Nausicaä ~ The Wind of Change

One paradox always remains true: the only thing that doesn’t change is that everything changes. The career of Hayao Miyazaki is a prime example of that, having floated in and out of retirement for the last decade, but this time, something is different. It’s almost concrete… but things change. He was born in an era of tumultuous change for Japan. He witnessed it as a child, and grew to express it in his films as a man. But a key part of change is origin; the where, the what.  In this body of work there is an origin, a point of reference; Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.

Nausicaä truly is the Master’s magnum opus. It is the spine, the backbone, on which all of his other works hang. In many senses, it is his first work, though not his directorial debut (that title is held by The Castle of Cagliostro.) But at the same time, Nausicaä is not an island unto itself. The seed of thought was carried by the winds of change, brought to fertile soil…

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The year is 1984. March 11th, Kaze no Tani no Naushika opens in theaters. It’s a Sunday, most people having the day off, they wander in to see the latest from Toei’s golden goose, if at all unknowingly.

Yesterday, I had a telephone call from my younger brother in Niigata. …my younger brother in Niigata was worried for me and took his whole family of four to see the movie. …just four more! [burst of laughter] And yet, and yet, I really want this film to be a hit. It’s a model of one approach to film-making. If Nausicaä becomes a hit, it might be possible for me to make serious projects from a different point of view.

~March 12, 1984

Roman Album Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Tokuma Shoten, May 1, 1984

The exhausted fourty-three-year-old director had exhausted close to one million dollars in a mere nine months of production. Half way through the project, studio Top Craft was running short on animators. In a last ditch effort, Top Craft ran an advertizement in Animage, calling any and all animators to help put out the fire. One boy answered, and became a legend. Another upstart, Mamoru Fujisawa, having just released his first album, was brought on to do the score for the film. It was Fujisawa’s first film score, but instead of the reigns to an orchestra, he was handed a Casio keyboard and told to make do. The origins of the film are almost comical; a hodgepodge of different personae assembled, accomplishing the unthinkable. But to think of the film Nausicaä as the starting point would be only a half truth.

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The film was successful. Extremely so, if taken in retrospect. Studio Top Craft went bankrupt the Summer of the following year, June 15th to be exact. Miyazaki with his fellow colleagues Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki purchased and purposed the studio by the much wider known name of Ghibli. Backed by Tokuma Shoten, Miyazaki would go on to produce the breathtaking sorties he’s known for. Joe Hisaishi and Hideaki Anno too became names in the industry, each leaving their own distinct mark on the industry. All this, powered by Nausicaä‘s success.

Searching for the true beginning of Nausicaä, many point to the manga that was announced in the year’s end of 1981. The first chapter didn’t make its debut until February of ’82, two years before its film adaptation, which, upon agreement, was never supposed to happen. Miyazaki had been meeting the previously mentioned Ghibli co-founder and Tokuma Shoten editor, Toshio Suzuki, back in November of 1980 for a number of articles being written in Animage. Having seen Miyazaki’s sketchbooks, Suzuki and Miyazaki brainstormed and proposed several ideas for animated features. Tokuma Shoten shot each of them down for various reasons. Despite this, a deal for a serialized manga was struck; on condition by Miyazaki that it never be made into a film. On-again and off-again, twelve years would be spent writing the manga, while studio Ghibli took its first steps.

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The manga went on hiatus no less then four times, the break usually corresponding with the release of a Ghibli film. However, the real hurdle for Miyazaki was just getting to the desk. He quickly found issue with his creation, which made him wrestle with writing it. This was the true cause of its overly extended run. With its completion in retrospect, Miyazaki commented on Nausicaä‘s difficulty.

After my work on the films ended, and I was feeling dazed and wanted to take a break, I always had the Nausicaä manga waiting for me. This is what I really hated. I would  spend about six months doing everything to avoid Nausicaä, and then, finally, because I had no other choice, eventually start working on it again. So to tell you the truth, as I mentioned earlier, it was almost as if I’d been creating films just to avoid Nausicaä.

I won’t go so far as to say that because I had something as heavy as Nausicaä to work on, I deliberately created lighter works, I do think, however, that if I hadn’t had Nausicaä to work on I probably would have been floundering about, trying to incorporate somewhat more serious elements into films. Of course, I can only say this in hindsight; at the time I didn’t feel this way, and just made such films because I thought it was the right thing to do.

Yomu, Iwanami Shoten, June 1994

Upon seeing the manga’s garnered acclaim, Tokuma Shoten eventually went back on their word. Animage begged for a 15 minutes short; the Master upped the ante to an hour direct to video release. Not to be outdone, Animage said they would sponsor a fully fledged theatrical release and after mulling it over, the Master consented.

