren’t even in the movie). Miyazaki distanced himself from that version and adopted a no-edits clause for all his subsequent movies, to prevent disasters like this from happening again.
First off, re-watching the movie for Miyazaki March held a surprise in store for me: I didn’t remember the movie as that good. And boy oh boy, that good it really is. This whole re-watch has made me pay closer attention to the animation in particular and I was mighty impressed by how good Nausicaä holds up against the newer features with their CGI enhancement, but also how it seems much better animated than the following Castle in the Sky.
I guess a lot of that animation glory can be credited to the toxic jungle and the ohmus – they look amazing. Especially the glowing colors give the whole feature a much more current feel than Laputa (even though it has its own moments of glow). And yes, we know exactly where James Cameron got his visual ideas for Avatar from. Ts, thief.
Seriously, the toxic jungle looks magnificient and it’s a bit of a let-down that we get to spend so little time in it. I would have wished for some more exploratory scenes to just stare wide-eyed at the toxic wonders. But granted, the movie is as action packed as it gets already, so no time to waste.
There is war.
People fight people and nations attack nations. We have the Tolmekians attack the Pejites and because of that little stunt a plane crashed down in the Valley of the Wind (which is its own sort of … nation? State?). Which in turn brings the Tolmekians right into the Valley and with them a very ambitious and angry leader – her Highness Kushana – who is not only dead-set on burning the jungle down and killing all the ohmus, she is also determined to defeat all the Pejites and all the folks of the Valley of the Wind, because they are in her way. And while she’s at it, she actually turns against her own nation to build her own little power base with a giant warrior in her back. The whole giant warrior business was kinda interesting, because it feels like it’s there to be this either massive revelation or massive weapon and ultimately the giant warrior we get to see falls apart within seconds and all the rest has been figured out before anyways.
The war(s) in Nausicaä seem convoluted and rather pointless, but that’s exactly what they are. The movie is very overt in its endorsement of pacifism, represented by the main character Nausicaä herself, who goes out of her way to make people realize that they should stop killing and working against each other. As such, the movie is even more explicit in that respect than the following Ghibli feature Castle in the Sky, which was also presenting us with scenarios of war and death, but in Nausicaä there is more blood, a little less fire, but a lot more pleading for peace and pacifism. Which is not a bad thing per se and which I found handled rather well in the movie and not as heavy-handed as it actually sounds when I write it out. The only thing that bugged me about it, was how inconsequent Nausicaä was. Whenever someone from another nation shot she was screaming “Stop it!” from the top of her lungs, but when Mito shoots the airship she is trying to escape from she just looks and says nothing. Girl, what’s with no more killing each other? Got too inconvenient there? Mmmph. But I’ll let that slide for once.
And then there is a hostile toxic jungle.
Saying that the war seems pointless does not mean that those people don’t find their reasons or justifications. The major one being: there is a toxic jungle, it spread, we don’t want to be consumed so we do whatever it takes to not get consumed. I’ve said it before and gladly say it again: the toxic jungle itself is beautiful. Luscious, full of wonder and eerily at peace. It is an interesting concept to have something like a jungle, which for us represents something alive and vibrant (and endangered itself) presented as deadly, toxic and dangerous. The imagery connected to the spores and the spreading of the like is awesome, however, the whole jungle business poses some interesting question, especially with regards to the revelation that the jungle might be toxic but is actually just absorbing all the poison that humankind has left behind, so that there can be life on earth. But if the earth is poisened how come that people still live and find enough food? Ok, the explanation for the Valley of the Wind is, ermh, the wind, which okay, I’ll accept. But in the other nations? It it said that they are not as close to the toxic jungle as the Valley, but then again, they too surely must live in the same sort of post-apocalyptic world. What do they eat then if they too are endangered by the jungle? How are they kept safe? If you start to think about it the whole idea seems to not make too much sense pretty quickly but to the movie’s credit, while watching it I didn’t question the premise.
All of the above is there because we fucked up. Is what the movie is trying to say. While it concentrates mostly on the anti-war message and condemns the excessive violence used by humankind which led to the 7 days of fire there is a strong environmentalist underpinning. I was a little surprised to find that they actually don’t explicitly mention anything about us polluting the earth like crazy (cause I kinda thought they would), but from the movie itself it reads like an atomic catastrophe that destroyed the lands for hundreds of years to come. Which does not prevent me from imagining that the movie is also saying that we are polluters in general. So, yeah, the movie is a bit finger-pointy saying “see, you better stop that fighting!” and keep in mind that this was first half of the 80s, Cold War still intact and looking like it would go on for a lot longer. Not that Japan would need the Cold War to be reminded of the dangers of atomic weapons though. I like how the movie manages to keep the balance between getting the feeling across that they are talking about events that we in our time caused while not being super-judgemental about it a la “these assholes”. Not that blows should be softened, but because it prevents the message from being heavy-handed.
And before we close this one on Nausicaä, three more quick things:
Let us all just admit and acknowledge that we encounter an early Pikachu with Teto here. Totally out of the question. Okay, I see the differences, but come on. How in 2012 can you not look at Teto and go “what’s Pikachu doing in this movie?” Or one of his many closely related Pokemon co-creatures (cause frankly, my Pokemon knowledge covers only the red and blue edition a.k.a. I am stone-age old).
The whole thousand years in the future thing feels hardly sci-fi, but what is hilarious is the steampunkish mash-up of tanks and airships and all sorts of shooting weapons and then the Tolmekians with their armor and capes and … swords? SWORDS, you guys! So you can stab the airplane that’s shooting you? Too cute. Also: How ridiculously good is her Highness Kushana’s armor? And I won’t even get started on how I dislike the whole royal families system displayed here. Nah.
And last but not least with the first Miyazaki directed Ghibli feature we also get our blueprint for movies to come: the independent, active and engaging female lead (with red hair). While I get the vague sense that Nausicaä has a personality, she is really much more of the shining hero without flaw type, which is something we encounter in all sorts of variations in Miyazaki movies to come (ermh, or rather also those already discussed). But let us not get ahead, because the issue of the female lead will get its own discussion in tomorrow’s post.
Two thumbs up for Nausicaä from the Valley of the Winds. It’s not that from the first one on every movie got better and better. Nausicaä is actually is strong start and a stronger movie than other Miyazaki directed Ghibli features.