Growing A Bambu Forest In the Sky
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
He lamented the fact that children had become disconnected from nature, and fulminated about
the deadening impact of video games on the imagination. Only half in jest, he said that he was
hoping for the day when "developers go bankrupt, Japan gets poorer, and wild grasses take over."
And the conversation grew only darker from there. A man disappointed, even infuriated,by the
ugliness surrounding him, Miyazaki is devoted to making whatever he can control—a museum,
each frame of a film—as gorgeous as it can be.
Miyazki’s “Nausicaa” is based on the first two volumes of his “Nausicaa manga serial (1982-1994) which was wildly popular in Japan.
The manga version took thirteen years off and on to complete and is considered by some to be Miyazaki’s life’s work. “Nausicaa” was produced in 1984, pre-dating the current explosion of global green initiatives by twenty-five years. The 1980s was a time when Japan was experiencing one of its first waves of environmentalism related to the effects of rapid post-war economic expansion, huge government-sponsored development projects and the subsequent transformation of the landscape and environmental pollution (Bauer, 2006, pp. 106, 110).
Nausicaa is the Princess of the beautiful and peaceful Valley of the Wind. She loves soaring on her wind-rider and, with her special ability to understand and communicate with all beings, is capable of calming them down when attacked, fearful and angry. Despite the fact that most parts ofthe world have become a wasteland covered with fungi that release poisonous spores, Nausicaa’s valley is still vibrant, although even there people are starting to fall ill, including Nausicaa’s father. Her blind, elderly grandmother tells her that the valley is protected from the fungi poisons and foretells the return of a warrior in blue who will rebuild the lost connection with the land.
When the Valley of the Wind is attacked by ominous enemy aircraft in search of a new place to live, Nausicaa launches a campaign to stop their ruler, Lady Kushana and save the valley. Lady Kushana has decided that the way to preserve the land is to prevent the fungi in the forest from spreading and to kill the giant, insect-like Ohmu that protect it, by burning the dead forest. Nausicaa’s wise grandmother warns that this will only anger the Ohmu who will then invade the valley. Nausicaa is full of compassion, pleading with people not to fight each other or kill the giant Ohmu. She asks the wounded Ohmu for forgiveness. In the end, it’s the Ohmu who open their hearts to Nausicaa after she rescues one of their young, causing the wind to come back, water to flow, flowers to bloom and a new sprig of life to sprout deep underground. The grandmother’s prophecy has come true, but with a twist: Nausicaa is the returning warrior in blue who returns to reunite man with nature.
Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke,”continues many of the themes of “Nausicaa” but in a harsher, more direct manner. It was produced in 1997, more than a decade later than “Nausicaa” and was the highest grossing film in Japan until “Titanic.”
It reflects, perhaps, the mood of the 1990s in Japan, a time when people there had become disillusioned with the government’s expansion programs. Traditional obedience inherent in Confucianism was weakening and citizen activism was gaining legitimacy (Bauer, 2006, pp. 107).
In this later film, the protagonist is also a willful young princess. Her name is San(Princess Mononoke). She has been raised in the forest by wolves and, like Nausicaa, has a special connection to all beings and is fiercely helping to defend the animals and their forest habitat. Both Nausicaa and San face female adversaries, this time in the form of Lady Eboshi, with her polluting iron ore factories and voracious need for trees to fuel her smelting pots. A major difference here is that the relationship between mankind’s industrial initiatives and the negative impact on the environment is much more direct in “Princess Mononoke," with its belching factories and sweaty laborers working through the night in the gritty iron factories.
Both films show the ability of mankind’s selfish behavior to poison all in its path, but in Princess Mononoke the evil is a much more severe kind of hatred than the anger that infects things in Nausicaa’s world. San is not compassionate towards all beings like the peace-loving Nausicaa, but rather is fighting to the death to save the natural world. An epic battle ensues between Lady Eboshi, who needs trees to fuel her factories and is determined to kill The Great Forest Spirit and San, who is determined to kill Lady Eboshi for all the destruction she’s caused the natural environment. It takes the resolution of differences between the young Prince Ashitaka, who’s been infected and is searching for a cure for the evil poison, and San, who has come to despise all humans, to save the day. Similar in tone to the optimistic final scenes of Nausicaa, in the end things change, the evil is overcome and the polluted, overly mined and timbered landscape is restored to its former natural beauty.
From these two films, it appears that Miyazaki’s portrayal of man’s troubled relationship with nature has hardened over the years, become more direct and less metaphorical, but his optimism for the future prevails through his continued beliefs that people can change, young people have important roles to play and it’s not too late to turn things around.
Bauer, J. (Ed.), Forging Environmentalism: Justice,Livelihood, and Contested Environments,
Armonk, NY: Sharpe, M.E., Inc. (2006).
Cappello, D., “The Animated Life,” The New Yorker, January17, 2005.
Ghibli Museum, Mitaka, Japan. www.ghibli-museum.jp/en.
Talbot, M. Letter from Japan, “The Auteur of Anime,” The New Yorker, January 17,2005, p. 64
The Hayao Miyazaki Web. www.nausicaa.net