Why Nausicaa is awesome

Via Roger Ebert, here is Filipino reviewer Michael Mirasol’s take on what’s so great about Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind:

My favorite part (emphasis added):

The film is considered to be the first of Miyazaki’s works to showcase his strong environmental inclinations. In every film since he has made his case for man to grow closer to nature as a return to the olden days. He does so with positive reinforcement, hardly ever resorting to demonizing, moralizing, or sermonizing. Here, the toxic jungle isn’t so much an inhospitable realm as it is a fearsome marvel of nature. It’s huge arthropod denizens never come off as oozing grotesques, but wondrous (though scary) creatures. The film’s largest creations, the ohmus, are wholly original, and are almost proof that the eyes are the window to the soul.

Miyazaki’s refusal to narrow down conflict to two or even three sides is refreshing, and quite admirable considering its target audience. The film’s story does concern good versus evil, but they aren’t manifested in simplistic ways. Each populace has its own motivations. Each conflict has its reason. Wars exist among man and against nature. Several stakes exist. Even death is hardly out of bounds. For much of the film, there is no one problem/solution. But despite this moral complexity for an animated film, it all fits Miyazaki’s big picture, and in the end we see it.

The link has a transcript, so it might be easier to read that instead.

I think it’s a testament to Miyazaki’s subtle storytelling power (or maybe just my own lack of insight) that this point never explicitly dawned on me after watching the movie. It’s just a natural part of the landscape. And it’s surprisingly rare for movies to take this approach, though it seems to be a major feature of Miyazaki films.

At the risk of overgeneralizing, I sense a broader point here. One of the refreshing things about living in Japan is that people seem much less dogmatic than in the US. That is, issues are seldom as black and white as they seem in the States, and there seems to be less pressure to adopt the “correct” set of opinions based on political leanings. Could this have something to do with a generation raised on Miyazaki’s pluralistic stories as opposed to Americans growing up with Disney tales of good and evil?

23 thoughts on “Why Nausicaa is awesome”

  1. If you think the anime is epic, I strongly urge you to read the manga. You’ll never look at the film the same way again.

  2. I was floored by Nausicaa when I was in high school and it is one of the reasons why I became interested in Japan.

    @Don – Ditto on the manga. Also recommend that all Miyazaki fans check out his illustrated novel “Shuna no Tabi”, the core or much of the Nausicaa storyline.


    It is what Earthsea should have been.

    “Could this have something to do with a generation raised on Miyazaki’s pluralistic stories as opposed to Americans growing up with Disney tales of good and evil?”

    I see this side of Japanese society and Miyazaki specifically as being a part of the ideological renegotiation that took place after the implosion of the activist left in the early 70s. It is also a major facet of the work of Matsumoto, Oshii, Otomo, etc. It figures in many, many famous anime from GUNDAM to Ghost in the Shell as well as a great variety of popular culture.

    Not just pulling this out of my keister either. Miyazaki took to the streets in the early 60s and is quite explicit about all of this in the interviews that he did around the time that Nausicaa was released – they have just been reprinted as 映画 風の谷のナウシカ GUIDEBOOK 復刻版 to mark the “Karigurashi” release. At 680 yen it is a must buy for any fan of the movie.

    “One of the refreshing things about living in Japan is that people seem much less dogmatic than in the US.”

    Japanese can be dogmatic when appealing to the way that Japanese are (uniquely orderly, hierarchy, jinjo, giri, four seasons, whatever). The problem in America is that people who lean this way tend to be dogmatic about the way that other people should be.

    And it is only getting worse….

    “In every film since he has made his case for man to grow closer to nature as a return to the olden days. He does so with positive reinforcement, hardly ever resorting to demonizing, moralizing, or sermonizing.”

    Dude obviously hasn’t gone to see “Karigurashi” yet…. (Miyazaki wrote it).

  3. ”If you think the anime is epic, I strongly urge you to read the manga. You’ll never look at the film the same way again.”

    You can say pretty much the same with “AKIRA”

  4. You could say the same about Appleseed, but I doubt anybody found that anime epic.
    Manga is, though. Well, same guy as Ghost in the Shell, after all. And the movie from that by Oshii was epic too.

    @Roy: Thanks for the news.
    RIP Satoshi Kon.

