Disclaimer: If Christian parents are reading this and wondering whether to show this movie to their kids, I would recommend they treat it like Aristotle: good, beautiful, and inspiring, but ultimately pagan and therefore incomplete at best. Although this movie draws on Christian themes, it is not a Christian movie. For what it’s worth, it feels pretty clean and can impress children with positive feminine virtues and a sense that women can have spines and show courage without trying to become poor imitations of men. On the other hand, it would be easy for a child to take a message of subversive “tikkun olam” away if they were not specifically inoculated against it, because the counterargument to that message is hiding within artistic details too subtle for young minds. If you let your children watch it, it would be good to explain to them that the creators were not Christians but they were studying the successes of Western civilization and trying to make sense of our Christian ideas.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is objectively the best anime I’ve ever seen. It’s not my favorite, and it’s not quite flawless, but it’s the closest thing to perfect artistic expression the Nips have ever put out. And if I were asked to say one positive thing about the Japanese race, it’s that they have an insatiable appetite for art. The plot is quite clever and mixes elements of Western and Eastern religions.
The film tells the story of Nausicaä (Shimamoto), a young princess of the Valley of the Wind who gets involved in a struggle with Tolmekia, a kingdom that tries to use an ancient weapon to eradicate a jungle of mutant giant insects. Nausicaä must stop the Tolmekians from enraging these creatures.
The symbolism is fairly straightforward when you have the cipher. Fire represents destruction, conflict, and strife.
K’Shana: Well? Have you decided? If you promise to tell them to surrender, I’ll let you go. Do you want this to become another Pejité?
Gikkuri: I suppose you’re a princess, too, but you’re very different from our princess.
Goll: Look at my hand. I have the same disease Lord Yuri had. In half a year, it’ll be hard as a rock. But my princess says she likes this hand. She tells me I have the hands of a noble and hard-working man.
KuShana: Even while suffering from the Jungle, you still insist on living by it?
Gikkuri: You use fire… Well, I suppose we use it a bit too, but…
Goll: Too much fire can be nothing but destructive. Fire will reduce a forest to cinders in a day. The water and the wind will spend a century nurturing a forest to health.
Gikkuri: I’ll stick with the water and the wind.
Niga: When the princess sees what’s left of that forest, how she will grieve…
Thus, the backstory of this world—the “Seven Days of Fire”—is an inversion of the Genesis creation myth, comparable to the Flood.
One thousand years have passed since the Seven Days of Fire, an apocalyptic war that destroyed civilization and created the vast Toxic Jungle, a poisonous forest swarming with giant mutant insects.
The visual similarities of this anti-creation myth to Big O are probably not a coincidence, but I don’t understand what they mean yet.
Water represents culture and the inarticulate philosophies by which people in this world live, as it typically does in mythical stories. The war crimes of the past have poisoned the water near the surface (possibly a reference to nuclear radiation) and turned the seas acidic, so that people in the valley have to rely on water from deep underground. The poison represents the constantly degrading malevolence left over from ancient war crimes, and could be compared to the Christian idea of sin.
Yupa: Nausicaä, what is this? These are all Jungle vegetation!
Nausicaä: I gathered the spores and raised them. It’s all right. They’re not poisonous.
Yupa: Not poisonous?! The air in here is definitely clean, but… How can it be? This arsenic plant is in full bloom!
Nausicaä: This water is brought up from 500 meters underground by the castle’s giant windmill. I gathered the sand from the bottom of the same well. If you give them clean water and soil, the plants of the Jungle aren’t poisonous… It’s the soil that’s polluted! Even the soil of the valley is polluted. Why!? Who could have done this?
The insects generally, and the Ohm particularly, embody the earth’s Karma. They can be thought of as natural forces personified as a semiconscious hive mind which is attempting to restore the world to a state of balance.
Nausicaä: The trees of the Jungle were born to clean this world that humans have polluted. They take in the earth’s poison and turn it into clean crystals. Then they die and turn to sand. That’s how this underground cavern was created. The insects are protecting the jungle.
Asbel: If that’s true, then the human race is doomed. It may take thousands of years, but we can’t go on living in fear of the insects and the vapours. I guess all we can hope for is to find a way to stop the Blight from growing any further.
