Reviews of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1982) and related work

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1982Sequential art with text)

Miyazaki Hayao (writer-artist).

A masterpiece of ecological soft science fiction. Though genetic engineering features so heavily that it has remade practically the entire terrestrial ecology of the Earth, this is not the conservative GMO scaremongering of some popular SF and horror. This is a fiendishly clever, open-minded take on the subject; a fine example of what Greg Egan called “burning the motherhood statement”.

Much of what makes Nausicaä great was planned from the beginning, but it is apparent from reading Miyazaki’s own commentaries, for instance in Watercolor Impression (1996), that much was also added over time as the series went on and off hiatus in Animage. Despite the strong fantasy elements, the ideas ultimately harmonize well. It is Miyazaki’s best SF, with genuine worldbuilding beyond all the commonplace postapocaplytic motifs. The series’ strongest force in this respect is probably the God Warriors. On one level, they’re just giant robots, blended into kaijū. They even recall predecessors like Stavos Keniclius 5, a giant clone in “The Infinite Vulcan” (1973), who similarly wants to impose peace among lesser beings by force, but Miyazaki sells the idea that the God Warriors were created to be arbiters and scapegoats like Jesus, on the level of gods, not tyrants. He makes them an eerily credible statement on the power of technology and religion in desperate times. They are elevated from schlock to art, surpassing for instance God Emperor of Dune (1981), whose Hwi Noree resembles Nausicaä herself.

References here: The Journey of Shuna (1983), Always Coming Home (1985), Castle in the Sky (1986), Aliens: Outbreak (1988), Visitor of a Museum (1989), Mobile Police Patlabor: The New Files (1990), “On the Banks of the Sea of Decay” (1994), “The World of Anime and the Scenario” (1995), “On Your Mark” (1995), “What Is Important for Children” (1996), Blame (1997), Princess Mononoke (1997), “Toxic Discourse” (1998), Rice Boy (2006), Ergo Proxy (2006), Tales from Earthsea (2006), The Tale of Iya (2013).

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“On Nausicaä” (1982Text)

Miyazaki Hayao (writer).

Read in Starting Point.

References here: Starting Point: 1979–1996 (1996/2009), The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013).

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“A Film That Can Be Enjoyed by People Who Have Never Read the Original Story” (1983Text)

Miyazaki Hayao (writer).

Read in Starting Point.

A memorandum on the occasion of work beginning on the 1984 film adaptation.

References here: Starting Point: 1979–1996 (1996/2009).

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Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984Moving picture, 117 minutes)

Anno Hideaki (key animator), Miyazaki Hayao (writer-director).

Earth is being devoured by a novel wilderness, foreign to humankind. A princess from a tiny peripheral kingdom is drawn into a war over the exhumation of a giant that burned an earlier industrial civilization.

Environmentalist pacifist post-apocalypse SF and fantasy. Created by Miyazaki from the first quarter of his then-ongoing graphic novel. Anno did key animation for the kyoshinhei and had the use of Miyazaki’s moped—some sources call it a gift—based on his “Daicon IV Opening Animation” (1983).

A flawed, uncomfortably carefree film. To give you an idea of how much darker the graphic novel is, when a young girl is exhumed from her grave by filthy mercenaries who steal her possessions, the girl’s brother finds comfort in the fact that her corpse wasn’t raped. None of that here.

Parts of the music are fantastic while others overuse the synthesizer. The shortened story is more marked by fairytale traditions like monarchism and overloaded with improbable coincidences. The narrative also fails to communicate the supernatural power of Nausicaä, without toning it down. Her telepathy gets its own bubbles in the graphic novel. The animation, although good, is clearly dated. If Nausicaä hadn’t survived her mountain of responsibilities in this version, it would still have approached a masterpiece.

References here: The title of Princess Mononoke, Ghibli movie titles, “Albatross: Wings of Death” (1980), Urusei Yatsura (1981), Bagi, the Monster of Mighty Nature (1984), Dune (1984), Arion (1986), The Story of Yanagawa’s Canals (1987), “What the Scenario Means to Me” (1989), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), “Photon: The Idiot Adventures” (1997), The Iron Giant (1999), Blue Gender (1999), Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation (2001/2005), Ponyo (2008), Xam’d: Lost Memories (2008).

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“Earth’s Environment as Metaphor” (1994Text)

Miyazaki Hayao (interviewee), Takahashi Junichi (interviewer), Yamamoto Tetsuji (interviewer).

Read in Starting Point.

An interview between Miyazaki and two humanist academics on the end of the graphic novel. The artist says about the Ohmu:

Related to that, there was a film called The NeverEnding Story. It was somewhat changed from the original story. A dragon appears and has a very obvious face. You can tell what it is thinking from its face. This was totally uninteresting. For us something is far more likely to became and object of our longing when we don’t know what it is thinking. The more humans anthropomorphize something and make it an easy target for empathy, the less interesting it becomes. From the beginning we seem to have a longing for a presence or a power that is far greater than ourselves and easily understood, a presence beyond our current framework or whose origins are prehistoric. This longing isn’t unique to me, but rather is what we all feel, a memory repeated over and over again from our ancestors. When I think of myself and the way I think of nature, I seem to want to comprehend it in such a way. I don’t know why, but nature exists as an incredible force, as something huge, far exceeding our own little good or evil ways.