  5. Francois, that’s the big difference – the Appleseed manga seems tremendous because the anime are so average.

    Some people swear by the GITS manga but I feel that it is inferior to the films and TV projects, each of which have their own unique strengths.

    RIP Satoshi Kon. At 47, this is tragic.

    Can anyone fill his shoes? We’ll soon find out if the anime industry side makes room for a certain number of auteurs or if a small number of auteurs essentially carry the quality side of the industry.

  6. Don’t blame Disney for a worldview that is based in Christianity’s concept of Pure Good vs. Pure Evil.

    Talking of which, from that Ozawa link…
    In November last year, [Ozawa] called Christianity “exclusive and self-righteous” and said that U.S. and European societies were at a “dead end”.
    Self-righteous, yes – definitely “holier than thou”. But not exclusive, unfortunately, or else we wouldn’t have all those missionaries screwing up primitive societies. I’m not too sure he can call “Western” societies at a dead end, at least in relation to Japan, either. In fact I’m not sure what he means by it, anyway.

  7. Oy, don’t pin the tales of good and evil all on Christianity. Christianity, as it means to be, *is* exclusive and *is not* self-righteous. Why that viewpoint is not universally shared is another blog for another time.

    In other news, Ozawa is Pure Evil. And in another two years, he will either have died of a heart attack, or his eye lids will have sealed themselves shut.

  8. I beg to differ, Christianity is not exclusive.
    As pointed by Jade, proselytizing is recommended by the Church, even if that is not followed by all. Conversion is widely accepted, making Christianity quite inclusive.
    A reverse example can be found in Judaism, which is exclusive and does not proselytize.

    To come back to the subject, and with a broad generalization, I would agree that Western society is more inclined to a manichean way of thinking and Eastern society a more taoist one, where Evil & Good is blended.
    Religion (followed or not) does have a say in this, is my opinion.

  9. “More inclined to”? But if we accept this premise, then why? In this case, do the religions develop to fit the “way of thinking” or the other way around? I would suspect the latter, given the heavy influence of religion on thinking. Then we end up with, why do these religions develop this way? Chickens or eggs?

  10. If you are familiar with the Ten Commandments, especially the parts that don’t talk about killing and neighbors’ donkeys, you would know that Judaism and Christianity are exclusive in their treatment of belief in their God, i.e. don’t be worshiping cows on your off-days, in the end its God’s way or the Transjordan expressway, etc. I had thought Ozawa’s comment to curry favor with the Buddhists was a dig against that aspect of Abrahamic religions, not against the manner in which they proselytize. Correct me if I’m misunderstanding.

    We seem to be defining exclusivity of a religion in vastly different ways, which is sure to make the discussion fairly boring, fairly quickly.

    Back to Miyazaki movies, I will riddle ye all this: Is there a bad Miyazaki movie, and if so, why did you think it was bad?

  11. Didn’t like Sen to Chihiro or Ponyo because they just didn’t make sense. Though in Ponyo’s defense I didn’t watch the whole thing. Also that goddamn song is still stuck in my head. I don’t think it’s constructive for me to bitch about what I don’t like about them because they do have a lot of positive things going on as well, and kind of like Nausicaa it’s the world they inhabit and the attitude projected that can be more important than the logic and plot itself.

    Ghibli movie I liked a lot but isn’t considered classic – 耳をすませば which is about a middle school girl who falls in love with a young violinist. Not directed by Miyazaki. It doesn’t sound like much but it’s a decent story with a breathtaking depiction of modern Japan. I saw it in university not long after coming back from high school exchange and it made me “homesick” for school life in Japan. I watched it again on Japanese TV maybe a year ago and it still hit home. This time I was impressed at how the anime made me envy the protagonist for her youthful passion and naiveté.

    I didnt realize it was based on shojo manga before checking Wikipedia, but that makes perfect sense.


  12. “We seem to be defining exclusivity of a religion in vastly different ways”

    Yes, it looks like it. I took mine from his coupling with “self-righteous”.