Nausicaä: You sound just like Kushana.
Asbel: No, we’re different. We aren’t planning to use the Titan for warfare. Tomorrow, when you meet the others, you’ll see.
The Tolmekian plot to torture a baby Ohm to bait the Ohm horde into a raging stampede over their enemies is an example of the wartime temptation to use horrific evils with the unconscious intention of producing this destructive Karmic backlash*.
Wind represents benevolent emotions from a culture rich in the social capital of high trust and mutual faith.
Yupa: This valley is so good… Whenever I return, my soul is healed.
Yuri: How fared you with your travels this time?
Yupa: Hmm. It’s terrible. In the south, two more countries have been swallowed up. The spread of the Blight is relentless. Yet everywhere, people would only wage war and spread hunger. Such ominous shadows… Why can’t they live like the people in this valley?
Obaba: This valley is protected by the Divine Breath of the Sea. The poisons of the Jungle are unable to reach the Valley.
Nausicaa’s strategic use of her natural empathy and benevolence to navigate seemingly irreconcilable conflicts is represented by her precocious skill in navigating wind currents with her glider.
Yupa: (Laughs) My, but she reads the wind well.
The conflict in the story is not between people, but rather between philosophies of Just War. On the one hand, the imperialist melonhead declares war on malevolence itself, and on the other hand the fatalistic neanderthal shaman warns that this idealism will only result in catastrophic escalation and the extinction of the human race.
Kushana: Our purpose here is to unite the border kingdoms and build a new land of prosperity and hope. You are all on the verge of being destroyed by the Jungle. I’ve come to ask you to join with us, and cooperate in our undertaking! We will burn down the Jungle and reclaim the land that is our birthright!
Man: Burn down the Jungle?!
Muzu: Is that possible?
Kushana: We have succeeded in reviving the ancient powers that once gave the human race mastery over the planet. To those who follow me, I promise a livelihood without fear of the Jungle’s poisons or the insects!
Obaba: Just one moment! You must not raise a hand against the Jungle! …In the millenium since the birth of the Jungle, many people have tried to burn it down. But each and every time, a swarm of Ohm, red with fury, flooded the land like a tsunami. They swallowed up cities, destroyed whole countries… The Ohm continued to swarm until they themselves died from exhaustion. In due time, using the Ohm’s corpses as seed-beds, the spores took root, and even more lands were engulfed by the Jungle… You must not raise a hand against the Jungle!
Nausicaa’s resolution of this paradox is the antithesis of the Bhagavad Gita.
The Gita is a dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna right before the start of the climactic Kurukshetra War in the Hindu epic Mahabaharata.[note 11] Two massive armies have gathered to destroy the other. The Pandava prince Arjuna asks his charioteer Krishna to drive to the center of the battlefield so that he can get a good look at both the armies and all those “so eager for war”. He sees that some among his enemies are his own relatives, beloved friends, and revered teachers. He does not want to fight to kill them and is thus filled with doubt and despair on the battlefield. He drops his bow, wonders if he should renounce and just leave the battlefield. He turns to his charioteer and guide Krishna, for advice on the rationale for war, his choices and the right thing to do.
Krishna eventually convinces the Promethean figure, Arjuna, that he has to do his duty within the warrior caste dispassionately because to do otherwise would disrupt the natural order of the universe, which would be worse than the war itself.
In Nausicaa, the Promethean figure is the archetypal physician during a time of continually escalating conflicts between kingdoms on the edge of extinction due to the acceleration of generalized malevolence driving out good faith (represented by the spreading poison spores and the dying wind from the sea). There is no bad guy in the plot except bad Karma itself, created by fear and confusion leading to unnecessary conflicts, which is only abated by Nausicaa’s unreasonable good faith in key moments chosen correctly through compassionate love for her would-be enemies. There are three key moments where this is demonstrated in Christian symbolic language. The first time, she puts her body between a fighter plane, machine gun blazing, and the helpless airship that the pilot is shooting down for revenge. The pilot is taken aback by the sight of her standing fearlessly with her arms wide and, not understanding, pulls his fighter up.
