The trip my wife and I are taking through the films of Hayao Miyazaki stretched across two movies last night. First Lupin III The Castle of Cagliostro, and then Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Miyazaki’s second feature film and one that shows much development thematically over its predecessor.
The film is post-apocalyptic to an extent, and yet the visuals of the environments remain very lush and green-looking. This is explained via the unfolding plot, and I will not detail it here. Suffice it to say that the world is being consumed by a giant “toxic jungle” which is overrun with giant bugs, and this toxic jungle threatens the peaceful, green and fertile Valley of the Wind where the titular character, Princess Nausicaa, lives.
Nausicaa is the blueprint from which all Miyazaki leading female characters flow: she is adventurous, brave, caring, and strong. Very much a strong leading female character that many would be typical to throw the easily used term “Mary Sue” at, without turning any understanding to the mythic and cultural themes Miyazaki is developing in his individual films and his body of work as a whole.
The film is loaded with thematic material that will pop up time and time again in Miyazaki’s films: strong females, family and home, protecting the earth, anti-violence, gluttony and excess, ect, ect. But I feel as though the films are handled in more nuanced ways in his later films. Ponyo, for instance, delivers its protecting the earth themes without the heavy-handedness present in Nausicaa.
Heavy-handed, by the way, might be an apt term for this film on all fronts. The protection of the earth theme, and ultimately how the earth literally turns against those that abuse it, weighs heavy over the film and ultimately only serves to muddle its finale. For the majority of the film you feel certain that the bugs of the toxic jungle are the “villains”, but the story then introduces side-plots involving war between nations trying to destroy the toxic jungle and the bugs. This leads to a somewhat bewildering, I think, climax where you’re not certain who to feel sorry for.
Ultimately all of the “baddies” in this film become sympathetic, and the ending plays out exactly how you would expect it to based on previous information handed out by a wise old witch residing in the Valley of the Wind. The heavy-handed usage of the environmental themes and the lackluster, somewhat phoned-in ending really drag this film down. There is never much a sense of danger, excitement, or even fun to be had in this film.
This was my second viewing of this film and it was my wife’s first viewing. She was left unimpressed and her statement really sums up my views on the movie: “I’m a country girl, and I love the outdoors, but I can only root for giant bugs for so long — they’re only bugs.”