For more in this series, check out our Anime archives.
Studio Ghibli is known across the world as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) animation studios of our time. With numerous awards under the studio’s belt, tons of merchandise, and massive financial success, it is almost hard to believe that one of its creators, Hayao Miyazaki, struggled beforehand to get his creative work produced.
In 1980, Miyazaki was fresh off of his directorial debut with the manga-based Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, which was backed by animated studio Tokyo Movie Shinsha (TMS). He decided to work on another animated film for them based on the American comic book Rowlf by Richard Corben, but TSM rejected the pitch a year later due to their inability to secure the film rights, plus their preference for a film based on a manga. Fortunately, a deal was later struck for Miyazaki to create his own original manga series under Tokuma Shoten’s monthly magazine Animage, but only on the condition that it wouldn’t be adapted into a film.
Thus, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was born. The post-apocalyptic series takes place a thousand years after the Seven Days of Fire, a cataclysmic global war that destroyed most of the world. The world is polluted with toxic air and the seas are poisonous. The remaining humans live in small pockets of non-polluted land outside of the Corrupted Sea, a deadly human-made forest inhabited by massive mutant insects that protect it, as the forest rids the world of pollution. The remaining humans have divided themselves into warring kingdoms that fight over limited resources as the Corrupted Sea threatens to consume them all.
In the creation of his lead heroine, Nausicaä, and the world around her, Miyazaki was influenced by The Princess who Loved Insects, a Japanese tale from the 12th century about a young princess who defies social norms and would rather play with insects than look for a husband. Miyazaki also drew inspiration from Western works like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea, to name a few. The Minamata Bay mercury pollution also influenced the environment and the polluted world of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, as well as the Rotten Sea in Ukraine, and the forest of the Japanese island of Yakushima.
After several chapters, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind became Animage’s most popular series; this success couldn’t be ignored as Tokuma Shoten reconsidered their original deal of no film adaptation. Initially, the publishing company asked for a 15 minute short from Miyazaki, but he refused. When he asked for a 60-minute ova (original animation video) instead, Tokuma Shoten proposed a feature instead, which Miyazaki accepted — but only if he directed it. At last, Miyazaki had another feature film, one with his own original characters, creatures, and world, but it was not without difficulty. With only 16 chapters published, the manga was nowhere near complete. This situation led to Miyazaki retooling the story to center more on the human conflict of the kingdoms instead of the Corrupted Sea.
During the summer of 1983, production finally began, with Miyazaki enlisting Japanese composer and music director Joe Hisaishi to score the film. He would not only become one of Miyazaki’s closest friends but his leading composer for most of his later filmography. Desperate for animators, the studio made numerous ads for help in their magazine. Because of this, most of them were outsourced and paid per frame. One of the animators brought on was Hideaki Anno, who would later found the animated studio Gainax and then become known across the world for his most popular animated series, Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was released on March 11, 1984, in Japan and then on June 13th of the following year in the US to significant critical acclaim and overwhelming financial success. That success of both the manga and the film led to the creation of Studio Ghibli in 1985 with funding from Tokuma Shoten, its parent company. The founding of the animation studio isn’t the only impact Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind had on Miyazaki’s career, though. The film’s characters, designs, and themes laid the groundwork for his projects going forward, most notably in how he intertwines an anti-war theme with the idea of coexistence between nature and animals.
In Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the Seven Days of Fire is a symbolism of nuclear warfare, as the bio-weapons created by humans (dubbed God Warriors a thousand years later) rain down devastation on the world causing mass destruction of life and landscapes. Poisonous seas and mutated insects are symbolism for nuclear fallout in the story, as the world is covered by a polluted air that can prove fatal once inhaled over a period of time. The central conflict of the film is between two warring kingdoms, Tolmekia and Pejite, as they fight over a God Warrior embryo. That and their stalemates are a reflection of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the US and the fear of an impending nuclear war. But in this case, it’s of the God Warrior awakening.
Miyazaki is a firm believer in using non-violent means to solve problems, and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is no exception despite some of its violent scenes. A peaceful solution by Nausicaä resolves the dispute between the two kingdoms. Miyazaki would later state he had no ulterior motives when making the film as he wanted Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind to be for entertainment, but his future films would also incorporate anti-war sentiments. Both Princess Mononoke, released in 1997, and Howl’s Moving Castle, released in 2004, feature central characters playing a pivotal role in preventing further bloodshed between nations and creatures.
Environmentalism is another theme almost always present in Miyazaki’s work, and it was first shown in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. As the world of the film is heavily polluted, Nausicaä still struggles to understand the world around her and the creatures that inhabit it. She often reflects on the beauty of the land; for example, she reflects on the beauty of the poisonous spores despite knowing that, if inhaled, it would cause death within minutes. When she lands on a group of docile mutant insects, she apologizes to them despite them being almost three times her size. Even the resolution of the film is a resounding message of coexistence with nature as the two kingdoms are forced to acknowledge that they are no match for mother nature and the mutant insects.
Over the course of several decades, Studio Ghibli has become a beloved animated studio known for providing joy, teaching impactful lessons, and themes of humans coexisting with the world and its creatures. What better way to further appreciate the studio and the work that went into the making of their films than by watching the movie that started it all, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, on its 35th anniversary. A film so vital to the core of Studio Ghibli that many consider it a part of the studio’s filmography despite being made before its existence.