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. The ideas ultimately harmonize surprisingly well. Miyazaki achieved a nearly smooth blend of his earlier, folktale-inspired, mythopoeic or fantastic interests and sombre science fiction with genuine worldbuilding. The series’ strongest force in this respect is probably the God Warriors. On one level, they’re just giant robots, like kaijū, a schlocky stock motif. 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. He makes them an eerily credible statement on the power of technology in desperate times. They are elevated from schlock to art.

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 Your Mark” (1995), 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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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. It burned an earlier industrial civilization.

Environmentalist pacifist post-apocalypse SF/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.

Parts of the music are fantastic, others overuse the synthesizer. The shortened story is 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 manga. The animation, although good, is clearly dated. If Nausicaä hadn’t survived 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), “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).

adaptation animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

The Art of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: Watercolor Impressions (1996)

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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“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).

animation fiction Ghibli Japanese production moving picture spin-off