Hayao Miyazaki started working on the Nausicaä manga in 1982; which was finally finished in 1994. According to McCarthy 1999 “the movie would never had been made without the manga” (p.72). The manga’s “success led to negotiations for making a film” (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009, p. 59). According to McCarthy (1999) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) is an “epic story about a brave, beautiful girl and her fight to help her people and her world survive in a time of war and political wrangling” (p. 41). Ota (2007) believes that Nausicaä is about the maturation of protagonist, the journey of a girl – a princess/scientist – in a fantastical post-apocalyptic world. Nausicaä was Miyazaki’s second film and its success led to the creation of Studio Ghibli.
According to Wright (2005) “Miyazaki has said that there was one big event that gave him the inspiration for Nausicaä: the pollution of Minamata Bay with mercury in the 1950s and 1960s”. In the 1950’s and 1960’s Chisso Company, which makes liquid crystal for LCD displays , let wastewater that contains methylmercury into Minamata Bay, poisoning the fish and shellfish (and in turn people) living in the area. Miyazaki “admired the resilience of other living creatures, that they could absorb such poisons and survive” (Wright, 2005, para. 15). In Nausicaä the insects and plants absorb the toxins man left behind and continue. As McCarty (1999) puts it, “like the oysters and fish of Minamata Bay, the nature of Nausicaä’s world has absorbed the poison man created and is adapting to it and getting on with the business of living” (p. 78). It has also been said that Nausicaä was also inspired by Homer’s “Odyssey”, Herbert’s “Dune”, and a Japanese folktale “The Princess Who Loved Insects” (Wright & Clode, 2005).
As the films main inspiration came from a pollution problem in Miyazaki’s homeland of Japan, it make sense that “the film’s predominate theme is that of environmentalism” (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009, p. 59). “In the thirtieth century world of Nausicaä, the world has been destroyed in a human-inflicted holocaust called The Seven Days of Fire. … Toxins have caused widespread plant and insect mutations. … and a new ecosystem evolves that is poisonous to humans” (Wright, 2005, para. 15). A thousand years before the film takes place industrial civilization was destroyed, due to excessive industrialization. As Odell and Le Blanc (2009) put it “A thousand years of misery are the result of mankind’s pollution” (p. 59). The land and air became toxic and cause mutations in nature and its creatures. Humans have to wear masks due to the toxic air and are dying race because of the poisons that surround them. At the beginning of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind there is a prophecy which states that a person in blue will lead the people in the valley to a pure land. Clean air, water, and an existence free of spores; is all the people of the valley want. The people of the valley long for the messiah in blue so that they may live in harmony with nature again.
During the film Tolmekia and Pajite “are trying to fight the poisonous growths that are choking their world; only Nausicaä, by studying the plants calmly and fearlessly, is able to reach the understanding that nature is actually regenerating land and water by using plants as living poison filters” (McCarthy, 1999, p. 78). Nausicaä collects spores from the Toxic Jungle and grows them in a hidden room. With clean water and soil she found that the plants were no longer toxic. When Asbel and Nausicaä are trapped under the poisonous forest they find out that the plants draw out the poison from the water and soil, purifying itself. According to McCarthy (1999) Miyazaki “feels that nature is the source of interesting and involving stories” (p. 76), which he illustrates brilliantly in Nausicaä, with his post-apocalyptic world and humanities drive to either live in peace with it or wipe it out.
According to Odell and Le Blanc (2009) “Nausicaä is another in a long line of strong female characters in Miyazaki’s films. She is spirited, reverential and full of vigor and, although royalty, has a genuine concern for her subjects” (p .60). Nausicaä, the princess of the valley, flies on hang glider (mehwe), communicates with insects, and has a heightened sensitivity towards wildlife or a McCarthy (1999) puts it “she is deeply interested in all living things” (p. 79). Napier (2005) finds Nausicaä both feminine and masculine, which makes her memorable; she is enchanting, lethal, brilliant, and compassionate. Nausicaä has a cute shojo voice which makes her feminine, but knows how to use weapons which makes her masculine (Napier, 2005). As McCarthy (1999) points out Nausicaä “is physically tough, able to handle a sword, and athletic” (p.79). Nausicaä who is generally controlled and compassionate, goes into a murderous rage when her father is killed (masculine), after which she breaks down and cries (feminine). According to McCarthy (1999) Miyazaki said that the lead in Nausicaä could not be male because there were too many conventions tied to a male leads. It had to be someone who could deal with the problem at hand and leave the audience with the feeling that they could handle whatever happened next. Though Nausicaä is young she protects her people and they rely on her. As Odell and LeBlanc (2009) put it she is “the benevolent champion of her people” (p. 60). As a leader and a champion Nausicaä leaves the audience with the belied that she can handle whatever happens next.