The second time, she again puts herself directly in the line of fire with her arms wide to demonstrate that, even though they’re right then trying to kill her, she doesn’t consider them enemies. Although this is not a Christian movie, as I mentioned, this pose evokes the image of Christ on the cross.
The third time, she’s returning the tortured baby Ohm to the unstoppable Ohm hordes as they cascade toward her village to kill everyone there. This time, in the face of her inevitable death as the Ohm rush toward her, she doesn’t even bother to raise her arms to say “we are not enemies”. This mirrors Krishna’s admonition to be emotionally detached from the cause and effect of doing one’s duty in the cycle of history, and to merely accept one’s fate.
Her death here is obviously meant to imitate Christ’s self-sacrifice, by transferring the inevitable consequences of the built-up negative Karma onto Nausicaa. The result of this self-sacrifice is key to understanding the movie’s thesis. Even though the Ohms can’t understand speech, their blind rage is satiated because the action itself communicates sympathy for the injustice committed against them. This illustrates that even mysterious, impersonal forces of nature can sense, understand, and respond to benevolent action. The baby Ohm then intercedes on Nausicaa’s behalf, because she showed unreasonable compassion toward it during its time of suffering, and the Ohm horde resurrects Nausicaa from the dead to complete a Christ-like myth. They do this to mirror her unreasonable injection of good faith and compassion during an escalating conflict, returning good for good.
Last, I’ll type the most interesting characters in brief.
(Maybe it’s an American thing but this picture is very arousing for me.)
Nausicaa herself resists Edenic typing. She was probably conceived as the idyllic, self-sacrificing Aryan virgin princess, and would have the same typing as Aeris from Final Fantasy (which is a matter of important and intense debate among the autistes in our fine community). What impresses me about this character is that Miyazaki made her unnaturally strong in all the feminine virtues without descending into bathos, so that her unearthly perfection is inspiring rather than pedantic. She feels more like a real person than many of the people I know in real life.
Obaba is an excellent representation of the neanderthal-as-shaman. She showcases their incredible strengths of intuitive discernment, conservative wisdom, and insouciant courage as well as their weaknesses of emotional impulsivity, fatalistic doomsaying, and impolitic criticism at the worst possible moments. When the healthy forest which shielded the valley from the Jungle for centuries gets infected with spores, Obaba is the one who makes the hard call to burn it down to buy a little more time to hope for a miracle. She’s also the first to notice when the wind dies, foreshadowing the Ohms’ rampage.
Kushana is an archetypal melonhead complete with red hair, emotional scar tissue (represented by hidden physical scars and amputations), and imperialist ambitions. She’s talented and knows it, and her scars have made her pragmatic to the point of psychopathy, but she hasn’t lost the natural sensitivity that allows her to appreciate Nausicaa’s brilliant use of strategic empathy. Kushana’s character arc is the most interesting because her pragmatism observes the superiority of Nausicaa’s philosophy, which begins to peel away the protective layers of her acquired psychopathy.
Kurotawa is more interesting than he appears. You get the sense that he’s an owl melon degenerated by years of politicking and hedonism who has retained a je ne sais quois sense of honor despite being called a weasel. When the rampaging Ohm are charging his battle line he just smirks and prepares to die well. Anytime he says something, you can imagine him punctuating the statement internally by saying “such is life”.
Her character isn’t developed but her death represents the innocence lost moment of the movie.
Lord Yupa plays what we’d call a “Nobilid”, and others might call an idealized natural aristocrat: prodigious, dignified, peripatetic, and melancholy. He’s a reliable friend and has a way of inserting himself exactly where he can do the most good at any particular time. He has a great mustache as well.
*This unconscious intention may be explained as the desire to archetype spiral into the Jungian Shadow, throwing off all humanity to become the sort of monster who belongs in such a profoundly anti-natalist environment as a warzone. The unconscious result of selling one’s soul to Satan in this way is to embody the death drive, and thus pay for this power with an attitude of self-sabotage to the point of craving death while unable to commit suicide (e.g. Colonel Kurtz). For more on this, see my analyses of Apocalypse Now (currently unfinished) and Inuyasha.