Although not technically the first Studio Ghibli movie, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind set the foundation for everything that we have come to love most in their long body of work from over the years – we nonetheless still recognize it as one of their films. Being only the second feature film directed by Hayao Miyazaki as well as the first to have been based upon his own property, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind not only has not aged a single day in time but like all the best of Studio Ghibli’s movies, its message is one that still resonates with the way our world moves today. Above all, the hopefulness that Miyazaki creates within such a bleak setting results in one of the most beautiful films ever made.
Based on his own manga of the same name, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind tells a story set far into the future; where a global war has eradicated most remnants of human civilization. What remains is now known as the Toxic Jungle (other translations have it named the Sea of Decay or the Sea of Corruption), where gigantic insects now reside. In one of the remaining human civilizations on Earth, the princess Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind seeks a means to allow the mutated insects and humans to coexist. With Miyazaki having portrayed what remains of Earth so long after having been destroyed at the hands of climate change, there’s still something beautiful in his almost hellish vision of the future because the most unlikely scenario one could ever call for during such a dark moment in history is that of hope.
Everything about Nausicaä is incredibly astounding. Whether it be the score by Joe Hisaishi, the details within the animation, or the battle sequences, there’s never a moment where it feels as if Miyazaki is ever letting down on providing any of these wonders from beginning to end. But even a vision of a post-apocalyptic planet could only be made to look so beautiful in the eyes of Hayao Miyazaki. He shows us a world that once was ours, where nature has become its own malevolent force, fighting a long war against man to the point it continually breaks us apart. Everything is so gorgeous to the eye, much to the point where an upset in that balance we see is so distressing just by thought; for Miyazaki ruminates upon everything that man had orchestrated to lead into their own downfall.
In Miyazaki’s own vision, the very idea that this post-apocalyptic world could only be a byproduct of where humanity nowadays is continually heading towards makes for a more distressing picture. But to think about how a film like this plays in an angry political undercurrent only reaffirms the themes of Nausicaä so many years later; because even as wars are formed between one another it also leaves behind something ugly for our own world to see. This is a world that’s on the brink of collapse, much to the point where the visual beauty emphasizes the devastating effects of a world where man and nature cannot coexist, something that only feels all the more prescient even today. But as Miyazaki continually insists that a glimmer of hope can still be found, it makes every moment all the more alluring.
Even amidst a world where man is never meant to survive, Miyazaki nonetheless provides one of the greatest heroes such a world could see in its titular character. Nausicaä is a woman who wants the best for her people, and seeks a means to restore peace between mankind and nature, but even in the action-heavy moments of the film she still draws you in for the fact that she is so gentle. She represents the innocence that still thrives throughout a world where it could almost never be found, for her compassion going beyond her own people. Yet the scope of her empathy is also what creates the grand emotional scope of the film too. Although it may be hopeful on the surface it still leaves behind a very tragic afterthought, especially when the circumstances that Miyazaki creates in this world could almost seem too overwhelming to bear.
It still amazes me to think about the fact that this was only Miyazaki’s second feature as a director. Miyazaki’s immense world-building is beyond extraordinary, but looking at it purely on the count of how much he shows the extent to which nature eclipses humanity only makes the more intimate moments land with greater power, because they also feel deeply tragic. It leaves behind that afterthought that we are not needed by the world, yet we need this world in order to survive, but it also creates one of Miyazaki’s most compassionate films to date. Some could say that Nausicaä is a hero whom we need today, purely for her own selflessness but also on the count of what she represents, a common ground between two opposing forces that could almost never unite. Seeing how all of this beautifully adds up, I’m only left to say that Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is one of the best animated films ever made.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Toei Company.
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki, from his manga
Produced by Isao Takahata
Starring Sumi Shimamoto, Gorô Naya, Yôji Matsuda, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Iemasa Kayumi (Japanese version)
Starring Alison Lohman, Patrick Stewart, Uma Thurman, Shia LaBeouf, Chris Sarandon, Edward James Olmos, Tress MacNeille, Mark Hamill, Jodi Benson (Disney dub)
Release Date: March 11, 1984
Running Time: 117 minutes