Warrior/pacifist Princess Nausicaä desperately struggles to prevent two warring nations from destroying themselves and their dying planet.
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Set in a distant future post an apocalyptic war, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds (1984) tells the story of mankind’s struggle to survive on a planet that has grown hostile to human civilization. It tells you of an individual’s perseverance to correct the wrongs humans have inflicted on the planet. In this process, Hayao Miyazaki creates one of his strongest heroes, the princess Nausicaa, who symbolizes all that we need to do if we want to live to see a future which is not very different from the one in the film.
The film begins a thousand years after the ‘Seven Days of Fire’, a great war that destroyed human civilization along with Earth’s ecosystem. Giant warriors with the ability to pulsate highly powerful energy beams devastated most cities and the environment, and the remaining human habitations must share the land with a poisonous forest known as the Sea of Decay. The humans must compete for resources with the insects that live in the forest, and are eternally wary of them, especially the Ohmu, a huge caterpillar-like insect and a seemingly sentient and intelligent being.
Nausicaa is a princess of one of these settlements, the rustic and peaceful Valley of the Winds, who displays extraordinary gifts of communication with the insects and other animals. Though a pacifist, she is a skilled warrior and aerial fighter, and explores the forest to seek the origins and solutions of the poison that spreads around them.
One day, a Tolmekian airship crashes in the valley. Nausicaa tries to rescue a girl from the wreck, but she dies after revealing she is Princess Lastelle of Pejite, and that Nausicaa must destroy the cargo, which being an embryo of one of the Giant Warriors of past that Pejite had unearthed. However, the Tolmekians invade the Valley next day, and their princess Kushana seeks to revive the Warrior to burn the Sea of Decay.
Kushana flies back to Tolmekia with Nausicaa and several others as hostages, but their airships are attacked by Pejitan gunships. The gunship holding them crashes in the forest, and Nausicaa communicates with the Ohmus to find out a Pejitan pilot has crash-landed as well. She rescues him, but her glider crashes into a forest underneath the Sea of Decay—and surprisingly, this forest is non-toxic, with pure water flowing through. Nausicaa explains Asbel--Lastelle’s twin brother--that the trees in the forest have evolved to purify the earth of the various pollutions. She has experimented on this herself and has discovered that provided clean water and soil, the trees do not become poisonous at all.
They fly to Pejite next day, and discover that the insects have devastated it after the Pejitan forces lured them there to kill the occupying Tolmekian forces. The Pejitan forces have captured a baby Ohmu, and are taking it to the Valley to destroy the remaining Tolmekian forces. Nausicaa is captured by the Pejitan soldiers to prevent her from warning the Valley, but Asbel and his mother help her escape.
She rescues the injured baby Ohmu and gains its trust, her dress turning blue by its blood. However, the enraged Ohmus attack the Valley, and Kushana revives the Warrior much too early—it dies after pulsating two powerful beams—the aftershock resembling a mushroom cloud exactly.
Nausicaa steps in front of the Ohmus to pacify them, but is killed in the process. However, the baby Ohmu pacifies the others, who revive Nausicaa using their golden tentacles. Nausicaa awakens, and appears to walk on a golden field—thus fulfilling an ancient prophecy talked about in the beginning—that a man in blue will come and reunite the people and nature.
Nausicaa, thus, ends on a note of hope and optimism. There is hope that life will begin anew and all the individuals present at the scene of the final battle have witnessed a sort of a re-awakening; they are present to witness a birth of a Messiah—and in that, the prophetic vision of the film completes itself. Needless to say, the environmental undertones in the film do not need to be explained. The characters themselves do that—and we as the audience can share in the despair that Nausicaa feels when she realizes there is certainly going to be a war.
Similarly, the pacifist tones in this film are not covert at all, unlike other later Miyazaki films. Here it is open—and Miyazaki is intent upon showing his audience what his idyllic society would be like—if it existed somewhere, it would probably be very similar to Valley of the Winds. Miyazaki puts forward the idea of a benevolent monarch—and juxtaposes it to the war-mongering despot, as symbolized by Kushana; the film is indeed a political commentary on the ideas of equality and discrimination as well—hints to this are found in the prisoners’ conversation with Kushana, where they remark how dissimilar she is to their princess Nausicaa.
Nausicaa herself is a troubled person—distressed by the fact that her father is slowly falling prey to the poison and its effects, and later by the Tolmukian’s insistence on bringing alive the Giant Warrior—she is the one beacon of hope in this universe. She is the only one who does not fear the insects, and instead looks upon them as someone she shares the planet with. Her pain at the baby Ohmu’s sufferings—despite she being wounded herself—is a reminder of what she is made of: a selfless individual for whom life in all its forms is equal and valuable.
Miyazaki’s eternal grandmother-like figure is present here as well. Obaba, as she is known here, is one of those maternal figures who provide a much-needed explanation of the story’s roots and the universe’s history—and as in other later films, she is a sort of a narrator, a Greek chorus that pushes the story forward by informing the audience what is the past.
Miyazaki’s pacifistic hints continue—in an eerie similarity, the Giant Warriors seem like a huge arsenal of nuclear warheads—as described earlier, their aftershock clouds appear like the infamous mushroom cloud over Bikini Atoll, the site for the world’s first atomic bomb test. Indeed, it could be argued that the Ohmu and all the insects are mutations as a result of the radiation that pervaded the earth post the Seven Days of Fire. Armageddon is never far away in this film. It is a constant reminder of what humans, with all their militaristic firepower, can bring upon themselves.
Nausicaa could be interpreted by some as heavily leaning towards Christian ideas of apocalypse and a messianic figure. However, it would be a mistake to restrict these ideas to religion. Indeed, if Nausicaa had to have a religion, it would probably be animistic or Buddhist—since one of the major tenets of the film is to respect life in all its forms, and the other tenet being that the insects are responsible for protecting the forest that is detoxifying the polluted earth. But, as said earlier, these are ideas that pervade not only every religion, but also all the major philosophies that pay attention to the power of pacifism rather than militarism.