Nausicaä is not the only strong female character in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind; Kushana the warrior leader of Tolmekia and the antagonist of the film is also a strong woman. Kushana is “driven by a need to revenger herself on the creatures that destroyed her limbs” (McCarthy, 1999, p. 80). She lost an arm in an Ohmu attack when she was younger. “She will sacrifice anyone or anything to fulfill her objectives” (McCarthy, 1999, p. 80), which is to eliminate the insects and the Toxic Jungle. Kushana “removes all threats by decimating tribes who get in her way” (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009, p. 58). She makes the Ohmu charge the city of Pajite, which destroys the once beautiful city and kills thousands of people. She also threatens Nausicaä and the people of the valley when she arrives with her tanks and battleships. Though Kushana seems to be an “evil, tyrannical dictator” (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009, p. 60), she is not all bad, though she draws a gun on Nausicaä she never fires it. She is loyal to her men, making sure they have all the basic necessities, and they seem to respect and admire her. Kushana also stops her attack on the people of the valley to check on Nausicaä’s safety when she does not return with Mito. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind has two strong female characters; Nausicaä and Kushana.
Flight and flying machines are prominent in Nausicaä. In the film flying equals power, freedom and possibility. Nausicaä, the protagonist, is a gifted aviator and flying prodigy who gets around on small jet-powered glider (McCarthy, 1999; Odell & Le Blanc, 2009). Nausicaä is also the princess of the valley, her father, the king, also flew, so in the valley flying equals power. The many battleships that Kushana has represent her power in the fading world. In Nausicaä’s case flying also equals freedom; she soars through the sky by herself seeking knowledge about the world she lives in. As Nausicaä flies between the Valley of the Wind and the Toxic Jungle she gains insight and which bring her and her people closer to living in harmony with the world they inhabit. Nausicaä’s glider is small, birdlike, and lightly colored; the gunship is also lightly colored and small (it is meant for two people). The Tolmekian battleships on the other hand “are big and ugly” (McCarthy, 1999, p. 78). The Tolmekian battleships are also destructive crashing into the mountains that surround the valley, knocking down windmills and tearing up crops and pastures. During the film in its first air battle, a small, red, one man Pajieteian aircraft takes on the Tolmekian warships and takes them all out. The second air battle is again between Pajite and Tolmekia, this time a smaller Tolmekian battleship fires on a passenger barge filled with Pajitei refugees. Towards the end of the film the Pajitei use a hot-air balloon type craft to move baby Ohmu so that the Ohmu can stampede the Tolmekians in the valley. There is a wide variety of flying machines in this film that represent the different sides, and the Miyazaki air battle first appears.
There were a few common Miyazaki themes and motifs that were lacking in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Anthropomorphism, Zoomorphism, and Metamorphosis were not covered at all. Again like in Castle of Caliostro there is a hint that the Ohmu are intelligent – a human trait –; the Ohmu decided they valued Nausicaa’s bravery and sacrifice and bring her back to life. There is a little bit of a Western influence in Nausicaa, mostly in the way the valley of the wind is constructed. There is a small towering cylindrical castle, windmills, and little cottages that hint at a European town. Over-all the motif covered the least is the Japanese influence in the film. There is no ramen or people in Japanese garb. The world in Nausicaa is its own; it is neither Western nor Japanese.
Nausicaä is obviously hand crafted with “striking beauty” (McCarthy, 1999, p. 91) and breath-taking detail. “The cloud of dust that puffs from the glider’s jets as Nausicaä lifts off” could only have been done by hand (McCarthy, 1999, p. 91). In the beginning of the film “Nausicaä walks through the luminous depths of the poisoned forest” (McCarthy, 1999, p. 77), which hints at reality, but is so distorted it becomes beautiful and magical. This magic and beauty, as well as oddity, seems to be painted onto the screen. As McCarthy (1999) states, “the plant and animal life of the film is based firmly on the natural world and creates a sense of solid reality despite its initial impression of strangeness” (p. 77). Some of the plants look like flowers or fungi the audience is used to seeing, but they are huge and colorful, like the pictures in a child’s story book. The same with the insects, dragonflies are the size of a small airplane and are more colorful; worms are larger than tanks, are a green and have many eyes. This “weird beauty of the poisoned forest creates a powerful impression” (McCarthy, 1999, p. 91) and is similar to the work of Moebuis, the French science fiction comic artist (Odell and LeBlanc, 2009).
In his manga and his first film as writer and director, Miyazaki came up with the themes and concepts that would feed into many future projects (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009; McCarthy, 1999). In Nausicaä there are industrial poisons, flying machines, tanks, humans fight against nature, not all technology is sustainable, and the audience is left with that feeling that problems will arise again (West, 2009). Environmentalism became an important theme, his affinity for flight and aviation became more pronounced, and he came up with a strong female or two that would continue to appear in the rest of his works. Nausicaä “lays out his major themes and the character archetypes he would develop with such success” (McCarthy, 1999, p. 92).