Guest post by Elizabeth Kobayashi
A dying world is a world to fear. In Miyazaki’s masterfully crafted post-apocalyptic story, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, a toxic jungle encroaches upon the remaining human kingdoms. Gigantic, near-indestructible insects make eradicating the jungle almost impossible. Some try to beat the massive plants back with fire and fend the insects off with guns, but the jungle continues to spread. In their desperation, the resort to violence and even turn against each other.
In the midst of chaos, Princess Nausicaa desires harmony. Even when faced with war, she seeks an alternate solution. She calms the insects with a hypnotic whistle and guides them away from human populations. Protected by a mask, she explores the jungle and delights in its beauty. Her connection with nature allows her to understand the world in a profound way: fear breeds conflict and death, but understanding leads to harmony.
Miyazaki’s commentary on fear and harmony provides a useful framework for others attempting to tackle social issues through fiction:
- Be Present but Subtle
Remember the old adage: show, don’t tell. Throughout the film, Nausicaa consistently fights against fear, recognizing it as the primary source of conflict in her world. While others arm their weapons when faced with an angry, injured insect, she coaxes it into the air and leads it home. She soothes a vicious fox-squirrel by remaining calm and caring, even after she is bitten. When the creature realizes she isn’t a threat, it relaxes and becomes a friend. The contrast between fear and harmony is clear, but never stated outright. Nausicaa doesn’t directly tell viewers that understanding the danger is more productive than lashing out, but she communicates via action, as she struggles and eventually triumphs.
- Build a Complex Problem
There are two sides to every story. People react brashly to the jungle’s threat. Their fear and violence are both understandable—retaliation is natural when stakes are so high. However, the toxic jungle holds secrets none of the humans even imagined. When Nausicaa discovers them, it radically changes how she views the insects and the survival of the human race. With her new knowledge, their tactics must change. They can work toward healing and stability without the use of violence. What seemed to be a black and white issue turns out to be something completely different.
People on either side of a social issue may think the answer is obvious, but learning to understand others and diving into the thick of complex problems is hard. Nausicaa pays dearly for her compassion. Though her people support her peacemaking, she is often alone in her efforts to reconcile with nature. Both the humans and the insects reject, challenge, and attack Nausicaa as she fights for reconciliation. As a storyteller, Miyazaki engages his characters’ personalities and draws out their views on the conflict, confronting the difficulty of communication in the midst of crisis.
Addressing social issues in fiction can be tricky but powerful. Don’t be afraid to explore issues that you care about in your story, just be sure to actually integrate them instead of tacking them on as an ancillary theme.
Check out more Month-A-Zaki goodness and listen to Critical Hit’s review of The Castle of Cagliostro and read “Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro and the Anti-Formula Career.”
Elizabeth Kobayashi divides her free time between aikido, tai chi, and a steampunk-ish time travel novel about a 24th century clockmaker and a Victorian London barmaid. With a degree in film production and a growing appreciation for music and video games, she plans to integrate the novel with a larger transmedia production. She has a weak spot for pizza, really good books, and binge-watching TV. (Her latest viewing adventure: Orphan Black. Latest lingering TV-related obsession: Legend of Korra. She highly recommends both.) You might find her tweeting from time to time (twitter.com/kobyzoshi).