A Review

from: http://www.nausicaa.net/miyazaki/nausicaa/article_sf_akira.txt
by Steven Feldman


The Japanese are no less guilty than Americans of harboring post-
apocalyptic fantasies, so it should come as no surprise that some of
their comics deal with the subject. Three such are AKIRA, HOKUTO NO KEN
(FIST OF THE NORTH STAR), and NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF WIND. While
HOKUTO NO KEN is primarily a kung fu version of CONAN THE BARBARIAN by
way of THE ROAD WARRIOR, the other two demonstrate great understanding
on the part of their creators as to what survival after conflagration is
all about. AKIRA deals with disaster on a smaller scale, detailing the
second destruction of Tokyo (the first is recapped in flashback) by an
immense psychokinetic force-wave, while NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF WIND
delineates with allegory and precision the ecological adjustments
produced by mutation on a global scale. . .

 

NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF WIND relates the efforts of a messianic
Princess of a small kingdom named the Valley of Wind to set aright what
her careless ancestors wrought centuries before. Civilization as we
know it vanishes in the Daikaisho, or Seven Days of Fire, brought on by
the deployment of God Soldiers, skyscraper-high bio-mechanical robots
possessed of hideous destructive power. In its wake came the Sea of
Corruption, the group term for vast toxic forests of mutated vegetation
and gigantic insects. These forests belch forth deadly spores which
cause unprotected breathers to vomit blood, so everyone in their
proximity must wear air filters. Neither are the actual seas exempt from
the effects of the Daikaisho; they are highly acidic and burn all who
touch them, including that which makes up the Sea of Corruption.


Therefore, most people travel between kingdoms in ancient ceramic flying
machines. In this post-apocalyptic world, civilization has reverted to
feudalism and man has somehow forgotten the art of smelting. In place
of metals, a type of tempered ceramic is developed. The scavenged
discarded shells of growing Ohmus(huge telepathic insects which lord
over the Sea of Corruption) are stronger, but dangerous to obtain. The
use of ceramics for the construction of weaponry and machines is ecology
safe, but no one dares attack an Ohmu for fear of a stampede of
thousands of its incensed brethren. Least of all, Princess Nausicaa
(pronounced Nah-OH-shi-ka), who, for reasons beyond her understanding,
has a rapport with them and the rest of the unnaturally large denizens
of the toxic jungles. Her ability to communicate with the Ohmu
infuriates and frightens the leaders of the two major kingdoms, so they
conspire to kill her, while, secretly, they scheme to resurrect a God
Soldier to burn the jungles with nuclear fire, not realizing that this
will only fertilize the forest further Eventually, Nausicaa comes to
realize that the Sea of Corruption is, in fact, a self-healing
manifestation which will soon purify the land . . . if the God Soldier
doesn't upset the ecological balance with new radioactivity, that is.
While ecological responsibility is the bedrock upon which the story
is built (as in the brilliant science fiction film, SILENT RUNNING),
internecine encounters between ruling factions (as in DUNE and STAR
WARS) make up the ostensible narrative, with sporadic bursts (pun
intended) of epic heroism and divine prophecy (as in ELFQUEST, LORD OF
THE RINGS, and DUNE, again) woven in for good measure. NAUSICAA draws
upon THE ODYSSEY for inspiration. and the sprawling feel of myth-making
happenstance is much in evidence, with Nausicaa acting as the proverbial
eye of the hurricane (A book about the epic poem's Nausicaa, named
HOMER'S DAUGHTER, was written by one Robert Graves.)
Two aspects of Miyazaki's drawing style stand out. First, his
style of linework is more in keeping with French comics' style than that
prevalent in manga (Miyazaki and Moebius are mutual admirers). Second,
his people's faces look "cute." Don't let this scare you away. Wendy
Pini's very excellent ELFQUEST had "cute" faces, too. NAUSICAA is
decidedly more serious than ELFQUEST in tone and execution, so chalk it
up to Miyazaki's extensive background in animation that his characters
should possess the big, expressive eyes de rigeur in manga (the God of
Japanese comics, Osamu Tezuka, started the Big Eye look -- with ASTRO
BOY -- as an homage to Disney).

 

Feldman also comments on Miyazaki's heroines:

The critic Paul Wells points outs:


'Miyazaki establishes authorial tendencies by refuting the tenets of
films constructed on masculine terms... (His) complex heroines are
consistently engaged in the pursuit of self-knowledge and a distinctive
identity. His use of the feminine discourse subverts patriarchal agendas
both in film making and story-telling.
'As Miyazaki suggests, 'We've reached a time when the male-oriented way
of thinking is reaching a limit. The girl or woman has more flexibility.
This is why a female point of view fits the current times (8).'


As characters, Miyazaki's heroines are typically innocent, creative and
attuned to nature in a way which leaves their male counterparts gaping
in disbelief. The heroines are defined by curiosity, their inner and
outer journeys mirrored in the image of flight - most of Miyazaki's
protagonists fly, or learn to fly. Their discoveries range from film to
film but generally connect to Miyazaki's vision of a pantheistic, self-
creating life force which the heroines eulogise, mourn or redeem. Wells
rightly points out that the revelations are delivered in 'resonant
symbolic moments... the nexus of spiritual and philosophic ideas.' This
aspect of Miyazaki's work is fundamental to Nausicaa.

 

Further comments:

In Dune, Paul realised the sandworms' centrality to Dune's water-cycle
and the political power it brings. Equally, it is with the Ohmu that
Nausicaa finds her higher purpose. In Miyazaki's condensed script, the
main motive of both Torumekia and Pejitei is to destroy the poisonous
rotwood (hence the import of the fire-demon), and so the second half of
the film, for all the battles and adventure, effectively turns into an
eco-debate with all sides given plausible motives. It is here that
Kushana, female leader of the Torumekians, comes to the fore. A powerful
presence (in one memorable scene she casually reveals she's one-armed,
having lost the other to an insect), she follows many Miyazaki
adversaries in being less evil than hubristic. One scene, omitted from
the manga and the Warriors cut, has an 'ordinary' Valley dweller explain
her mistake just before the last battle. 'You (the Torumekians) use
fire. We use a little of that too, but too much fire gives birth to
nothing. Fire turns a forest to ash in one day. Water and wind take a
hundred years to nurture a forest. We prefer water and wind.' Sadly,
Kushana doesn't listen until almost too late.


Nausicaa's discovery that the rotwood is central to the Earth's healing
shortcuts the debate and foreshadows the climax, in which the Pejiteians
mutilate a baby ohmu in graphic detail (another ravaged innocent, born
to suffer) to provoke the insects into destroying the Valley. For
Miyazaki, the final conflict is almost redundant except symbolically.
The Torumekians and Pejitei are virtually forgotten as the new-born God
Warrior, a standard fire-spitting anime monster, sets off impressive
nuclear-style detonations before disintegrating before the oncoming
defenders of the forest. As the film pulls away from its expected
climax, the last minutes centre on Nausicaa's martyrdom - shockingly
violent for a family-oriented film - as she struggles to save the baby
ohmu and her people. In the process, she is shot twice, burned by acid
and dies facing the Ohmu stampede. Anticipating the darker turns in the
Nausicaa manga, it is an astounding sequence and one undiluted by the
glib (if evocative) deus ex machina which ends the picture (18).