Miyazaki Hayao: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1995)

America - the Western world as a whole - has never actually experienced nuclear war - what we may safely call the prevalent current expectation of the Apocalypse. Japan has. The reaction to this experience has been an integral part of Japanese culture for the past fifty years. Some Japanese apocalyptic works are fairly well known: Black Rain, mentioned already in this study, or the anime Grave of the Fireflies. Many more, of course aren't - or at least are only to a small number of Western readers.

Japanese literature is much less restrictive, form-wise, than "traditional" Western one. Manga - graphic novels - which in America have generally been only viewed as a medium suitable for juvenile comics, are one of the most popular types of literature; everything from textbooks to adaptations of classics to newspapers to novels utilize this type of presentation. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind – completed in 1991 - and immediately famous in Japan, is one of the best examples of utilization of manga to tell stories pertinent to the state of the world.

This book is pure fantasy - the only "true" fantasy book of the ones this study is concerned with; fantasy to be defined as "a story which takes place in an entirely imaginary setting". Since it is both non-Western and very recently released, scholarship on Nausicaa is almost nonexistent. However, that in no way detracts from the place of the novel in relation to others like it. Nausicaa is much more than "just" an apocalyptic novel - it is generally also considered to be one of the most important environmentalist novels of the immediate past. As such, given the simple fact that Japanese culture - and Japanese literature - become more and more known to American audiences, Nausicaa will be studied, and will grow in popularity to eventually take its proper place alongside War of the Worlds and On the Beach - and maybe even along with the other great novels of the 20th century.

The novel can be interpreted to be set on Earth, but does not have to be; the immediate setup is a staple of Dewey's millennialist fictions: "Industrial civilization was never rebuilt as mankind lived on through the long twilight years."1 The geography is not Terran, neither is the society nor the environment - whether organic or mechanical. Nausicaa is the princess of the Valley of the Wind, a small principality between the two warring states of Tokumekia and Dorok - the former a Renaissance-like kingdom, the entire government being held up by intrigue only, the latter an oppressive theocracy. The story of Nausicaa's personal struggle for meaning, and her quest for salvation, personal and world-wide, takes place within the context of a world war. Japan's search for meaning - or for salvation - culminated with the fires of a World War as well. Her planet's crisis comes in the form of "miasma", a poison emitted by the "sea of corruption"2 - trees which grew on the ruins of ancient countries, demolished years ago in a war. The population of the world accepts the miasma as a fact - it is not hard to realize that it stands in for radioactive fallout. But the trees which "exhale [the miasma] when the forest absorbs the poison of the soil"3 also eventually purity the air; it might take hundreds of years, but ultimately, the planet adapts and cures itself; life goes on, like life did in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, like it would in Shute's Australia after the bomb. John Osborne says: "The world will go on just the same, only we shan't be in it."4 Sara Teasdale has the same reaction.

The novel continues with a fairly complex storyline - it was serialized in Japanese magazines, and just as Wells, Miyazaki had to work for the reader first. Ultimately, the storyline is not much important - it does involve a journey through war, and is a bildungsroman. What is important are the ideas presented. Life goes on regardless of anything else - human life is not much different from any other: "A life is a life, regardless of how it comes into being."5 "Our lives are like the wind…or like sounds. We come into being, resonate with each other…then fade away."6 "As long as we do not destroy ourselves, a bright new world will one day welcome us with open arms."7 "Life is the light that shines in the darkness."8 The apocalypse, for the Japanese, is an event - not more than that. It affects human reality, but not human nature. But it is much more than it is for Shute - because the Apocalypse matters. It requires humans to make sacrifices; ones will always have to die for others to live. Miyazaki's humans are not necessarily honorable, or glorious. They are, first and foremost, humble, pure, forgiving. Nausicaa revives a "God Warrior" - a living weapon of destruction from the first Apocalypse of one thousand years ago, and names it "Ohma" - "innocence"9. The atomic bombs are symbols of innocence? Perhaps they are - humanity was still too optimistic, not knowing its own power. Are those who dropped the bombs innocent? Perhaps they, collectively, are Adam, tempted by knowledge and attempting to equal God? Or perhaps innocence lies in the fact that humanity refuses to accept, to acknowledge its own power. A significant percentage of energy that Japan uses is produced by nuclear power plants - regardless of the significance that nuclear power has to the Japanese national identity.