He adds that the insects of the Sea of Decay are designed to “resist empathy” and that the name “ohmu” comes partly from the kanji for it (王蟲, king insect), “the sandworm from Dune and the Lovecraftian comics artist Morohoshi Daijirō’s use of the religious term “ohm”.

There are some asides on Castle in the Sky (1986), where Miyazaki explains that the castle stays green in space because it is “best to think of it as a work of science fiction written at the end of the nineteenth century”; it is not a postapocalypse taking place in the future.

Three smart people having a good time talking about very interesting stuff, like cartoons and cleaning up a polluted river in Tokorozawa, across a couple of issues of the magazine Iichiko. Miyazaki again mentions religion in regards to Nausicaä and says, amusingly:

Then I entered a period where I realized that human beings would continue to increase in number and continue with their messy and listless ways. One might ask, “Are we just left with religion then?” but I don’t think religion will come as a solution all of a sudden. These days I am acutely curious as to what kind of faces Christ and Shakyamuni had. I’ve come to the conclusion that they couldn’t have been very handsome. Rather, they must have had faces that would make others want to crucify them.

Yamamoto responds by bringing up the nihonjinron author Umehara Takeshi, and Miyazaki counters with Clive Ponting’s “A Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations” (1991/2007). Then they get into NHK nature films and namedrop Stephen Jay Gould! There is no better text in Starting Point.

References here: “The World of Anime and the Scenario” (1995), Starting Point: 1979–1996 (1996/2009).

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“On Completing Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” (1994Text)

Miyazaki Hayao (interviewee).

Read in Starting Point.

The thirteen-year process of finishing the work.

I kept thinking, while drawing, that I should explain why Dorok collapsed, what a country really is, what sort of system Dorok had, how that system stopped functioning, and so forth, and while worrying about running out of time, in the manga story the Dorok empire collapsed all on its own, just like, in the real world, the Soviet Union did.

An interview, not in Animage or the tankōbon release, but in Yomu, a publication about which I can find no information. In the interview, Miyazaki talks about how writing the graphic novel made him abandon Marxism: “I’ve reverted to being a true simpleton”. Relatedly, he touches on religion:

When I start thinking about this, I feel that I need to do some religious training and develop some more advanced gray matter. If not, I might wander into an area that probably shouldn’t be verbalized.

He even brings up The Selfish Gene (1976). As the excerpt indicates, he’s optimistic about the possibility that ancient and modern mystics might be on to something profound, but he doesn’t actually endorse religion or any one spiritual thesis. He talks more about how he avoided the problem in the graphic novel by not putting it into words. This is telling, and well in accord with how the graphic novel actually turned out.

References here: Starting Point: 1979–1996 (1996/2009).

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The Art of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: Watercolor Impressions (1996Nonsequential art with text)

Miyazaki Hayao (artist).

Read in 2021.

I read the 2007 VIZ edition in English language.

Mainly cover art for the comic and concept sketches for film, with many other pictures and Miyazaki’s thoughts on the material, plus an interview with him on the origins of the work etc.

Good maps and insights. Miyazaki is self-deprecating, but not wrong; his notes clearly show that he improvised quite a lot in the early stages, and agreed to some inconsistencies for promotional purposes.

References here: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1982).

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“Two Pages Are Fine. Just Draw Them!” (2004Text)

Miyazaki Hayao (writer).

Read in 2021.

Read in Turning Point.

Ogata Hideo’s role in the continuation of Nausicaä.

References here: “Words of Farewell” (2007), Turning Point: 1997–2008 (2008/2014).

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“Giant God Warrior Appears in Tokyo” (2012Moving picture, 10 minutes)

Miyazaki Hayao (cast), Higuchi Shinji (director), Anno Hideaki (writer).

Seen in 2020.

Instead of the Seven Days of Fire happening as in the graphic novel, the kyoshinhei inexplicably appear in contemporary Tokyo, presaged by the unseen narrator’s unseen and unheard brother. They destroy the world, reversing its seven-day creation as related in Genesis (ca. 500–400 BCE).

More of a special-effects showcase than anything else. It’s mainly puppetry, shot and digitally enhanced to imitate the analog photography of Toei’s old monster movies, with traditional miniature sets and deliberately crude, unmoving cutouts in place of human spectators: Anti-illusionism in the tradition of ningyō jōruri. It’s pretty, and a little campy, but the main sentiment is not joy or awe but Anno’s melancholy. I suppose it’s based on Honda’s work as interpreted in “The Imagination of Disaster” (1965), with the Fukushima disaster in place of looming atomic war, but I wish Anno had made something up instead of misusing Nausicaä.

References here: Shin Godzilla (2016).

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