Ghibli Month: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Tsunderin: In recent years, Studio Ghibli has become one of the major players in the American animation circuit after getting picked up by Disney, and why shouldn’t they? Their films are for the most part innovative, have great characterization, and are just plain lovely to look at. There’s a certain charm to them that cannot be defined as belonging solely to animation’s realm nor to the Japanese culture—though there are several Ghibli movies that deal solely with Japaneseness. Instead, they transcend to their own setting with their own fanciful, but still relatable and realistic stories. With movies from American cinema attempting to expand into more female-centric stories but at a stand-still with how they should proceed, and those efforts receiving general confusion and even negativity from the movie critical audience at large (Brave anyone?), what is it that we as a film- and entertainment-devouring culture can take from the popular and largely female-centric stories released from Ghibli?

In attempts to answer this question and many others—but mostly because we just felt like it—Ace and I have dedicated this month, and probably part of the following month as well, to examining all of the Ghibli films: the dubbed and the subbed, the Miyazaki and the Takahata, the Disney and the… not Disney. If there’s anything you think we should discuss in a certain film or something you think we missed, leave us a comment. We love Ghibli and their movies and we hope that you, dear reader, can get excited about them as well.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the WindWhereas many of these films are both a big part of Ace’s and my (but mostly Ace’s) childhoods, I have to admit that I’d never seen our first movie. I’ll probably have to turn in my anime fan badge, but this is my first time watching Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Technically, this movie shouldn’t even be in this series of articles since it was created before the founding of Ghibli earnest, but fuck it; it’s well known enough and associated with the studio enough that it would be negligent to pass it by.

MadameAce: It’s not just associated with the studio. Nausicaa may very well be the reason Studio Ghibli got founded in the first place. It grossed in about 740 million yen (nearly eight million dollars), and then Ghibli happened the following the year. So say whatever you want about this movie—which we will—because if you’re a Ghibli fan, this is a movie you should be thankful for, even if you hate it.

Tsunderin: For those of you who may not have seen the film or have seen it so long ago that what happened is a little fuzzy, here’s a recap. As to be expected from the title, the film focuses on the small settlement called the Valley of the Wind and its princess, Nausicaa. Though the world itself seems to be on the brink of destruction from a plague called the ‘sea of decay’ and the hordes of giant temperamental bugs that ravage the lands, the Valley itself is rather idyllic and peaceful. In fact, Nausicaa seems to hold no fear in traveling into the sea of decay as she is never attacked by the bugs.

nausicaa-la-vallee-du-vent-1984-14-gThis peace cannot last, however, and one day the Valley becomes a landing pad for a crashing cargo plane. None of the passengers are saved, but with her last dying breath, one of them begs Nausicaa to destroy the cargo within. This doesn’t get to happen as the Tolmekian army quickly comes and takes the people of the Valley hostage, killing Nausicaa’s father in the process, while saving the cargo. Said cargo turns out to be the last living warrior from the days before the sea of decay: a creature without morals that only knows destruction. The reasons why bringing something like this back to life would be awful are numerous, but the General-Princess of the Tolmekian forces, Kushana, believes that utilizing such a thing is the only way that the humans can regain control of the earth from the bugs and purify it once more.

In order to get everyone on her side, Kushana forms a plan to take Nausicaa and a few hostages to the warring country of Pejite, yet before they arrive the lot of them are attacked by a Pejite interceptor and fall into the sea of decay, taking the interceptor and its pilot with them. Urging the others to rescue themselves from the decay (while not disturbing the bugs any more than they already have), Nausicaa goes after the pilot who is currently being chased by said bugs, but they both end up getting swallowed by quicksand.

This is a minor inconvenience.

This is a minor inconvenience.