Nor is apocalypse final. Something always goes on - animals, the planet itself, Shintoist spirits. Death is important because humans interact with each other; death stops that interaction. But everybody faces death, whether they like it or not.

The brief background to the novel reads, in part: "In a few short centuries, industrial civilization had spread from the western fringes of Eurasia to sprawl across the face of the planet, plundering the soil of its riches, fouling the air, and removing lifeforms at will."10 For Miyazaki, everything has a particular purpose - there is a reason, perhaps unknown or unknowable by us, for the existence of everything on Earth; removal assumes power over nature itself, and leads to catastrophe. Nausicaa is a cautionary novel - against not technology or genetic engineering or mining. It is a warning against the overuse of all those. At the same time, perhaps much more than any of the other fictions of this study, it is an optimistic novel, restating faith in humanity, or rather, faith in the Earth. Miyazaki also uses comparisons to animals, just all the other authors, but in his view, the relationship is horizontal - humans are nothing more than equivalent to other animals - lacking in certain respects, better in others, not vertical - where humans are part of a strictly defined hierarchy of power, like in War of the Worlds. "Every life-form, no matter how small, contains the outside universe within its internal universe."11 Knowledge is not limited by any factor; humans can learn, must learn, if they are to survive.

Miyazaki Hayao was born in Tokyo in 1941, graduating from Gakushin University with degrees in economics and political science in 1963. Nausicaa was chosen as the name of the novel's main character based on Miyazaki's reading of a "Bernard Evslin's Japanese translation of a small dictionary of Greek mythology."12 Evslin's Nausicaa is "a beautiful and fanciful girl, quick on her feet. She loved playing the harp and singing more than the attentions of her suitors or pursuing earthly comforts. She took delight in nature and had an especially sensitive personality. It was she who, unafraid, saved Odysseus and nursed his wounds."13 The Odyssey describes Nausicaa in book VI - and she is nothing like the Nausicaa of Evslin. She is, admittedly, beautiful: "so fine in mould in feature that she seemed a goddess"14. There is definitely something noble in her as well: "You know Zeus metes out fortune/to good and bad men as it pleases him./Hardship he sent to you, and you must bear it."15 But there is not much indication of the "sensitive personality" or of her love of nature. However, Miyazaki also notes: "Nausicaa reminded me of a Japanese heroine - I think I read about her in the Tales of Past and Present."16 She is a princess of the Heian period, (794 - 1185) - who "loved insects" and was generally very free-spirited; this was a period when almost supreme restraint was expected of those in positions of importance. Miyazaki's Nausicaa is a synthesis of the two - with enough modern traits thrown in to have her be a fully interesting character. She is both a warrior, a messenger and a peace-keeper, loving all living things equally, fighting when needed, but only then. By creating Nausicaa, Miyazaki connected the modern and the ancient, the Western and the traditional Japanese; just like Japan itself in the post-War years, the novel draws from many different sources and speaks to many different audiences. It is a far different type of work from the preceding ones. But it does show another way of dealing with the Apocalypse, a way that shows, perhaps, a desperate optimism, but an optimism and a faith in humanity nonetheless.

Endnotes, Chapter 4

1 Miyazaki Hayao, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, trans. David Lewis and Toren Smith, vol. 1 (San Francisco, Viz Communications, Inc., 1995) 3.
2 Miyazaki, vol. 1, back cover,
3 Miyazaki, vol. 2, 175,
4 Shute 79.
5 Miyazaki, vol. 4, 181.
6 Miyazaki, vol. 4, 180.
7 Miyazaki, vol. 4, 218
8 Miyazaki, vol. 4, 249
9 Miyazaki, vol. 4, 145.
10 Miyazaki, vol. 1, 3
11 Miyazaki, vol. 4, 181.
12 Miyazaki Hayao, "On Nausicaa," Miyazaki, vol. 1, 262.
13 Miyazaki, "On Nausicaa," 263.
14 Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fitzgerald (New York: Vintage Classics, 1990) 99.
15 Homer, 104
16 Miyazaki, "On Nausicaa," 262