In what ways is Nausicaä intended as a warning, and what attitudes does it express towards humanity, nature and the future?
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is an acclamation of curiosity, and a warning against impulsivity. While one might read it as a simple story of human vs. nature, on closer inspection it is deeper; Nausicaä’s message is that humans who respect nature and seek to understand it will prosper over those who only see nature as capital to be exploited. Hayao Miyazaki is well known as an environmentalist (Anderson, 2005), and while his stories have many themes and merits to be explored, the theme of environmentalism is continued not just by his later works but also by other animated films and series inspired by this very idea: that nature has intrinsic value (Bauer, 2018).
A warning against the exploitation of nature.
Nausicaä is clearly a tale of caution. Miyazaki felt that there was an environmental crisis on its way, even in 1984, and he weaves his stories around this (Chan, 2015). Nausicaä is set in the future, in a poison forest that plagues most of the earth, caused by a legendary event called the Seven Days of Fire. The clear allusion here is that mankind is the culprit, perhaps through nuclear war or simply global warming, and the majority of humankind has been wiped out. It’s not really necessary to go into detail about the history, thematically, because that isn’t the point of the text. To quote Jeff Goldblum: “life uhh… finds a way” (1993). The movie is saying that the world will continue, whether or not humans are a part of the ecosystem or not; if it is more beneficial to nature to poison all humans, then nature will do as such. Even the blind rage that the Ohm fly into when provoked is representative of the wrath of nature. In later works, Miyazaki uses characters such as spirits to represent the intentions of the natural world, like the boar in Princess Mononoke (1997), but the Ohm in Nausicaä have much the same effect.
A celebration of curiosity and science.
Princess Nausicaä is a kind-hearted young woman and strong leader, yes, but first and foremost, she is a curious scientist. Our introduction to her is in the poison forest, collecting specimens and remarking on the beauty around her. She is wide eyed and introspective, open to the possibilities of the environment. One particularly notable moment is when she uses her gunpowder and trigger in an unusual way – not to shoot something, but to help her study it. She uses the tools of nature, but only if they don’t harm the living beings. She takes the time to appreciate nature for its intrinsic value, and doesn’t get angry at animals for being afraid of her at first, like the little fox-squirrel. She uses technology such as her glider and her laboratory to help her understand and work with the world around her. This is presented in stark contrast to the Tolmekians, who use technology to push back against forces they don’t understand, threatening destruction because of their ignorance.
Nature as valuable in and of itself.
Miyazaki’s films often point out the intrinsic value of nature over it’s monetary or capital value. Princess Mononoke and My Neighbour Totoro (1988) depict elements of nature as forest spirits or soot spirits, who have no desire to harm or destroy, as long as they don’t feel threatened, they leave the humans be. There are strong themes on interconnectivity, or kami, the interconnectedness of the world as understood in Shintoism (Anderson, 2005). All spirits depend on each other, as an ecosystem, and those systems need to be held in balance with each other. In Nausicaä it is revealed that there is a wealth of clean air beneath the poison forest, and that nature is, in fact, the best one at solving the problem of pollution, if only humans would stop and pay attention.
I want to take a moment to point out that Miyazaki has clearly had a long lasting impression on western filmmakers. So many other stories spring to mind on watching Nausicaä, all clearly influenced by the values that Miyazaki purports (Smith, 2015). Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008) is all about restoring the natural balance of the forces of nature, Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest (1992), a labor of love by Jim Cox, is all about the destructive force of pollution and the intrinsic value of the forest. Even Pocahontas (1995) has similar intentions in its text, though it arguably doesn’t fully achieve a sense of genuineness. The point I want to make, however, is that there is something powerful in Miyazaki’s message. It clearly has lasting value.
Nausicaä as a warning is a fairly optimistic one, in a way (apart from the implication that most of us are going to die in a nuclear holocaust). The optimism is in the titular character, and the curiosity and gentleness of the human spirit. Miyazaki does not necessarily believe that humans are all heading toward oblivion, but he does believe that a value system which favours nature for its own sake over its capital potential will inevitably serve humanity much better.
Anderson, M. (2005) Miyazaki, Shintoism & Ecology. Retrieved September 23, 2019, from http://environment-ecology.com/religion-and-ecology/511-miyazaki-shintoism-a-ecology-.html
Bauer, J. (June, 2018) The Philosophy of Miyazaki – Wisecrack Edition. Retrieved September 23, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=es8iacHu1PA
Chan, M. (August, 2015) Environmentalism in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke. Retrieved September 23, 2019 fromhttps://www.researchgate.net/publication/309902044_Environmentalism_in_Nausicaa_of_the_Valley_of_the_Wind_and_Princess_Mononoke’
Smith, J. (June, 2015) HAYAO MIYAZAKI’S INFLUENCE ON THE WORLD OF AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER AND LEGEND OF KORRA. Retrieved September 23, 2019 from http://girlsincapes.com/2015/06/19/miyazaki-influence-on-avatar/