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Most peculiar in all this is how the two differ, that is, the divergence between the manga and the film. The film has a lighter tone, with a focus of how truly difficult being a pacifist is in a world where greed, wants, needs and survival exists. The message is more centered on how man must strive to get along with something as unrelatable as nature and his fellow man. It’s the hedgehog theory (perhaps where Anno learned it). While all this is present, the manga is more gritty, akin to that of Tomino’s first Gundam series. It explores the worthlessness of war, and has a more spiritual nature

Both came out in the the early 80’s, during the a ‘get green’ movement was going on in Japan. It was even championed by World Wide Fund for Nature (whose acronym is unfortunate). Thus Nausicaä tends be stamped as an ‘eco-warrior’; an over simplification and poor interpretation. When questioned about this, Miyazaki stated:

That wasn’t intended at all. I think Nausicaä just happened to be in the right place at the right time to play that role… What I mean to say is that I didn’t start out writing  and drawing Nausicaä because I specifically wanted to talk about ecosystems or the need to protect the environment. I started  out intending to set the story in the desert, but when I drew some illustrations they weren’t  very interesting, so then I came up with the idea of setting the story in a forest, and that seemed to make more sense. So I ultimately wound up with the story you know today.

Yomu, Iwanami Shoten, June 1994

The key mechanics of Nausicaä do not stem from the manga however. Incarnations of the god-man and golden fields where first applied to Shuna no Tabi or Journey of Shuna. Journey of Shuna is a short masterpiece of 140 some-odd pages and the tale one young man undergoes to save his village from starvation. Travel West to the god-man’s land, to the golden fields and return with seeds for a new harvest; it’s a story that’s found in a children’s story book. Along the way, the titular Shuna encounters aspects of humanity that are more than can be found in a children’s story book; slavery, violence, even cannibalism.

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Journey of Shuna holds this odd middle ground of being ahead of it’s time, yet still a precursor and springboard for future projects. Helen McCarthy in her 500 Manga Heroes and Villains sates Shuna is very much a prototype of Nausicaä; not so, given Nausicaä had already begun publication, but he is cut from the same clothe no doubt. Many ideas Miyazaki committed to paper here would later find their way into Princess Mononoke some time later.

Journey of Shuna still is ahead of today’s standard by leaps and bounds, and rivals the works of the God of Manga himself in ingenuity if not in narrative. Esthetically it stands second to none; fewer panels (if they can be called that) of remarkable watercolors. Color for this manga isn’t added on, it is a natural part of the art, more than anything Shonen Jump can say. It isn’t cluttered with speech balloons, and that somehow makes what little it does say weigh more. Less is more, and yet, you can sense a depth in Shuna that simply can’t be found in such pure elegance.

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Absent from Shuna are the miraculous forces of nature. You might even argue that nature itself is absent, as the bulk of the story takes place in a desert similar to the one mentioned in the quote prior. It’s not that creation is forgotten, more that it takes a backseat to the human interaction as Shuna takes his first steps into the world. True, it was the lack of crops’ yield that forced Shuna to take up his quest; one could argue nature is the goal, but even after the seeds from the golden fields are found, the story continues. Finding the seeds was not the resolution, the relationship of Shuna and Thea is the conclusion, part of the reason the story remains open-ended.

The story still goes back even further, to the beginnings of Miyazaki’s career. Since his boyhood, Miyazaki had it in his heart to write manga. He was a particular fan of Tezuka’s works, idolizing him for the longest time, imitating his style – a boy’s homage. At eighteen years old, he decided he needed to differentiate himself if he were to “rid himself of Tezuka’s influence”. Miyazaki did so in the most rudimentary form, putting his unworthy works to the torch. From that moment, he took upon himself a new rival, the ‘God of manga’.

So when I was finally forced to admit that my drawings actually did look like Tezuka’s, I took out the sketches I had stored in the drawer of our dresser and burned them all. I burned them and resolved to start over from scratch, and in the belief that I needed to study the basics first, I went back to practicing drawing and draftmenship. Yet it still wasn’t easy to rid myself of Tezuka’s influence.

Fusion Product’s Comic Box, May 1989

Another major influence on Miyazaki was Tetsuji Fukushima, author of Sabaku no Mao, or Devil of the Desert. Miyazaki had read Sabaku no Mao as a boy, and combined with Tezuka’s discarded influence, wrote the foundation that would one day be Nausicaä. It was his second professional manga and his first original work. Miyazaki’s firstborn brainchild. Titled Sabaku no Tami, obvious flattery to Fukushima, People of the Desert is the seed the wind carried from the fields of gold.

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In 1969, Sabaku no Tami was published in the Japanese Communist Party‘s Shōnen Shōjo Shinbun, running for 26 weeks. Though a self proclaimed Maxist, Miyazaki assumed the pseudonym Akitsu Saburō to escape public ridicule the JCP and associates were prone to. But Sabaku no Tami carries a prestige that prevents it from slipping into propaganda territory, its sights set on its story. The work chastises the moral failings of mankind under duress and the ugliness of war and greed, almost to the point it stops being targeted at children.