    Adamu, you didn’t like Sen to Chihiro? How did it not make sense? Or is your use of the past tense meant to imply you now think it is better? I agree Ponyo was a bit of a mess. And I definitely agree with you about Mimi’s wonderful depiction of Japan, or rather that part of Tokyo, as I lived near there for a year (and can identify real places that he shows, such as Seiseki). It’s just a wonderful rendition of the place, and a perfect example of how the mundane can be art (another thing I like in that vein is the illustrations of Tokyo’s shitamachi done for title pages in Kochi Kame manga for a period–wonderfully evocative).

  13. The Shojo manga version of Mimi is a big letdown – much of what made the film great was the sense of reality, especially the apartment. In the manga, they live in an impossibly large Western-style house. (BTW, I think that film is remembered and Miyazaki was intimately involved in writing it). By setting it in a flaky manga-space instead of a very real Japan, it loses a lot of its power.

    Sen to Chihiro works by abandoning a realistic setting and testing the main character within an often bizarre dreamscape. It isn’t that different thematically from Kiki’s Delivery Service and if you go with the metaphorical flow, I think that you will get a better sense of why people are so passionate about that film.

    Ponyo was deliberately planned to be an animated vision of a picture book for 4 or 5 year olds. Big bold images plus simple feelings > making sense.My wife was pregnant when I saw it and I very well may have thought differently about the film had this not been the case. As it is, I’ll make it my son’s first Ghibli.

    I don’t think that there is a “bad” Miyazaki movie, just like most first rate filmmakers are so above the bar for ordinary films that even “less good” ones still have their strong points. I think that the last act of Howl’s Moving Castle pretty much flopped, but the film has such strong imagination behind it and a commitment to some powerful themes so I’ve still watched it like 4 times…. The most “ordinary” thing that Miyazaki has done is “Panda Ko Panda” but that goes waaaayyyyyy back.

  14. Also, people shouldn’t make the mistake of just sticking to the Miyazaki Ghibli.

    Takahata, overall, is a more adventurous filmmaker and the early Miyazaki – Lupin III – The Castle of Cagliostro and Future Boy Conan – are tremendously entertaining.

  15. M-Bone: “I’ll make it my son’s first Ghibli.”

    My three-year-old daughter likes Ponyo (the character) a lot but is pretty scared of the storm/giant fish scene. We end up having to fast-forward through that bit when we watch it together. She’s much happier to sit all the way through Totoro or Panda Kopanda. (Of course, maybe your son would dig the dramatic bits more than out kid does; just a point on the graph.)

  16. Additionally, I think Panda Kopanda is great fun. I love seeing all these hints of things to come (the papa panda’s grin is very Totoroesque, and there’s the scene where they go rowing over the flood and look down at fish swimming over the landscape that presages the similar scenes in Ponyo).

  17. My son hasn’t been frightened by fireworks or thunder so might end up digging the Ponyo typhoon. It is the highlight of the film for me. I’ve heard of some kids being TERRIFIED of Totoro so anything can happen.

    In any case, I’ll wait until he is at least 12 before showing him Pon Poko and explaining why it is an allegory for the postwar Japanese left. And it has balls. Great big balls.

    Good point on Panda ko Panda – it is not that it is “bad” or anything and is really quite fun…. and you can certainly see the signs of things to come. I’m not sure that anyone watched that and exclaimed “this director will go on to be a legend”, however. That really becomes clear with Cagliostro. Clear, I think, in the first five minutes.

  18. “I’ve heard of some kids being TERRIFIED of Totoro”

    I wish you could post pics here….

  19. I was dissapointed by Ponyo since it’s seemed like a rehash of the little mermaid and all the other Miyazaki movies were, for me, completely novel stories. The flooding scenes also made me remember Panda Kopanda.

    My four-year-old loves both the Disney version of the mermaid and Ponyo, but she doesn’t seem to grasp their similarities yet…

  20. Well, Howl’s Moving Castle was based on a very good English fantasy novel, Laputa: Castle in the Sky is of course slightly inspired by the fantasy location of the same name in Gulliver’s Travels, and reviews of Spirited Away usually include a reference to Alice in Wonderland. So, while Miyazaki is undeniably a creative master, he also obviously isn’t entirely averse to taking in outside influences.

  21. I guess your right, Roy. My impression was that the older films were mostly original stuff, but checking Wikipedia it seem like 魔女のy宅急便 is also adapted from a book. I think I’ll try the novel behind Howl’s moving castle – it is probably better than the movie!

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