“Every one of us relies on water from the wells, because mankind has polluted all the lakes and rivers. but do you know why the well water is pure? It’s because the trees of the wastelands purify it! And you plan to burn the trees down? You must not burn down the toxic jungle! You should have left the giant warrior beneath the earth!… Asbel, tell them how the jungle evolved and how the insects are gaurding it so we won’t pollute the earth again. Asbel please!” – Nausicaa
Yay it’s Miyazaki time! We’re going to get right into it with the second movie he directed, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. While technically NOT a studio Ghibli movie (the studio was founded after this movie came out), I still count it as such because it is 110% Miyazaki.
So what’s Nausicaa about? I’ll do my best, but like many of Miyazaki’s movies, they tend to be pretty intricate and complicated with lots of things going on.
During the credits we’re introduced to the world that the movie takes place in, and some of the history that brought us there. In some places it looks like desert, with nothing but sand as far as the eye can see. We see these strange robot-like giants coated in flame, and see their remains scattered as a man with a gas mask rides through the desert on a strange looking bird creature.
The next thing we see is a habitat that is very different – a jungle. Although it’s not like any jungle anyone now has ever seen. It’s inhabited by huge mutant like bugs – flying bugs, crawing bugs, you name it. We meet our protagonist, Nausicaa, as she wanders through the jungle with a gas mask on. In her lone wanderings the watcher learns that this is the toxic jungle, and we get the feeling we’re in some type of post-apocolyptic world. Nausicaa wanders and happens to find the shed shell of a bug she calls an Ohm. For the record, this is what it looks like, cause I’m too lazy to explain it. This is one that is angry. He has red eyes. Normally they’re blue. And you can see the person at the bottom left for scale. they’re big.
She pulls off its eye cap and exclaims it’s going to be of great use for her village before sensing that danger is around. An insane Ohm, with red eyes charges in its rage after the man we saw during the credits. She manages to calm him and the Ohm goes back to the jungle, while she goes down to the man. Turns out she knows him. This is Lord Yupa, on his way to the very same place she is: the Valley of the Wind.
The two travel home together, where we learn Nausicaa is the princess of the Valley of the Wind. We learn a bit more about the toxic jungle and the land before the “apocalypse”: the spores that are produced by the plants in the jungle are deadly to humans, and as such the humans have been forced to seek out small livable areas. A few of the settlements are at war with each other, but the Valley of the wind is one of those that just wishes to be left in peace. The toxic jungle arose from something called the seven days of fire, and it has been one thousand years since that.
One night, a war ship from a settlement called Tolmekia goes down in the valley of the wind. Nausicaa attempts to rescue a girl from the wreckage. She is a war hostage, Lastelle of Pejite, and before she dies she warns Nausicaa to destroy the cargo in the ship. Turns out the Tolmekian ship carries the embryo of a Giant Warrior, the bioweapon robot we saw the remains of early that caused the seven days of fire.
She is not able to, however, because the remaining unhurt Tolmekians place the valley under their rule, led by Princess Kushana. She explains to Nausicaa and Lord Yuba that her idea is to use the giant warrior to burn down the toxic jungle. They then at some point kill Nausicaa’s father, which sends Nausicaa into a blind rage, upset at Kushana for not only killing him, but attempting something so stupid as burning the jungle when it has been written that that will only cause more harm. We also learn here of a prophecy of a warrior clad in blue surrounded by fields of gold that will unite nature and man once more. It is a prophecy widely believed in the valley, but not so much with the other settlements anymore.
The princess Kushana, however, does not seem to care and announces she will leave for Pejite, their enemy and the original owners of the Giant Warrior embryo. She is going to take hostages from the Valley of the Wind to ensure that the rest of her troops will be respected… I think…. Either that or just because she can. It’s confusing and I honestly don’t remember.
Anyway, Nausicaa does eventually go after Kushana and the hostages to rescue them, but not before Lord Yuba finds her in her basement greenhouse. Turns out she has been studying the plants from the toxic jungle, and it is here we learn that it is not the plants, nor the water that is toxic, but the soil that it grows in, forever tainted by man from long ago.
Kushana and the hostages, along with Nausicaa attempting to rescue them, never reach Pejite, because they are shot down by a Pejite ship (this ship is also destroyed in the duel). They crash land in the toxic jungle, angering a few Ohm, which Nausicaa is able to take time and soothe. She then leaves the Princess and her fellow valley folk to go and rescue the pilot of the Pejite ship, who turns out to be Asbel, the brother of the girl she rescued from the Tolmekian ship.
