Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind: Metaphysics

(To read the 1st part in this Studio Ghibli series click HERE)

Recently, Fathom events ran Hayao Miyazaki’s 1984 film, Nausicaa, in the AMC theatre chain. I’ve seen the film more than two dozen times on home video releases, but hitherto I had never seen it on the big screen. Many of the scenes in this film are so elegiac and masterful in the simplicity and evocativeness of their hand-drawn style that they could make any CGI connoisseur give up the ghost and return to the old format. The film’s music score uses some powerful themes and reprises by the consummate professional Joe Hisaishi. Its deft and dizzying subtext is filled with powerful existential and ecological themes that many a writer, but few directors, have grappled with time and again. And this is all very impressive and grand, but I feel much of the response to this film has been in the form of parroting what others say. Here, I want to explore the deep structure of this tale’s world: its metaphysics.

What is metaphysics you ask? The field of philosophy dealing with a broad range of questions inaccessible (or seemingly inaccessible) to pure physical experimentation. That is to say, questions regarding the un-explainable in merely physical terms. That said, the best way to give examples is to give examples in action. Here we go.

In Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, the titular Valley is home to a small population of some of the earth’s last human inhabitants. The Kingdom is ruled by a beneficent ruler, King Jihl, with a strong-willed and able daughter set to take on his helm as heiress when his time is up. (This is a direct parallel to Hayao Miyazaki’s first feature-length film Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro) The tale goes that centuries prior to our story, human beings unleashed the God Warriors: titanic humanoid beasts with nuclear ray capabilities and the strength to level entire cities. They were weapons meant to be harnessed and controlled for use against other nations and peoples. Their creators could not control them and thereafter they destroyed much of the planet, caused environmental catastrophe presumably be blowing up nuclear reactors, toxic waste dumps, and landfills. The earth became a wasteland with few surviving roaming humans. Then, the toxic forests sprung up.

The Toxic Forest’s plants produced spores that killed human beings. Giant bugs, including the colossal Ohmu, retreated to these forests where they could not be attacked by humans. Further, they began to protect the forests and each other through a vast hive-mind complex. The acid lake formed from run-off of pesticides and acidic materials. This tainted much of the surrounding fresh water and made it more difficult for humans to survive.

In this film, a group of technologically-advanced nations- the Tolmekians and the Pejites- are fighting a war. The Tolmekians want to consolidate their empire and unfiy all humans under one nation to better fight against the natural forces causing them trouble. They plan to burn the toxic forests, destroy the Ohmu with the use of an intact God-Warrior they excavated, and reclaim the planet. However, they succeed only in creating much unnecessary bloodshed, increasing divisiveness, enraging the Ohmu, and bringing the human race to near-extinction in a grand apocalyptic mess.

The Valley of Wind’s seer is an old, blind woman who has foretold that when such events occur and all seems lost, a strong man will rise up from among the people. He will wear blue robes, will have his bird companion in tow, and will walk among a field of golden grain. These events will presage the rebirth of the world and of humankind’s new era. But she got a few things wrong. Nausicaa, a young woman, is the prophet of the new era. Her companion, Teto, is a small fox-like creature. The fields of grain are the healing and communicating feelers of the Ohmu that miraculously bring her back to life and allow her to walk among them hundreds of feet off the ground.

That’s the text and some of the important plot points therein. Now for the subtext. The fact that a seer exists, knows of oracles and visions of the future, and that these come true- for the most part- indicates that the world of Nausicaa is invested with more than the base materialism of our own. In Miyazaki’s constructed world, fate and destiny exist on more than the level of sheer materialistic, physical determinism. This fate or destiny is oriented toward the good of human flourishing as opposed to total human destruction. It recognizes the value of human cooperation and mutual self-interest as opposed to petty tribalism and care for only one’s own nation. The seer is a religious figure who can step beyond the otherwise insuperable fourth dimension of time, through oracular vision, and see into future events. This circumventing of time seems to be beyond physical explanation.

In Nausicaa’s world, the toxic forests, the acid lake, and the mutant bugs of the world work in unison to protect one another from human meddling. Their purpose: purification of the toxins and pollution left by human beings centuries ago, both before and after the legends of the seven days of fire when their God Warrior weapons destroyed the balance of pollution and purity on the planet. The forces of nature in this world act teleologically, or toward an end. This end being the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants, including the humans who do not understand their own destructive wills. The Ohmu’s are intelligent creatures, as are most of the insects in Nausicaa’s world, but they act with a unified purpose on the level of a force.

The insects and the forests do not act as they do in our own world. Here, animals act only in their own self-interest or for the interests of their offspring or familial groups. The plants on Earth don’t act volitionally at all (except in minor manners like bending toward sunlight or extending roots toward moisture). However, for Miyazaki’s world invested with a heavy dose of Japanese spirituality, or Shinto, the animals and the plants do act volitionally. They and all other beings can act morally and willfully. Not only all beings, but all objects have spirits and wills that animate them and characteristics that make them unique. As they have a stake in the world’s purity remaining relatively intact (they will suffer and die off in a too-polluted world), they can fight back against human beings when necessary (As in the Ohmu’s attempted attack on the human beings in the Valley of the Wind and the forest’s poisons). In our own world, plants and animals do not act in this way. This might be a key to Miyazaki’s ecological ethic. If all things could act, human intervention would not be necessary. Because they cannot, we are instead responsible for our world’s well-being, a world not invested with spirituality of any meaningful and metaphysically valid sort. In this world void of metaphysical agents like a God or a telos aimed toward human flourishing, only we can act to ensure that flourishing is realized.


Over and out,


(This series continued HERE with Castle in the Sky)

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5 responses to “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind: Metaphysics”

  1. osmovies says :

    Amazing review!!

  2. Irina says :

    Fantastic post. I haven’t seen a discussion on this anime in a long time and they usually tend to focus on the environmental messaging. This was a nice change.

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