By amazing happenstance, they are not suffocated; instead, they are dropped beneath the topsoil, beneath the decay and discover that the rot of the earth is only on the surface: everything below is pure, clean, and safe. Of course, with that demon warrior being re-born and a war breaking out, environmental issues take a backseat. The pilot, named Asbel, takes Nausicaa back to the other Pejites for aid in getting her back to her people, but as it turns out, the Pejites are willing to sacrifice the Valley and its people to get rid of the warrior. Obviously Nausicaa is not pleased with this, nor is she pleased when she is held hostage once more. Luckily this time there’s a whole half a ship of Pejites that are willing to help her escape to warn her people. Regardless, she does not make it in time.

By the time she is remotely close, a stampede of Ohms—the ‘leaders’ of the bugs or simply the most frightening pill bugs in existence—is quickly making its way toward the Valley and, in their rage, stopping them is an impossible task. In finding the source of their anger, a tortured baby Ohm that is being dangled over the acid ocean, Nausicaa hopes to assuage their rage. Though she saves the baby Ohm, the rampage does not stop. It only stops once she offers up her own life to the Ohms in repentance. Through her sacrifice, the Ohms return once more to the forest (but not before they bring her back to life) and thus with no more reason to stay—that demon warrior? Yeah, it disintegrated—the Tolmekians return home while the Pejites stay to help the Valley rebuild. Everyone is happy. The world is saved. Nausicaa is Jesus or some shit.



MadameAce: If Nausicaa is Jesus, she is pretty spectacular shitty Jesus who likes to fly into rage and murder people. I’m going to admit that I am not endeared to her character at all. I really don’t like her. She seems to care more about bugs than people, has the ability to talk to bugs and gauge their moods based on nothing, meaning they don’t eat what would otherwise be a tasty human snack, and no one in the entire Valley seems capable of doing anything unless she’s there to help out. In fact, plenty of conversations in the Valley are about how amazing she is—again, based on nothing—and I have to wonder how anyone would survive if she wasn’t around. Every new person she meets, like Kushana, is spontaneously interested in her, and the film seems to care more about showing how awesome and self-sacrificing she is than it does about developing any other character. The icing on the Mary-Sue cake is that she’s also a princess.

And because the movie is focused solely on her, everything else that’s built up has no payoff. The Warrior, which gets the plot in motion, amounts to nothing. The sea of decay issue, where a poisonous forest is encroaching on the only land humans can live on is never resolved. In fact, the message is to let it stay poisonous, because it somehow purifies the air it also pollutes. The boy, Asbel, has no personality and we never find out what happens to him. And the war between Pejite and the Tolmekians just ends when the movie does. Just like that. Why were they at war? Who cares! Why did they stop fighting? Because Nausicaa gave her life, damn it!

And the whole “Nausicaa is Jesus” thing, and her coming back to life, is based on a legend about some peaceful warrior wearing blue and walking on a field of gold—or in Nausicaa’s case, it’s more about her wearing a dress dyed blue from Ohm blood and walking on thousands of magical golden Ohm tongues.

nausicaa_1024_015Tsunderin: Is that what happened? I honestly couldn’t tell. I thought her magic powers just gifted her new clothes…

MadameAce: Yes, that’s what happened. I’m not making this up. Ohms have magical golden tongues that she walks on, and they apparently have magical blood as well, because what happens to her dress is not how clothes are dyed. That, or maybe Nausicaa has magical powers that allowed her clothes to be stained in the most symmetrical fashion possible.

But I have to ask: who wrote this legend? What’s the history behind it? Is it divine? I mean, unless someone way back when could see the future, it would have to be. Nausicaa is Jesus somehow.

Wow I Wonder Who's Going to Save the World, Oh Angel That Looks Like Nausicaa

Wow, I Wonder Who’s Going to Save the World, Oh Angel That Looks Like Nausicaa

I do have to give the movie credit though, for probably having the most effective message about why we should respect nature. Don’t pollute, or giant bugs with conquer the Earth!

Tsunderin: Maybe Nausicaa should be given some leeway, as it’s the first motion picture length movie the studio distributed, but it astounds me how much none of it matters. Not only that, but how much the characters don’t even try to make it matter.

