This article was originally printed on December 5, 2016 in Area of Effect magazine. It is reprinted here with permission. If you enjoy this article, we recommend you check out the Area of Effect anthology, containing pieces similar to this one and many more written by a cacophony of wonderful (and nerdy) writers.
Princess Nausicaa is cut from the Studio Ghibli tradition of strong, female heroines. Even her appearance challenges the stereotypical princess, as she has short hair and wears aviator gear instead of a ball gown. Nausicaa is also more at home flying a glider and repairing a windmill than she is meeting perspective suitors. Respected and adored by her subjects, she cares for their well-being and safety. When confronted by a rival kingdom, who storms into the peaceful village and quickly conquers it, killing Nausicaa’s father in the process, Nausicaa defeats the enemy soldiers and nearly murders all of them in her rage.
However, the village is still in danger from another threat. A thousand years before, civilization collapsed as ancient, mythical warriors destroyed the earth. It is strongly inferred that these gigantic creatures punished mankind for its poor treatment of the environment. Indeed, the Valley of the Wind is at the edge of a toxic jungle that’s spreading poisonous spores and inhabited by gigantic bug-like creatures called ohm, which can be incredibly destructive when they sense a threat.
Threatened by another kingdom and by the ohm, the village seems to be at the end of its life, another victim of the ancient apocalypse that beset the planet. But Nausicaa, a lover of nature who can communicate with and tame the powerful ohm, has discovered that beneath the human-poisoned jungle are clean running waters. There is yet a chance at life.
A lot of times, the challenges in my life come through my own doing. I behave in ways I know I shouldn’t, but do so anyway out of pride or blindness. A white lie here, a corner cut there, a deceitful response, a bitter diatribe—these things I do add up, and they sometimes result in painful consequences. Those consequences, like strained relationships and public embarrassments, are my own toxic jungle. I polluted my own soul with my actions and created this environment.
I knew I shouldn’t have said something hurtful almost as soon as it came out of my mouth, but I did it anyway. I hurt someone else and I shamed myself. I can ignore the consequences and speak without thinking again in the next similar situation, or I can admit my mistake, ask for forgiveness from others and myself, and learn from the pain I caused. In the wake of my mistakes, like Nausicaa, I’ll find a clean water source, a more pure way, lying underneath and ready to help me grow.
It’s sometimes more difficult than others to choose that clean path. Nausicaa is confronted with a tough choice when her father dies. She can avenge his death in her rage, or she can let the killers live. Lord Yupa, a Gandalf-like figure if there ever was one, is the one who prevents her from murdering her father’s executioners. She later cries to Yupa in realization that in her fury, she was about to cause even more death than had already occurred.
For a young woman who values peace so highly, it’s an overwhelming realization that emotions can inspire her to do something so counter to her beliefs. For all the wonderful things that Nausicaa is, and how much she’s loved by her subjects, she isn’t perfect.
I’m reminded of my own upbringing, of how I excelled in school and how I was always referred to as a “good kid.” But truth be told, just below the surface stalked an angry, selfish, devious young man. It wasn’t until I realized the depths of my depravity and how much I needed forgiveness from a higher power that positive, transformative change started occurring within me.
And so it is with Nausicaa, who learns that loving people who are unlikeable, perhaps even evil, is challenging; showing grace to them runs against every fiber of her being. Yet she ultimately does the most gracious thing possible, offering her life both for the nature she loves and the very people that murdered her father.
The film concludes on one important frame. A fresh sapling has risen from the desolate earth, next to Nausicaa’s lost aviator goggles. The image serves as a reminder for me that even out of poison and dirt can grow a most marvelous thing—it’s up to us, though, to choose peace over war, forgiveness over anger, and selflessness over greed to let that sapling grow.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind can be purchased on BD / DVD.