A Rough Analysis of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
NOTE: The analysis that follows is derived from two film versions of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the original 1985 Japanese film with subtitles, and the 2005 re-release featuring the voices of Alison Lohman, Patrick Stewart, Shia LaBeouf and (unsurprisingly) Mark Hamill.
For the record: There will be spoilers if you haven’t seen the film.
Before I tell you about Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, I think it may be appropriate to tell you something that was once told to me and give you the context of that story.
In the Summer of 2007, I was told this story by a man who was all khaki, starch, and hard creases. It began on the 30th of July, 1945, when the U.S.S. Indianapolis was struck by a torpedo enroute to meet up with allied forces in Okinawa. He stresses that, at the time, Navy Command had no knowledge of the Indianapolis’s position because they were coming from Tinian Island, where they had delivered nuclear materials that would be used in the Trinity tests and in the construction of Little Boy, a nuclear bomb which would claim over 150,000 Japanese lives a few months later.
What this meant for the 880 survivors of the Indianapolis was that it would be four days before they were spotted by a passing aircraft. Four days in the water, with no real hope of rescue. Some of them went mad, some tried to swim down to wreckage of their ship to retrieve supplies, some were taken by sharks. Some died of hypothermia, others of dehydration. The worst detail of the story I was told, however, is of a condition known as “desquamation.” When the navy found them, sailors reached out to the now less than 350 survivors, and when they got ahold of them, they slid out of their hands, leaving only their skin in their would-be rescuers hands.
I’ve never seen an image of the condition (and pray I never have) to but that Senior Chief described it in such a way that I could see it anyway. This was a prelude to an exercise in which we were expected to jump into an oversized pool, untie our shoes underwater, and help each other to a life raft floating in the water.
If you’re wondering why I would tell you that story, it’s because I want you to understand something. The heritage, the very fabric of U.S. naval aviation is the story of Japan’s destruction. All of our early battles, and “American innovation,” led up to that moment, on the morning of August 6th, 1945.
The second thing I want you to understand about that story is that it becomes very clear, before you even leave training, that in war, everybody loses. If this film is any indication, it’s something Hayao Miyazaki would also very much like you to understand.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind presents itself as an adventure story, a hero’s journey centered around Princess Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind but I would argue it is the story of three nations: Tolmekia/Torumekia, Pejite, and the Kingdom of the Valley of the Wind.
Hayao Miyazaki, like many Japanese storytellers, gives us a view of people living in a broken world. These three nations exist centuries after the world was consumed in a poisonous fire spread by biomechanical giants called God Warriors. The centuries have eroded the buildings and now only the most durable old world achievements remain and the people of the Valley of the Wind live adjacent to a place known as the Toxic Jungle (known in the subtitled version by a much better name: the Sea of Decay) where all matter of horrors — most noteably, the Ohm (which look like giant pill bugs with rows and rows luminescent eyes) live. While monsters in the forest is a common fantasy trope, the post-apocalyptic nature of the film seems to imply that the insects of the Toxic Jungle may be the product of genetic tinkering. As the film progresses, it becomes more and more apparent that there is an order to the Toxic Jungle. The insects exhibit intelligence and hierarchy unknown to the natural world. The metaphor in the Toxic Jungle’s ecosystem is explicit. Miyazaki depicts a number of species seemingly working in unison, towards some unknown goal.
They stand in direct contrast to humanity. Humanity as depicted in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is fractured, with the people of Tolmekia and Pejite in open warfare despite both nations claiming to be fighting the Toxic Jungle. We never see either do anything to reclaim land from the Toxic Jungle. Instead we see Tolmekia transporting a Pejite hostage, a Pejite gunship attacking a Tolmekian convoy, and the leadership of Pejite bringing the horrors of the Toxic Jungle into their walls simply to kill a garrison of Tolmekian invaders. Even within their respective nations, we see people working out of unison. Princess Kushana openly defies her own government while declaring herself its representative. Officer Kurotowa describes himself as a ‘simple soldier’ at every opportunity, despite seeming genuinely content with the power and responsibilities he wields during Kushana’s absence, growing so comfortable as to discuss even higher ambitions out loud with the unconscious fetal God Warrior (which, despite being toted as mankind’s greatest weapon against the Toxic Jungle, later proves ineffective against an Ohm stampede).
Nausicaä, and the people of the Valley of the Wind, seem to be the exception to the rule when it comes to humanity. Nausicaä’s people, like the insects of the Toxic Jungle, work in unison instinctively. Indeed, we meet Nausicaä while she is ranging in the Toxic Jungle, where she comes across the exoskeleton of a long dead Ohm. She immediately removes one of its dried, empty eyes to show her people. Upon being informed and given the eye, her people begin to organize a team of workers to dismantle and rework the Ohm exoskeleton into new tools and aircraft (establishing that it is not Nausicaä alone who views the Toxic Jungle as navigable). It’s notable that no one gives any explicit orders.
The same scene established that the people of the Valley of the Wind view the Toxic Jungle as mundane. Monsters or no, it is an asset. While they express fear when they are confronted by Ohm, they seem to view them also as a renewable resource, their exoskeletons being a vital source of raw materials. It also highlights the absurdity of Tolmekia and Pejite’s stated goal, their aircraft we see are visibly similar to the exoskeletons of the Ohm. It’s probable that their aircraft — like the Valley’s tools — are built from the resources of the Toxic Jungle and they seem not to notice the inherent contradiction in their declared quest to destroy the very thing they build their weapons out of. In fact, metal seems to be extraordinarily rare in the setting (while the Valley’s gunship appears to be made of metal, as does the Pejitei gunship used in the aerial battle, Tolmekian heavy plate armor and the swords used by various characters (both of which are portrayed as if they were metal) are explicitly said to be made of some sort of ceramic material), and the Toxic Jungle seems to be the only source of viable alternative materials.
In this context, then the Tolmekian and Pejitei officials would be using fear to send the people of their world down an ultimately self-destructive path. While the film condemns this in favor of pacifism and empathy, it also acknowledges the sheer power of fear and anger, that it can get people to take actions that cannot be undone. When Nausicaä attacks a group of Tolmekian soldiers who murdered her father, King Jihl, another character, Lord Yupa, intervenes, placing himself between her and a soldier and using his arm to block her sword. He lectures her on the nature of violence and war, telling her the fighting won’t stop unless they stop it early. He reminds her that war escalates rapidly until it becomes uncontrollable and that it won’t necessarily be her to suffer the most for it. He allows himself to be harmed so that those would react would not.
In the film’s climax, it is Nausicaä who repeats Lord Yupa’s gesture in order to save the Valley of the Wind from an Ohm stampede (caused by Pejite). Her act of good will does not, immediately, calm the Ohm or prevent them from damaging her kingdom. She is severely injured by the Ohm stampede and it isn’t until later that they notice her, seemingly lifeless, her dress stained blue by the blood of the monsters she empathizes with.
When the people of Tolmekia and Pejite cannot even see each other’s pain, Nausicaä acknowledges, and is disturbed by, the pain of an arthropod. She exists, metaphorically speaking, to illustrate a vital point that is represented visually, both at the beginning and end of the film, in the change of the Ohm’s eyes, from a bright red to a dull green: if our monsters can be understood, then they stop being monsters.
(On a side note: At one point, Princess Kushana, the film’s most prominent military commander, literally wakes a sleeping giant. Wild, right?)
Oh, by the way, my land lady says I should mention this:
David L. Reeves is a fiction editor and narrative consultant who would like you to hire him if you’ve written something. If you’d like to write something or if you would just like to read more things like this one, you can support his patreon because he too enjoys consuming food at regular intervals during the day.