Out of all of the Hayao Miyazaki films I have known and loved, only one has remained my favorite over the years: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Nausicaä is famous for a number of reasons, not least of which is for being the film that more or less is the reason Studio Ghibli got off the ground, as its success led to the formation of the studio.
It is also the first feature-length film that Miyazaki based on an original property, following his entry into the Lupin III series, The Castle of Cagliostro. In Nausicaä, several motifs and themes that would dominate Miyazaki’s work would be established: flying, an inclination toward pacifism and eco-consciousness, a strong female protagonist (and antagonist in the case of this film). All of these things would be featured repeatedly in Miyazaki’s films, but Nausicaä featured them first.
But the most curious thing about Nausicaä is how it has existed in the US. There have been three distinctly different portrayals of the property, each with their own quirks and interests, that have been given to American audiences, and it’s worth examining what each of them represent.
Warriors of the Wind
The first American release of Nausicaä was a heavily reedited version that was renamed The Warriors of the Wind.
It’s a piece of crap.
No, really. Look at the cover art:
What the hell is going on here? If you’ve seen Nausicaä , you likely don’t remember anything that’s happening in this poster. Nausicaä herself is barely featured — look at the top right side — and she’s been transformed into an oversexualized version of her modest character in the film and manga.
The movie is even worse.
When Nausicaä was brought over, the rights were purchased by Roger Corman’s long-dead production company, New World Pictures. In what would set the stage for thirty more years of misguided attempts at re-editing films so that they made “sense” to American audiences, New World chopped almost 25 minutes out of the original film and rearranged scenes, sequences, and characters. Nausicaä was no longer the protagonist; the ohmu, the symbolic representation of nature’s cycles of rage and rebirth, were made the villains; the plot just flat out didn’t make any sense.
Honestly, I had no idea what the hell was happening in this version of the film. Of course, this was the first version of Nausicaä that I saw, since they broadcasted it on HBO in 1985. I was four.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
About ten years after I saw Warriors of the Wind and thought “what the hell did I just see?” I finally got to see the real version of Nausicaä on a terrible, grainy pirated VCD copy from Hong Kong. The subtitles made no sense, and the video was clearly captured off of a long-decaying VHS cassette tape. The VCD eventually stopped working a month later.
But now I was hooked. Despite the subtitles making me believe that one of the characters, Asbel, was actually named Basil, the films themes rang true. I understood that this was a film that was about humanity’s potential — perhaps even destiny, if you believe Miyazaki’s own pessimistic interviews about humanity — to destroy itself and the planet. But I also loved the message that the planet itself would fight back.
I was also completely captivated by the real Nausicaä, a Nausicaä that is not the stock character of Warriors of the Wind, but an intelligent, strong, powerful young woman that defied stereotypes and gender roles. She is stronger that Asbel, her purported co-lead, who requires her help more than once. And she is only matched in terms of willpower and strength by the antagonist, Princess Kushana. Like scores of countless Miyazaki films to follow, there is no real villain in Nausicaä, save humanity itself. And perhaps that is why it resonates so deeply with me.
Two years after I finally I saw the real version of Nausicaä, VIZ media finally released the complete, translated manga in the U.S., spread over four volumes. These were called The Perfect Collection (I’m not sure why, as they’re mirror reversed from the original Japanese and also resized), and reading them only served to deepen my love for the character and story.
In reading the manga, the real power and scope of the story that Miyazaki set out to tell is revealed. The film only encompasses the first volume and a half of The Perfect Collection. As the scope of the world that Miyazaki intended to create unfolds, so does his pessimistic view of the damage wrought by our society. It took Miyazaki over twelve years to complete the manga, and it’s clear that the longer that Miyazaki worked on it, the more dour he felt about humanity in general.
The core of what makes all of Miyazaki’s work amazing — the ebbs and flows of hope, sadness, despair, loneliness, fear, wonder, humanity, and inhumanity — are only more fully on display in the manga than the film. In many ways, the manga is the truest expression of Miyazaki’s work and life. It is somehow both epic in scope but narrowly focused in its detail about the core of what makes a morally good person. The 1,000 pages of the manga exist as the only project Miyazaki worked on alone, without any collaboration or input from anyone else. That alone makes it the most telling creation of his storied career.