Beauty on a Grand Scale: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Mike Ferreira (Editor) — September 18th, 2011
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Hayao Miyazaki is revered as one of the greatest storytellers to grace anime. His imaginative works and touching storylines appeal to the old and young alike. Among his most famous works is Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which asks the difficult questions of whether the apocalypse is really the end, or how man and nature can coexist even in the wake of an antagonistic existence. Despite knowing this from the outset, it’s still amazing to see just how he, and the talent at Studio Ghibli managed to turn what would be the planet’s greatest disaster into such a vision of wonder and excitement.

In an unknown time, and an unknown place, the apocalypse was wrought upon the world. The war, which the survivors refer to as the Thousand Days of Fire, made much of the land uninhabitable as the toxic jungle, known as the Sea of Corruption, spread across the land. A few settlements remain, separated by the wastes. Many dare not enter the wastes, lest they become food for the giant insects that took up residence, including the mighty Ohmu — giant isopods that rule the jungle.

One particular kingdom, the Valley of the Wind, is a verdant land that rests by the oceans. Nausicaä, the princess of the kingdom, is a kind soul whose appearance belies great strength, and the abilities of an experienced scavenger and wind-rider. The kingdom’s quiet existence is disrupted when an airship from the neighboring kingdom of Tolmekia crashes and spills its mysterious cargo. Nausicaä rushes to the scene to find a shackled girl. In her dying words, the girl tells Nausicaä that she is Princess Lastelle of Pejite, and the she must destroy the ship’s cargo immediately. This is a wish that sadly remains unfulfilled, as the Tolmekians storm in and capture the Valley of the Wind. The captors plan to take Nausicaä to Tolmekia as a hostage, but are shot down, which leads Nausicaä on a journey of danger and discovery as she tries to return to her kingdom before the invaders, while the expanding Sea of Corruption threatens to swallow up the valley.

The tale of the Valley of the Wind, the Sea of Corruption, and the massive Ohmu are all intertwined as a subtle allegory. The core philosophies of humanity, from concepts of pacifism to the idea that man will continue to bring about his ruination through war and waste shine through a sharply written tale of heroism, bravery, and a simple desire to survive. The latter becomes especially prominent through the film’s subplot, as tensions mount between the Valley’s residents and the Tolmekians and slowly escalate toward violent rebellion. The destructive oppression of the Tolmekians is in stark contrast with the pacific nature-loving Nausicaä. Her side of the story is more a tale of wonders, as she explores the Sea of Corruption and learns the cause of the jungle’s spread.

The world is brought to life with fantastic art and animation. The sight of Nausicaä soaring through the skies on her glider, or of the monstrous Ohmu as they lurch across the land is simply breathtaking at first glance. The visuals are complemented by detailed backgrounds that sport a vibrant, painting-esque quality. To round out an amazing presentation, the film is accompanied by a Joe Hisaishi score that conveys the extremes of wonder and strife.

Nausicaä is a classic in every sense of the word. It is a film whose quality is that which all anime films, if not all films in general, should aspire to. The thoughtful storytelling and dialogue, along with the amazing presentation, come together to form an experience that all anime fans should take part in. Indeed, it shouldn’t be a question of “if”, but of “when” one should watch this masterpiece.