Let’s take, for instance, the character of Lord Yupa. He’s the first character that we see and thus arguably the first character the audience forms a connection with as he’s attacked in the middle of the desert by an Ohm (and then saved by Nausicaa, but let’s make one thing not about her). Upon arriving in the Valley, everyone flocks to him and he’s even invited into the king’s chambers. Later on, we find that he’s not only important to the citizens of the Valley, but also that he’s well known across the other countries as one of the best swordsmen alive and someone to be feared. We’re also given the knowledge that Yupa is forever traveling, searching for the one from the prophecies—that one about the person clad in blue walking among golden fields.

All of this is interesting, but it serves no purpose. Yupa fights once in the whole movie and that’s to save the Pejites from the Tolmekians, so his skills are really just there for plot convenience. Also, since the movie ends after Nausicaa is revealed as the one from the prophecy, Yupa has no way to react to his quest finally ending. What does it mean to him? What will he do now? It doesn’t matter because in the end he’s just there for Nausicaa’s sake.



Even Nausicaa does her best to make plot events not matter. There’s a scene right after Nausicaa falls beneath the sea of decay where she has a flashback to her father taking away her pet, which just so happens to be a baby Ohm. This would have been a great way to incorporate her magical communication skills with the Ohms, or at least how she could have formed a connection with them, but once more nothing comes of it. The most that the audience could get from it is that she was really sad that her pet was taken away. I would be sad if my guinea pig was taken away, but it doesn’t mean I can talk to all guinea pigs everywhere.

Besides that, this act that should have impacted her in some way never does. At least not in a plot relevant way. She holds no grudge against her father for what would be interpreted as by a child as cruelty. She forms no pact with that particular Ohm: there’s nothing saying that she considers all Ohms like her Ohm. She never even talks about having this pet! Hell, at this point I’d even be content with her having a flashback or two of her Ohm while looking at the rampaging Ohm herd. There needs to be a connection with all these plot points that Miyazaki wants us to think are important, but there never is so they just seem frivolous.

The rampaging herd showing more believable emotion than anyone else in the film.

The rampaging herd showing more believable emotion than anyone else in the film.

MadameAce: It’s really hard for the audience to form a connection to anything that’s happening when everything in the movie is so disconnected from each other. Nausicaa was painfully hard to pay attention to, because it’s a series of events that just happen to our characters and they don’t tend to lead into each other or have consequences. And whatever consequences there are, are easily solved by Nausicaa and convenience, meaning that no one has to work for anything, making all of their struggles moot and uninteresting. Arguably, Nausicaa herself does work toward her ending, and she does suffer along the way, but I assure you, any normal person without Sue powers in her place would have been eaten long before the movie even started. Nausicaa might have to struggle, which will help with relatability, but because things just happen to her and she doesn’t really react outside whatever stock-emotion the scene might mistake for character development, she herself becomes painfully difficult to relate to.

I don’t care about her. I don’t care about the Valley. I don’t care about any of the characters or what’s happening to them. The closest the movie got to invoking a reaction out of me was during the aforementioned flashback of Nausicaa’s baby Ohm pet, but Nausicaa herself doesn’t seem to care about it, so why should I?

Studio Ghibli may be responsible for bringing the world numerous well-told stories, but sadly, Nausicaa isn’t one of them. It’s not as though it’s a completely terrible movie, either. It had a lot of potential and a decent premise, but a poor execution. The only compliment I can give the movie would be the animation.

nausicaa18Tsunderin: And what lovely animation it is. I don’t think I have to say much: the images flow together beautifully and there’s a fanciful sort of motion in everything. When Nausicaa rides on her glider, it almost seems as though she’s dancing in the air. I do like her best when she’s flying because that’s the only time she shows emotion. Clearly, her emotion is expressed through body language rather than things like ‘dialogue’ or ‘motivations’.

But if there’s one thing that Ghibli is praised for the most it’s their scenery and Nausicaa sets the bar high. Each setting, even those that we are exposed to only for a short time, shows a richness and a depth that far surpass their human counterparts and exposes a history that the audience will never be privy to. In no deluded terms, the scenery does a better keeping the audience intrigued than the main conflict. As Ace mentioned earlier though, that is because our heroine shows no emotion towards the issues at large.

