Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) / An essay in film
As any fan of the Studio Ghibli will tell you, Nausicaä is NOT in fact a child of the official Ghibli Canon. Shock. Horror. A sense of missed opportunity and abandonment but hey, it is what is is…and that is an early masterpiece of fantasy anime.
There is so much in this film that makes it different. That makes it somehow, Japanese? I could say Hayao Miyazaki but that would pander too much. What are some of the things? Oh, perhaps the fact that the protagonist is an adolescent aviator-botanist-warrior-princess with a heart of gold, aptly adored by her people. Perhaps because the film tortures infants of a different species, puts blood on the hands of the young princess, displays the moment of her father’s murder and plays witness to an adolescent woman killed in a crush. Not to mention a soundtrack that plays like a 16-Bit Daft Punk tribute to the old masters.
Set, way, way after civilisation on Earth has collapsed, the Pejites, Torumekians and Valley of the Wind clash and struggle to keep mankind alive.
The earth is losing ground to a toxic forest. By spreading spores, the forest covers more and more land each day. As the spores spread to human settlements, the contact proves catastrophic for the vertebrates. The human’s desperately seek to destroy any incoming spores, should the forest ever encroach on their settlement. With the forest comes the insects. And mistaking the destruction of insects for the destruction of forest is cataclysmic.
I watch the dubbed english version. For some, this is sin. Really, its personal preference and/or availability. And whether it be the power of the animation, music and story or the acting chops of Patrick Stewart and Uma Thurman amongst others, I can’t imagine much is lost.
Airships; secret, subterranean, botanist’s laboratories; castles; gargantuan shells of dead beasts; lush valleys; underground caverns. The scenery is beautiful.
The story is fantasy but it had an eerie feeling of not being escapist. We shouldn’t forget that already in the 80s concern for global warming was going public. Nausicaä has a natural touch with the creatures of the jungle. This in itself, now and back in the 80s when it was made, makes her an instant heroine. In a world where we are increasingly factioned off from one another by our beliefs, praise is rightly heaped on those who are able to communicate across heterotopias. Her tendency to mastery and overachievement doesn’t hurt, in fact, it’s rewarded with worship by people and if she were alive in our times, so too would it be here. In fact, in 2017, tribal cut-throat scrambling in an ailing natural world seems likely enough.
The story moves along well. There is action. And there is also quiet. Miyazaki once spoke of nothingness or ‘ma’. That which happens between action. Is there ‘ma’ in Nausicaä? Plenty. It has fidelity to manga’s aspect-to-aspect narrative speed, not depicting a plot as being a sequence of action-to-action frames.
As an early Miyazaki, you might get the feeling that the entire sceniqueness looks to be the central character at times — the achievement of only aspect -to-aspect with a story complete with characters plastered over to vindicate it.
But this can’t be the case. There are characters here. The characters might just be a little more in tune with nature than we are used to seeing. Save for James Cameron’s Pocahontas-atar. The style of Nausicaä’s opening dialogue in the dubbed version declasses her relationship to the world we know — and it’s revelatory. It seems more likely a tendency than objective of this film and maybe its early Miyazaki. Characters are often so encased in western film. Balls of movements of desire and drives and ambitions unto themselves. Nausicaä feels quite different.
It would be highly remiss to try not understand the music. Simply put and interpretation will vary, it is engaging. Joe Hisaishi’s doesn’t try set an overarching mood. It is not Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar. It renders the narrative disjunctive in that it feels like its breaking up scenes. It has the effect of feeling almost episodic like Interstellar 5555 maybe, with each episode having its own action and quiet and the score describing those events or non-events. He really elevates each sequence’s urgency or timeless beauty.
Sometimes films can feel like they are just scenes discovered by story-developers/writers and producers that allow a theme to be evolved. That is certainly one way to look at filmmaking. But at the end of the day, film is images. The art by increased frame rates. Not increasing action within a frame.
And Nausicaä definitely pauses on those which make this world believable but also dreamy in a childlike way. It posits and hearkens back to when children played with toys and the acts of heroism and valiance were the premier feelings and drives. It doesn’t feel naive then: it is the entire world. And all that world’s meaning. It’s nice to watch something that doesn’t trip and shudder with self-awareness. Going by the Japanese theory of aspect-to-aspect, the value is more close to real life and thereby we can feel the situation in its gravity. It feels almost childlike in the importance and presence in each moment.
It’s refreshing to watch instead of much sensory-fuckness contained within modern action and even fantasy stories (The Hobbit). Watching this in 2017 where the box-office spectacle model may be teetering, it feels like the sort of movies you want to watch and will want to watch in the future. The sort of movie that justifies you “being-into-film”.
Miyazakinauts have built a beautiful sub-Reddit, safe from the stampede of the Ohmu, dedicated to Nausicaä. It can be found here: https://www.reddit.com/r/Nausicaa.
Be kind to the forest now.