Friday, September 17, 2010

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

This week is a look back to 1984 and Hayao Miyazaki’s first movie that he wrote and directed. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind  is more than an overly optimistic vision of how humanity will act near the end. The movie also provided the necessary momentum for Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli to produce the films most associated with him (many will appear here in later discussions). I stumbled across it when Roger Ebert posted a link  to a review of the movie. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I have high hopes for peace at the end of all things.

Nausicaa, the movie, follows the title character, Nausicaa, the princess of the Valley of the Wind. She’s fearless and inventive, which is exactly what you want in a lead anime character. The movie takes place 1000 years after the end of the world, caused of course by giant flame throwing robots. The imminent threat to people comes from toxic plants and giant insects. Nausicaa has the ability to calm the insects and reason with them to return to the toxic jungle. She apparently has incorporated the peace the bugs embody, except when she gets upset. As the story unfolds, we see her travel to other towns and discover the reason for the toxic jungle.

I know this sounds like the plot to a 1950’s B movie, but it makes sense as you watch. Miyazaki does a great job making the horror aspects chilling, without compromising the integrity of the overall message – that when we bring the end of the world down on our heads, we will need to re-think our relationship with nature and weapons. The watercolor palette cuts the danger, but the sharpness of the voice actors communicates what danger exists in the world.

The world that Nausicaa lives in seems almost too peaceful for being set on the verge of humanity’s end. The introduction of the military elements a quarter of the way end moves the movie into more conventional territory, but the military serves merely to illuminate the ways in which humanity fails. But even they seem less threatening than they should. It could be the watercolor palette that makes everything seem easier to contain. Or it could be that the social structure is so developed that it appears anyone could make it through the end of the world.

What I really learned from this anime is if I end up living through the apocalypse, I hope I find myself in a world like Nausicaa’s. I’d much rather deal with an avoidable toxic jungle and giant insects that only attack if provoked. They seem far less threatening than many of the other possible threats at the end of the world. I still don’t really want to deal with giant beetles with big eyes, but since the giant beetles seem reasonable, I could probably manage. Also, flying would be a great bonus, since you’d always be able to escape from harm.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is probably the most upbeat post-apocalyptic anime I’ve encountered. Don’t get used to this kind of positive spin on the end of the world. It will most likely be dead by morning. 

This post is brought to you by Chandra

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