If this movie were to be successful in character terms, they would have to focus on someone else entirely. I have to admit that Kushana was one of my favorite characters. Though Miyazaki tried his best to write her as a seemingly one-dimensional character who only wanted the destruction of the sea of decay, even at the cost of her own humanity and other’s lives, the Tolmekian princess still has a depth to her that no one else can claim. She knows what she’s doing is wrong, but she feels like she must anyways to preserve the future of the human race, despite the warnings that reviving the warrior may, in fact, also destroy them as well as the bugs.



She must live with the fact that her body will never be able to be used to its full capacity again—although I’m not quite sure how she can even move her ‘arms’ as removing her plate glove reveals that the interior is absolutely hollow—and that she will never be considered as a woman to the extent that other princesses are. This pushes her to be the best in her chosen sector, the military, so when she fights she is not only fighting for her country, but also fighting for the respect that she might not get otherwise. She is a smart woman, a shortsighted woman, prideful and willing to do underhanded things to get the results she wants. In other words, she’s everything Nausicaa isn’t.

However, to its detriment, the movie doesn’t even really play them off as foils: instead Kushana is forced into the role of one of the Valley Princess’ ‘disciples’, if we’re still going with the Jesus metaphor. Slowly Kushana becomes more and more receptive to Nausicaa and even waits for her to return from Pejite until she attacks the people of the Valley (who previously stole one of their tanks and tried to get away). It just seems like they were trying to show character growth, but instead of growth they made Kushana a fangirl.

Yet, if I really wanted this film to star someone interesting, my faith would be misplaced in Kushana: she is far too old to be the lead of a Miyazaki-directed film. Of course, so would anyone over the age of fifteen. In putting several of Miyazaki’s movies next to each other, it becomes obvious that the director has a penchant for writing coming-of-age stories about younger girls, so instead of Nausicaa, I think a more interesting take would be seeing events from Lastelle’s, the late princess of Pejite’s, point of view. Despite the fact that she dies—she was the short-lived survivor from the cargo plane that crashed into the Valley—I feel like she had much more to lose and much more to offer the story than Nausicaa did, especially since Pejite was directly affected by the Tolmekians from the get-go.

When it’s all said and done, I suppose expecting Nausicaa to be interesting is stretching her capabilities a little too far. You see, Nausicaa is not a character; she is an idea, even an ideal.

MadameAce: I wouldn’t even call her an ideal. Nausicaa lacks idealistic qualities. Like I said earlier, she puts bugs over the importance of humans and she has a habit of flying into rages and murdering people. While maybe she was an ideal at one point, that gets lost when you start to view her as someone who can become entirely apathetic to the lives of other people when the scene dictates her to be a badass.

I suppose later Ghibli films have spoiled both Rin and me, because we went into this movie expecting a lot more from it than what we got. Nausicaa doesn’t offer much more than visuals, and when it comes right down to it, there are other Ghibli films that not only have beautiful animation, but decent plots and character developments. Hopefully, as Rin and I continue going through all the full-length Ghibli films, there will be a lot more things to praise.

6 thoughts on “Ghibli Month: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

  1. Pingback: Something More: AnoHana and the Holy Spirit, God Using Bakuman, and Nausicaa as Jesus |

  2. Nausicaa (the movie) is so disappointing for me because Nausicaa (the manga) is excellent. The plotholes and unsubstantial characterization mainly come from taking the first quarter (if that much) of the ongoing comic, and cobbling together a new ending. In the process, most of the things I really love about the comic get cut.

    Do check out the manga if you get a chance, it takes a bit to get going but once it does it is really, really good.

    However, this movie acts as something of a dry run for Princess Mononoke, so keep an eye out for how that movie improves on elements of this one!

    • I haven’t actually heard anything in comparison to the manga (which is strange, now that I think about it), so I’m glad to hear that it was, in fact, better than its film counterpart.

      However, I have heard about the comparison to Princess Mononoke–which I love– so I’m excited to compare the two now that I finally have the opportunity to do so!