The two of them wander through the jungle. Asbel wants to return to Pejite and Nausicaa wants everyone to just stop thinking of war. They get swallowed up by quicksand and we learn that under the toxic jungle is a whole other world that is not toxic. Turns out the plants above are actually purifying the water and the soil, sending it down below when it is cleansed.
Eventually Nausicaa and Asbel return to Pejite to find it has been ravaged by insects. The survivors tell them it was a plan: the tolmekians were attacking and the insects destroyed them – they’re doing the same thing to the Valley of the Wind so that they can get their giant warrior back. Obviously this makes Nausicaa upset. She is taken captive as everyone boards an airship headed for the Valley of the Wind.
On the airship, Asbel and the women of Pejite help Nausicaa escape so she can warn her people about the Ohm attack. She finds the pejites using an injured baby ohm as bait to anger the older ones, leading them to the Valley. Trying to protect themselves, the Tolmekians in the Valley deploy tanks and even try to hatch the Giant Warrior to fight the Ohm, but none of it works and the Giant Warrior disintegrates.
Nausicaa frees the baby Ohm and attempts to gain its trust as the stampede comes closer. They end up running the two over, but then grow calm as they almost realize what they’ve done. They use their golden tentacles to lift up Nausicaa’s body and heal it. Stained by the Ohm’s blue blood, she fulfills the prophecy of the warrior clad in blue in a sea of gold. The Tolmekians leave the valley, the Pejites remain behind to live there, and under the toxic jungle a tree begins to grow.
So that’s Nausicaa. There is a LOT going on and honestly I didn’t touch on a lot of stuff that could even be considered important. If it seems all over the place and hard to understand, that’s honestly because it is. This was Miyazaki’s first foray into many themes he would become fluent in over the years. But like a Bicycle, I call Nausicaa the movie with the training wheels: You can tell what he wanted to do, but the execution was not perfect. At the same time, this movie needed to be made to show him what he had the ability to do.
Don’t get me wrong. This is still a great movie. I just think I’ve had to watch it at least 3 or 4 times before I really got what was going on. The political stuff with the Tolmekians and the Pejites is a bit hard to understand, and honestly it’s hard to keep track sometimes of who is from what settlement just because both are so set on war and they have no idea why. It’s also a bit preachy in its messages. Like, really preachy. Sometimes the environmental stuff is thrown in our face, as is stuff like the fact that it’s so amazing that Nausicaa can calm the Ohm.
Let’s talk about the themes in this movie, because as we continue with Miyazaki movies, they’re going to be repeated over and over, and I’m going to talk about them over and over:
- Strong Female characters: Miyazaki LOVES a strong female lead. In fact, she doesn’t even have to be the lead character. If there’s something this guy is good at, it’s writing really interesting female characters. In this case, it is the protagonist. Nausicaa isn’t afraid to fight or stand up for herself. She’s not afraid to get in there with the guys. She stands up against the giant Ohm and wanders in the Toxic Jungle when other braver men run away. She’s willing to do anything to protect not only her valley and her people, but the creatures that no one else is willing to even try and understand. She can be a bit too perfect however. She’s kinda the jesus figure. But that doesn’t matter too much. She’s still interesting enough.
- Airships: Not as much in this one as in his others, Miyazaki has this obsession with flying. Gliders, ships, planes, you name it. They’re always big, unique, and play some type of role in the movies he directs and writes. In this movie, they’re warships. Nausicaa has this amazing glider that she rides on parallel to the ground (how strong are that girl’s abs??). The designs are awesome, and this is just a start to what we see in his later movies.
- The Environment: This one is possibly the biggie for Miyazaki. This man is all about saving the environment. He loves a cautionary tale. He loves the environmental overtones. This is one of his two environmental epics. In some, as this one,this theme really does take itself seriously, and it is front and center in some part of the plot of the story. In this movie, it shares its importance with his theme about war. It’s what Nausicaa studies about the plants. It’s them finding out that it was man that caused this. The earth is renewing itself. That in a desperate, desolate world, there can be hope. The world is fixing itself, and it doesn’t need the humans go to and try to mess it up again.
