Studio Ghibli #0.5: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

While Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is not “technically” an official Studio Ghibli film, seeing as the company was founded off of the success of this feature: the film was directed and produced by two of the four co-founders of the company, Hayao Miyazaki & Isao Takahata respectively. Alongside this the film also retains the eventually iconic Studio Ghibli art style, while examining similar themes as touched upon in Miyazaki’s later films. And personally I like to include it in the Studio Ghibli canon, even if some others wouldn’t, as it set the scene and laid the groundwork for the future of the animation studio.

Now, you don’t have to have watched a lot of Miyazaki films to know two basic concepts about him: he hates war, and he loves planes. The titular princess, Nausicaä, exhibits both of these ideas in full force; both a fierce adventurer in her own right, travelling across the desecrated globe on her glider as a skilled & accomplished flyer, while also a staunch pacifist & environmentalist who tries to prevent all of the violence and war within the film. While Miyazaki’s love for aeroplanes is very clearly present in this film, as shown through the beautifully animated and designed planes, each of which feel separate and distinct depending on which nations plane is shown, thanks to their great design. But what is much more prevalent in this film is Miyazaki’s anti-war themes and ideology; throughout the film we see almost all of the human characters act irrationally or violently in reaction to the prospect of war and rush to violence. Initially, we see this almost exclusively through the militaristic Tolmekia nation kidnap the princess of the Pejite nation, before invading the Valley of the Wind, and so we assume that they’re the “aggressive” nation, while the Valley of the Wind and the Pejite nation are the victims/peaceful nations. But this idea is subverted, as later on we see that the Pejite nation is just as prone to violence and duplicitous as the Tolmekia nation, in the face of this global conflict. Miyazaki uses these two nations’ violent nature to highlight how humanity is quick to turn on each other and rush to violence in the face of confusion and uncertainty. There is a moment of great exposition where Kushana, the princess of the Tolmekia nation, explains that when they found out about the embryo of the Giant Warrior under Pejite, they had to invade and capture the embryo in fear that the other nation would use it against them. This scene, more than any, highlights what Miyazaki is saying about humanity, and the lack of trust we have with each other amidst the confusion of the future, especially in the face of a naturalistic threat like the Sea of Corruption (a fitting name considering how it affects the humans who end up suffering from it).

The animation in this film looks absolutely stunning. It definitely shows it’s age in some regards, especially when compared with some of Studio Ghibli’s later films, such as Spirited Away & Princess Mononoke which utilise a much more kinetic animation style that brings life to the entire frame, whereas Nausiaä has a lot more stationary shots and lingering stillness, a traditional cost-cutting method used in a lot of older films. But while the animation isn’t as technically rich as some of their later films, the art and linework of this early feature is still gorgeous to look at. I previously mentioned the detail of each nation’s aircrafts, and how the animators & designers managed to make each group’s machinery feel distinct. The detail of these elements contrasts and clashes so well with the detail and smoother, rounder linework that went into animating the nature of the film alongside the wide array of insects that inhabit the Toxic Jungle. The beauty of the environment can be highlighted in a couple of scenes I want to talk about, firstly in the opening sequence where Nausicaä finds the Ohm shell; the bold linework on the insect shell is terrific: bold and striking against the cooler lines of the titular princess. Following this we see the titular heroine bask in the beauty of the falling spores while relaxing in the calmness of nature. This whole sequence is amazing and a real tour de force for the animators. With the background looking both exotic, comforting and yet dangerous; the overwhelming magnitude of the jungle plants really add to the theme of the inevitability & power of nature, while also adding to the idea of the insignificance of humans in the face of nature. The second scene that highlights the beautiful naturalistic animation of this film, comes in the scene where Nausicaä and Asbel end up under the toxic jungle, once again the almost void-esque quality of underground, helped in tone massively by Joe Hisaishi’s soundtrack that perfectly conveys the sense of scope and scale of nature within this film.

These scenes really highlight Miyazaki’s wonder and marvel at the scale and ever-lasting power of nature. But equally, Miyazaki and his team utilise the animation in this film to highlight the destruction and devastation of the human condition; we see this in scenes of violence and war, normally at the expense of nature. One of the best examples of this comes through the climatic Giant Warrior scene, which incidentally was animated by future Gainax-founder, and overall genius, Hideaki Anno. In this scene, the Chekhov’s gun of the film, the embryo that each nation is fighting over, is revealed, albeit prematurely, and unleashes its devastation upon the land before crumbling. It’s a beautifully composed and animated sequence, so kinetic but somehow corrupted. The scene itself sends a powerful message about humanity, backed into a corner against the swarms of the Ohms, the naturally aggressive humans are willing to put themselves in danger and possibly face death to “win”, regardless of how hollow the win may be. In a lot of ways I think the Giant Warrior can be seen as a stand-in for Atomic Bomb, especially in the cultural climate of the Cold War in which this film was made. The fear of Mutually Assured Destruction, especially for these Japanese filmmakers who would know the impact and suffering that the Atomic bombs dropped at the end of the Second World War would have; can be seen to be reflected in the film through the characters own fears and trepidation at the idea of bringing back the weapon of mass destruction.

While some would argue that this film shouldn’t be included in the Studio Ghibli canon, for me it’s easily one of my favourite offerings from Miyazaki and the eventual Studio Ghibli team. Not only is Nauiscaä the prototype for eventual Ghibli heroines like Kiki & Chihiro, but even in this early in his career, Miyazaki is confident in his story-telling ability and themes. Not only is this film hugely influential in launching one of the most well-known animation studios in the world, but it has also been attributed as a seminal influence on the medium as a whole. If it wasn’t already abundantly clear, I LOVE this film, it’s easily one of my favourite animated films of all time. If you haven’t seen it yet I couldn’t recommend it more.

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