Numerable influences were at work. Fukushima and Tezuka aside, Isao Takahata has perhaps been the single most influential person in Miyazaki’s life. The legendary animator, Yasuo Ōtsuka,  even went as far as to say without Takahata, Miyazaki would be nowhere near as socially responsible, that his films would never ascend beyond ‘comic bookish things’. The business of the Miyazaki family, producing various parts for the A6M Zero fighter in WWII, so too shaped the director’s opinion on war and those who profit from it. Perhaps another unseen influence was the Vietnam War which was in full swing at the time.

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The art for Sabaku no Tami is the most Tezuka-like we will see from the Master. We see just how difficult it must have been for Miyazaki to reinvent his style. This is, by far, the roughest and dirtiest we see him… Dirty seems to demean the value; unrefined would be a better fit. Perhaps it was due to limitations of a serialized run in a newspaper, but the art feels almost as if chiseled in stone.

To draw comparison to later, more developed works would be a fruitless effort, as Sabaku no Tami is honestly an inferior work. But it’s not a competition. What was started back in 1969 is still relevant because of what it developed into. The anecdotes tightened up, ideas grew, and the story that started in Pejite was carried by the wind for 15 years… with several stops along the way. It’s nothing new to us, but as Miyazaki said, “Of course, I can only say this in hindsight …and just made such films because I thought it was the right thing to do.”

nausicaa and the valley of the wind anime film toxic forest samples

With it all laid out in front of you, it’s easy to see the change that occurred on the surface. What escapes prying eyes was just how the man had been changed. There are countless quotes I could lay on the table of how much of a burden Nausicaä was on Miyazaki’s shoulders. The man avoided writing it, then begrudgingly would return to it, and at one point, even began to feel antipathetic towards the direction the story was taking. He struggled with it, largely because he was realizing things about himself that he didn’t agree with.

I myself wasn’t in the lead in creating the story; I was just trying to keep up with it. Rather than rolling on it’s own, I should say it took on a life of it’s own. And it wouldn’t agree to go where I wanted it to go. Of course, while realizing that I wasn’t being very honest about it at all, I still felt forced to try to get the the story to go where I wanted it to, but that’s not something I recommend.

I had intended to organize my thoughts to have a better grasp of things, but in the process of writing Nausicaä I lost control; I felt like I was at a loss for words. I felt I didn’t want to express myself in words; whenever I wrote down something that I thought probably expressed my intent, it immediately turned into something else.

Yomu, Iwanami Shoten, June 1994

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Perhaps most telling was the change of his world view. Miyazaki was passionate about his political beliefs. After being hired for one year at Toei Animation, Miyazaki headed a labor dispute in the company. He was only 24. But this paradigm shift did not feel like one, instead, it was as gentle as the breeze. It’s as if one day he awoke, but left his old beliefs to rest.

As I was trying to complete Nausicaä, I experienced a change in my thinking that some people might regard as a political sell-out. It’s because I clearly abandoned Marxism. You might say I had to abandon it, but it wasn’t easy to decide that Marxism was a mistake, that Marxist materialism was all wrong, that I had to look at the world in a different way. I still occasionally think it would have been easier for me to continue thinking as I had been.

I didn’t experience any dramatic, fierce internal struggle before changing my way of thinking; I was simply no longer able to deal with the various doubts that had been accumulating as I wrote. And I don’t think I abandoned Marxism because of any change in my position within society – on the contrary, I feel that it came from having written Nausicaä.

Yomu, Iwanami Shoten, June 1994

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This month Miyazaki turns 74. He’s an old man growing older; some would say the wind has carried the geezer far. He bore witness as an infant to the fires of war, distinguished himself as a young man by assuming Osamu Tezuka his rival, and lead the charge as a professional when employers infringed upon his rights. He dared to start his own studio; to continue film-making when it was painful. He dared to fly, but more than that – he took us with him. The wind of change.

While it’s true he’s retired before only to come return in few years time, this time feels almost absolute. It’s not the half joking assurance “…and this time I’m quite serious…” that solidifies it. It’s not the fact that circle is now complete with The Wind Rises. Even the diffusion of studio Ghibli doesn’t do it for me. The symbolic curtain was drawn when Miyazaki gave his protegee, Hideaki Anno, the blessing for further adaptation of Nausicaä.

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There is no doubt Anno would do the series justice, he has proven himself on multiple occasions aside from Evangelion. The idea of a sequel bastardizing the original is unfounded, as there is plenty more material in the manga to adapt. I’m not even worried with the notion of someone new directing Ghibli films, it could even be refreshing. Seeing more animated Nausicaä would be a treasure. So why is this the final curtain?

Nausicaä is more than Miyazaki’s magnum opus, more than just a great story; it a man’s burden. When the keys to something the Master wrestled with for a good portion of his career were handed over, the final act ended. True, Miyazaki gave other concepts and stories away, one that immediately comes to mind is Nadia, (which was also given to Anno) but never was it something of such emotional impact. Nausicaä is the key to everything Miyazaki created; truly the backbone of his body of work.

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One paradox always remains true: the only thing that doesn’t change is that everything changes. That said – ‘I feel at a loss of words. I cannot express myself in words; were I to write something to express my intent, it immediately would turn into something else’. Happy Birthday, Miyazaki.

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