Ok, after exploring a few of his themes in general, this movie obviously utilizes all three. The problem, as I mentioned before, is almost that this movie tried too hard. Miyazaki knew what he wanted to do, but the execution wasn’t quite right. He wanted to do this amazing environmental epic that was also anti-war and anti-violence. He wanted to do a movie about a girl who understood and could bring everyone together. In some ways, He did succeed. In other ways, he really didn’t.
I’m going to sound like a broken record, but the hardest part of watching this movie is knowing what it could have been. If the plot hadn’t been as intricate. If they had calmed down a bit of the political stuff, or actually sat and explained it all. I mean, I needed wikipedia for help with the plot, because I wasn’t actually sure if I knew it correctly.
I’m going to be honest. Any Miyazaki fan will say the same things about Nausicaa, despite probably saying they liked it. A big part of that is because his other environmental epic exists, and it is just so much better (Princess Mononoke… we’ll get to it later). If that movie hadn’t been so good or hadn’t even existed, I think many people who are die hard Miyazaki fans would like this one better. That being said, people who don’t know Mononoke or watch this before they see that one tend to forgive many of its vices. However you would be hard pressed to find anyone who has seen both and prefers this one.
So obviously I’m upset about the plot and how he tried to do too much. What do I like? I love the idea. The idea of this world that was torn apart by war brought on by man; a world where the soil became so toxic that the plants that grew there were deadly. Until we learn that it’s the soil that’s toxic, and that it was brought on by man, it just seems like some random post-apocalyptic world. Almost like an “oh well, that’s what happened I guess.” But when we learn it was people that did it, something just clicks. Oh. I get what he’s going for. The idea that the toxic jungle is actually the world cleansing itself. The idea that the people don’t really get it and this girl is the only one who has eyes big enough to see it. That to me is fascinating. I just wish the rest of it wasn’t so complicated. I almost wish it focused more on her getting people to understand the jungle instead of trying to stop a war.
The characters are… alright. I think I’m going hard on this movie because, again, I know what his later ones are like. Really, the characters are good. They don’t necessarily have depth (other than arguably Nausicaa), but they’re not boring. The voices for the dub fit pretty well for the most part. EXCEPT…. Geez, did they really have to use Shia LaBeouf for Asbel? I’m not a fan. Not that Asbel’s an interesting character anyway, but…. Ugh.
There’s nothing really good or bad about the characters. Honestly, the only one I ever really remember is Nausicaa. And the Ohm. The bugs are cool, and the Ohm are really unique. The humans are fine, but their just… there. No one else really stands out in my mind for being something other than a carbon copy of some type of archetypical fantasy character. Kushana is obsessed with war and doesn’t seem to have a good bone in her body (but she’s boring about it). Lord Yuba (Patrick Stewart) is all wise man mentor-y. Asbel is a stupid kid who wants revenge. Although I have to admit at least his mind is changed at the end, so I guess that’s good. I hate to say it but the most memorable characters are these two little girls that live in the Valley that we literally see in two scenes. Because they’re funny. Because they ask about the prophecy, and they love Nausicaa. Everyone else is just blah.
I also do kinda hate the whole Prophecy thing. I mean I don’t mind it in some movies/books, but I don’t know – did anyone NOT think it was going to get fulfilled by Nausicaa by the end of the movie? Were they trying to throw us off by saying it was going to be a man? Because the first time I saw this movie and they explained the prophecy, I of course knew that it would be Nausicaa. I don’t like prophecies like that. Where the person doesn’t know it’s them but it really should be obvious. It’s almost like if we just knew the whole time she was the prophet, that would have been better. Like she had to go around the try to convince the Tolmekians and the Pejites that she was who she was. THAT would have been interesting.
Wow, this was so much more negative than I thought it was going to be when I started writing it. I’m not going to lie. I’m ragging on this movie a lot more than I thought I would. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. It IS a good movie. I still love owning it and I still really enjoy watching it. There’s just a lot of issues that I have with it. I haven’t even gotten to the seriously 80s music. That just kinda makes me laugh…
I would still tell people to watch this movie. It’s not the first Miyazaki movie I would tell people to watch, because it’s not his best. Not by far. But it DOES show us where he came from. It shows us the seeds for the themes he will live by. It shows us the types of stories and begins to show us what types of characters he can create. Thank God he gets better at characters!! If you’ve seen a few Ghibli movies but haven’t yet seen this one, I would give it a watch. If you’re a fan of Miyazaki, you’ll like it. But it’s not a good intro. You’ll have to wait a few more reviews for that…
I give Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) a 3.2 out of 5.
Next up: Castle in the Sky