This year, four science fiction-loving booksellers will delve into Fantastic Planets, Forbidden Zones, and Lost Continents: The 100 Greatest Science-Fiction Films, the new book by film historian Douglas Brode. They’ll watch the movies, read Brode’s take, and tell you – point blank – how they feel about all of it.
#56 in Douglas Brode’s Fantastic Planets, Forbidden Zones, and Lost Continents is Hayao Miyazaki’s 1984 animated epic, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Fans of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli will be no strangers to this title and the themes contained within it. Nausicaa is often considered one of the best animated films of Japan and a seminal influence on the development of anime. The success of this film led directly to Miyazaki founding Studio Ghibli. So while not officially a Ghibli film, it is often included as part of the studio’s work.
I have to admit that as much as I love every Miyazaki film I’ve ever seen, this one has flown under the radar all these years. Yes, it’s true. I had never seen this film until just a few nights ago, and it is every bit as wonderful as everyone says it is! If you are a Miyazaki veteran who hasn’t seen this film it’s like going back in time to see the beginning of a love affair, like seeing your parents meet for the first time. For those new to the Miyazaki experience it is a wonderful introduction to the style and themes of much of his work.
Nausicaa is unapologetically anti-war and focuses on the interconnected nature of humans and their environments. The setting of the film is one thousand years after an apocalyptic war has destroyed most of the earth, and much of the human race along with it. Small villages and kingdoms of humans exist scattered throughout a land that is increasingly encroached upon by a poisonous forest inhabited by mutant insects (the result of said apocalyptic war – the allusion to nuclear weapons being undeniable). The people continue to have some advanced technology (airships, jet powered gliders, tanks, etc), but live a generally pastoral life. The juxtaposition of feudalism and future tech makes this animation particularly interesting, as any anime fan can see how this film influenced the entire genre that came after it. But what’s even more notable in this story is that it turns out there really is no evil villain. It’s incredibly Buddhist in that regard. All the characters are making what they think are the correct decisions for their kingdoms (despite those decisions potentially costing innumerable lives), but only Nausicaa doesn’t make her decisions based on fear. She understands how interconnected the world is and that clarity causes her to make the ultimate sacrifice, not just for her people, but for everyone. I had tears come to my eyes at the end it was that powerful.
Brode’s descriptions of the themes of Nausicaa are eloquent: “an insistence that war never has solved, and never can solve, any issue, and that all of nature, even what appear to be its uglier elements, must be respected and revered for a proper equilibrium to come into being.” and “A synergistic approach between races, as well as between the human and the natural, is the first step toward enlightenment.”
Nausicaa is one of only four animated films to make Brode’s list, the others being Heavy Metal (which I agree with), WALL-E (which I don’t, even though I love it), and Fantastic Planet (which I’ve not seen). I fully endorse Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind being in the top 100, both for it’s powerful storytelling, sci-fi devices, and influence on the genre. I personally might have added a few more animated features to the list. Both The Animatrix and Ghost in the Shell come to mind immediately, though admittedly The Animatrix is a series of shorts, so could be disqualified.
On a final note, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind has extensive literary connections. It was originally a Manga written by Miyazaki that ran from 1982 to 1994. Nausicaa is considered to be heavily influenced by the Japanese folk tale The Princess Who Loved Insects, Homer’s Odyssey, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea, Asimov’s Nightfall, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and to a slightly lesser extent, Frank Herbert’s Dune. After watching it I can certainly see where all of this is true.
FOR YOUR VIEWING PLEASURE
The Alamo Drafthouse Village location will be doing a full month celebration of Miyazaki’s films in February, starting with Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind on Tuesday, Feb 2nd and Thursday, Feb 4th, both at 7pm. Both the Blu-Ray and DVD are available to rent at I Luv Video and Vulcan Video. I highly recommend seeing any Miyazaki on the big screen when possible, but this film should also be a staple in every sci-fi fan’s library.