This is the one that started it all, well started a studio that is. While technically not an official Studio Ghibli film, as it was released before the studio was founded, Nausicaä’s box office success led to Hayao Miyazaki creating the famed studio and as such is now considered part of its body of work. Many early efforts are rife with problems, showing only hints of future greatness. But Nausicaä (based off of a manga that he wrote) has only a few dents in its armor, as impressive an effort as you can hope for. It’s an epic tale that touches on themes that lay the foundation for a lot of Miyazaki’s future Ghibli work. It may not be the most popular, but Nausicaä is important not just because of what it led to, but that it’s a quality film in its own right.
The titular Nausicaä is the brave, selfless, princess of the Valley of the Wind, one of many kingdoms struggling against an ever expanding poisoned forest and its giant insect inhabitants. The characterization of Nausicaä as a powerful young woman shows Miyazaki’s penchant for strong female leads right from the beginning. Many of his later works also follow this trend, something that was generally ahead of the Hollywood curve, especially when it came to animation powerhouse Disney, when it was released.
Other recurring themes surface for the first time in Nausicaä. Like many of Miyazaki’s works, there is a strong anti war sentiment, which is not particularly surprising coming from someone who was born in World War 2 Japan. As we see in later Ghibli films, technological progress is depicted as causing more problems than it solves, with the simpler people of the Valley of the Wind being our protagonists. But that is not to say that he views technology as evil, even though the most advanced kingdom in the film are depicted as war loving aggressors, they are doing so out of fear, a fear of the unknown and trying to solve their problem the only way they know how. There are rarely pure evil characters in Miyazaki’s films, he would rather paint people in shades of grey, and that shows right from the beginning. And while we are talking about technology, his love of aviation and crazy airships rears its head as well, with many set pieces involving aircraft or Nausicaä’s glider.
Environmentalism also plays a large role, with Nausicaä attempting to convince others to live with nature, as intimidating as it may be at times, instead of destroying it. She spends the film trying to get people to respect nature, to show them that it is welcoming and restorative if it is handled with care. Much like Princess Monoke, Miyazaki doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his love and respect for the natural world. Here, nature is depicted as much more frightening than it is in any of Ghibli’s other works, which tend to have more of a whimsical fantasy about them, even in their darker moments. In Nausicaä, the world of the poison forest can be quite terrifying. I hope you’re okay with bugs.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a great first step into the mind of Miyazaki (his directorial debut, The Castle of Cagliostro, is based off of a manga). If it wasn’t as good (and successful) as it was, we may have never gotten to experience some of the fantastic worlds that Miyazaki and the other minds at Studio Ghibli have created. Even though it does share some of the faults of other Miyazaki films (action sequences never really leave you on the edge of your seat, it can drag at times), nothing here is bad enough to be a major detriment to the final product. For a film that has such a large scope, Nausicaä does a lot right.