Ink & Pixel: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I’m always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. If you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature animated films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

This September got off to an unfortunate start as word came around that acclaimed filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki, is indeed making moves to retire his career as one of the most profound and influential forces within the world of animation. Aside from the fact that the man stands at the ripe old age of 72, the decision to retire happened shortly after Miyazaki’s latest film, THE WIND RISES, fell under a curtain of fire from Japanese political activists. These angry individuals claim that Miyazaki’s portrayal of the aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi sheds a negative light on how Horikoshi’s designs for fighter planes were used during the second world war.

Can we say that these actions are the direct result of his retirement? Probably not. However, I’m sure it lent weight to his making the decision to live out the rest of his days away from the daily pressures of the industry. I for one feel that Miyazaki has more than earned his retirement. After all, his films are a shining example of how to make an animated feature using strong characters and stories that run the gamut of our entire emotional spectrum.

But let’s move on, shall we? I thought that perhaps this week we’d take a look at the film that more or less put Miyazaki on the map as being one of the world’s premiere animation directors. So it’s with that in mind that today we’ll explore NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND.

NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND is the 1984 Japanese animated post-apocalyptic fantasy adventure film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and was created and produced for the big screen by Isao Takahata for the Tokuma Shoten Publishing Co. and Hakuhodo (the longest standing advertising agency in Japan). It’s known that when Miyazaki first crafted the story of Nausicaä that he had absolutely no intention of ever bringing it into an animated format. However, as the demand to see this wild tale of nature versus science up on the big screen increased, Miyazaki eventually committed to bringing his most ambitious project at that time to the animated screen.

NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND shares the story of Nausicaä (Sumi Shimamoto), a young and spirited princess of the Valley of the Wind, and her fight against Tolmekia, a kingdom on the verge of creating an ancient weapon that will destroy a race of misunderstood, gargantuan insects. As a gifted, young woman, Nausicaä, is able to communicate with these creatures. And in understanding their pain and rightful place within the circle of life, she and her friends, Master Yupa (Gorô Naya) and Asbel (Yôji Matsuda),stand firm against an army outfitted with the weapons and intent on wiping the species from the earth. It’s a spirited tale of survival, belief, and the eternal battle between nature and mankind.

When writing NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND, Miyazaki was inspired by many works of literature including (but not limited to) Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea. Earthsea is a fictional realm comprised of hundreds of islands set within a mass of uncharted ocean waters. Originally created for the short story “The Word of Unbinding”, published in 1964, this series later evolved into a six book series of which contained a fully functional world of wizards, creatures, and magic. Other inspirations for NAUSICAÄ include Brian Aldiss’ “Hothouse”, Isaac Asimov’s “Nightfall”, and, believe it or not, J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. And though Miyazaki’s Nausicaä is a wholly original character, it’s been said that much of her predilection toward adventure (and even her name) were inspired by Phaeacian, a character found within the pages of Homer’s Odyssey.

Staying on the subject of inspiration for another moment or two, it is also known that one of the reservations Miyazaki had when bringing the story of Nausicaä into animation was how to approach the process of animating the giant insect race called the Ohmu. It was Miyazaki’s wish to design these creatures so that they bore a striking resemblance to a species of insect known as the Pill bug. Pill bugs, or Armadillidiidae as is their proper name, are a species of woodlice, and are considered a terrestrial crustacean group belonging to the order of Isopoda. Often referred to as doodle bugs, or roly polies, a pill bug’s most distinct feature is their hard, shell-like exterior. This protective casing,when touched, causes the pill bug to retreat into itself – which then forms a protective barrier between the bug itself and any would be predators.

In wanting to keep the pill bug design, Miyazaki and his animation staff went to work on giving the Ohmu a distinct way of traversing the land. By animating the bug’s many arms and legs to dig into the earth and sand – the creature would then pull itself across any terrain that it encountered. Miyazaki himself has said that animating the Ohmu was one of the first great challenges presented to he and his team during the making of the film due to the Ohmu’s many moving parts. But they’re professional animators, you say? True. But it’s important to remember that this was Miyazaki and crew’s first “major” project, and as such, animating insect limbs that move independently of one another took a bit of doing. It’s also to note that none of this would have been possible without the influence and intricate design work of Miyazaki’s friend and artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud. Contributing to the inspiration for the film’s design, Moebius lent heavily to the enigmatic nature of NAUSICAÄ’s world.

I’ve always wondered about where Miyazaki gets his inspiration for all of his wonderful films. I mean, if you stop and think about it, so many of them are built on themes of how mankind and mother nature are continually at odds with one another. An Idea for that sort of heavy handed material doesn’t just appear out of thin air. There has to be a reason, a spark to light the fire if you will. In the case of NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND, Miyazaki was inspired by the poisoning of the Minamata Bay. The Minamata Bay is an area of land located on the west coast of Kyūshū island, found in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan.

This bay was heavily polluted in the 1950s and 60s by an abundance of mercury laden wastewater, which seeped out of a nearby industrial building that belonged to the Chisso Corporation. The contaminated water polluted the shellfish that lived inside of the surrounding area, and in turn gave birth to what became known as Minamata disease. This disease infected more than 10,000 people. Miyazaki, as tragic as he found this incident to be, found within its circumstances the makings of a cautionary tale that would eventually become NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND.

Since the film’s release, NAUSICAÄ has served as a source of inspiration for many other projects beyond the silver screen. It’s influence reaches from helping to create characters that are a part of the widely popular Final Fantasy video game series as well as the Japanese RPG Crystalis in the year 1990. NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND is hailed as one of the best animated films to ever come from Japan and helped put Miyazaki’s genius on the map. Due to its powerful messages, affecting characters, and cinematic grandeur, NAUSICAÄ’s success with fans and critics alike helped pave the way for the opening of Studio Ghibli back in 1985 – Miyazaki’s very own animation house. Since its foundation, Studio Ghibli has gone on to create such films as MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, SPIRITED AWAY, A GRAVE OF FIREFLIES, HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, as well as many other animated classics.

In closing, Mr. Miyazaki has had one hell of a career. His everlasting influence continues to inspire filmmakers all throughout the world and there’s no telling where Studio Ghibli will take us next as the company continues beyond his retirement. It’s my guess that his son, also a filmmaker Gorō Miyazaki, will continue the family business of delivering highly entertaining animated features. Gorō already has three directors credits under his belt with TALES FROM EARTHSEA, FROM UP ON POPPY HILL, and the yet to be released HÔJÔKISHIKI. And yeah, I tried like hell to find the English translation of that title, but alas, I could not.

So if you’ve never experienced NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND I highly recommend it. It’s a hell of a film that has a lot to say and lays the foundation for all of the Miyazaki magic that was to follow throughout the years. Every film, video game, manga or otherwise owes its roots to one thing or another, and NAUSICAÄ’s roots run deep. Check it out.


About the Author

Born and raised in New York, then immigrated to Canada, Steve Seigh has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. He started with Ink & Pixel, a column celebrating the magic and evolution of animation, before launching the companion YouTube series Animation Movies Revisited. He's also the host of the Talking Comics Podcast, a personality-driven audio show focusing on comic books, film, music, and more. You'll rarely catch him without headphones on his head and pancakes on his breath.