  3. I love that you claim Nausicaa to be a Mary-Sue character, AFTER explaining exactly why she isn’t, and even criticize her for NOT being perfect, which would only make her closer to that archetype. I also don’t at all understand where you get certain ideas that aren’t true in the film at all.
    – That the village is incapable of doing anything without Nausicaa. They can, and they do.
    – That the insects should eat Nausicaa. If there’s anything we learn throughout the film, the insects are fairly smart, and especially honorable, in that they won’t attack unless provoked. Plus, it’s not even clear whether these insects are carnivores or not.
    – That the village likes Nausicaa for no reason. She does alot for her village, she brings them materials from the forest, she helps out with the labor, she teaches children how to fly, she tries to learn more about the forest to help her people, she’s very social, a natural leader and fighter. The idea that she hasn’t earned her respect from her people is just ridiculous.
    – That Nausicaa values bug life over human. Not true at all. Nausicaa believes that all life is worth preserving. The one time she abandons that is due to the shock of seeing her father murdered (possibly unintentionally) and it does leave a huge impact on her, as it makes her scared of the potential of war, and of herself.

    Plus I feel your criticism is a bit short-sighted or otherwise nonsensical, like Nausicaa being a princess automatically makes her character invalidated, despite the fact that she’s one of the few princess’s in fiction that actually utilizes and values her responsibility and leadership position. You also didn’t seem to like that Nausicaa is self-sacrificing, as if that’s a terrible trait for a character to have, when in my mind, it’s a bare minimum requirement to be a hero.

    I’m not going to get pissy with you just because you have an opinion, but I still have to point out why some of these points you make aren’t very well thought out, and otherwise show a lack of understanding or attention to the material. And it’s even more apparent when alot, if not everything, you criticize can be applied to Princess Mononoke, which that movie did worst to the nth degree. Ex. Nausicaa according to you values bugs over humans (again, not true) while San from Mononoke has an extreme prejudice against humans, kills without cause or remorse, and who’s motto is straight up “kill the humans, save the forest.” And you don’t seem to mind.

  4. I have a lot of disagreements with you about this movie, but I’ll only bring up one. You were frustrated by the scene where she recalls hiding a baby Ohm from the village. You’re mad that it’s never brought up again, and its lack of overt relevance to the plot.
    First, tiny little thing – I don’t think Nausicaa has a “magic ability” to communicate with the Ohm. It seems that anybody can do it, as long as they’re brave enough to permit the Ohm to feel them up with their tentacles. Nobody else tried communicating with them, so it’s no wonder Nausicaa was the only one.
    Second, I’d like to compare this scene to one from another great movie – The Silence of the Lambs. When Clarice Starling describes her memories of trying and failing to rescue a lamb from being slaughtered at her uncle’s ranch, is she just setting up a vague motivation for trying so hard to locate Buffalo Bill and save Catherine Martin?
    NO, that is incidental.
    One thing you’ll notice about SOTL is that Starling doesn’t really change much as a character. As Jodie Foster said afterwards, the point of the story of the lamb is not really to illustrate how that incident changed her life, but shows us who she already was.
    As Foster says, “The idea was, the hero was the hero before he was born and it’s just a question of fate–there will be instances that will challenge the heroism and it will show itself to them. [sic] Even when the hero was eight or nine years old it was there.”
    Similarly, I think the Ohm memory was to demonstrate Nausicaa’s lack of prejudice towards the insects – not to show us how it developed, but how it was already there and she had to strength to hold on to her compassionate nature. Most of us inherit the biases of our society, but Nausicaa always saw beyond that, and her natural kindness helped her find solutions to conflicts that no one else would even dream of doing. “Why stand before an army of stampeding beasts, offering their child back to them? They’ll just kill you and keep going.” But her act of self-sacrifice was much more effective than all the firepower of the Tolmikiens.
    I did have some issues with this film. Like the constant, on-the-nose dialogue that addresses no one in particular except the audience. Also how eighties the soundtrack is. I could go on a lot more about this film, but I don’t really have the time right now.

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