Some films truly are meant to be experienced on the big screen. Like that, you suddenly realize that a television or computer screen has robbed you of something glorious.
I was a bit like Lord Yupa when I arrived at the theater to watch Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. My journey had been long and unpleasant. It required seven different trains as I had missed one stop and had to keep switching over. It was also evening and I hadn’t yet had dinner, which I was keenly aware of.
But it was worth it, for Nausicaa.
This has always been my favorite Miyazaki and Ghibli film since I first watched it six years ago. Thanks to Fathom Events’ Studio Ghibli fest, I was reminded why.
A thousand years have passed since the Seven Days of Fire, a war that destroyed civilization. The industrial age has long passed. Giant insects roam a land that has been polluted by humans.
When Master Yupa arrives in the valley of wind, he is being chased by a monstrous insect with many eyes. This creature is called an Ohm. When Nausicaa sees the eyes burning red in the distance, the fury of dust swirling, she sets out to help calm the Ohm and aid whoever has incurred its wrath.
Yupa watches Nausicaa calm the Ohm, transfixed. She greets him delightedly when she recognizes him. He has also brought along a fox squirrel with him, a fierce little animal that doesn’t fighten Nausicaa at all. Even when it bites her, she’s able to soothe it and it turns docile. Yupa is further impressed by the girl’s strange power.
Yupa’s arrival is a cause for joy. King Jihl, Nausicaa’s father, is also thrilled to see him, although he is bedridden due to illness. He and Yupa discuss the grave matter of the earth’s decay, and the conversation shifts to a legend. A man dressed in blue robes and walking on fields of gold will restore the purity of the lands. His somber, regal countenance appears on a tapestry in Jihl’s room, which Nausicaa studies.
The excitement surrounding Yupa’s visit vanishes with the arrival of a ship from the neighboring Pejite kingdom. The ship crashes, killing Princess Lastel, who Nausicaa tried in vain to save. The very next day, Tolmekian warriors descend on Nausicaa’s valley, and without preamble, murder the king. Nausicaa, who reached him too late, is blinded by rage. She charges them with her sword, her face contorted into great anguish and kills a few soldiers. This time, Yupa is not mesmerized. He places his body between Nausicaa’s sword and a Tolmekian soldier. With his calm voice, he is able to stop the fighting. Nausicaa is stunned, but does as he says and drops her weapon.
The Tolmekians, led by the cool Princess Kushana, have arrived to claim the cargo from the Pejite ship that Lastel pleaded with Nausicaa to destroy. It is the embryo of a Giant Warrior, one of the creatures who caused the Seven Days of Fire. Kushana plans to use the Giant Warrior to burn the sea of decay. She would destroy all of the insects. She takes Nausicaa and five other hostages to the Tolmekian capital but their ship is shot down by a Pejitian pilot named Asbel, whom we later learn was the late Princess Lastel’s twin brother. A friendship develops between he and Nausicaa.
The two attempt to stop Asbel’s friends from attacking the Tolmekian troops with the giant insects. Nausicaa is taken captive, but Asbel’s mother smuggles her out so she can have a chance to save her valley.
I was fortunate to see this film in its original Japanese with subtitles. That made it more enjoyable than the English dub for me.
I had to sit in the very front row, but it wasn’t uncomfortable at all. I was right up close to the grandeur. Again, it’s a film that was meant to be seen on the big screen. I noticed details that had escaped me before, and found myself in awe of the breathtaking animation, enhanced by the wide screen format.
The film reflects those issues and passions dearest to Miyazaki’s heart: anti war, respect and care for the environment, and a reverence for aviation.
Nausicaa is one of many fictional princesses with a claim to my heart and I honestly felt emotional watching her. She’s the fictional heroine I want to emulate most.
One of the mothers in the valley asks Yupa to name her baby daughter. She hopes she will be as strong as the princess. The others speak warmly of Nausicaa and agree that it would be the baby’s good fortune to grow up like her. They are proud of her.
Nausicaa is a strong and capable young girl. Compassion is her most defining trait and she extends it to the Ohm. She has a spiritual connection to them, gorgeously rendered by one scene in which an Ohm’s golden tendrils settle on her, and a childhood memory flickers in Nausicaa’s mind. She is the legend made flesh, the one in raiment of blue, walking on fields of gold, who will guide the people of the planet at last to a land of purity.
Hayao Miyazaki is renowned for his dedication to centering female characters in his films. A grand epic like this typically belongs to male heroes. But this time, it’s a girl. She is a courageous and fierce warrior with a gentle heart; my brave, extraordinary Nausicaa.