If you have even the slightest fear of giant bugs, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is probably not the movie for you. But let’s talk about it anyway.
The movie follows Nausicaa (first surprise), princess of The Valley of the Wind (second surprise), in a world a thousand years after the fiery end of industrial humanity. People now live in isolated countries, living their lives in constant fear of the encroaching Toxic Jungle. The only things that can survive breathing in the poisonous, spore-laden atmosphere around the plants are massive, evolved insects–and the most significant of these are the Ohmu, which are basically many-eyed, many-armed giant pill bugs, who act as arbiters of sorts and watch over the jungle and its other inhabitants.
Clearly, it’s a pleasant world to live in. For the most part, The Valley of the Wind has avoided most any trouble with the insects, and the wind prevents spores from settling and consuming their home. The Valley is a simple, agricultural society, where men are guards and soldiers and women and children are mostly working in the fields. Everyone lives rather quietly, but the Valley is a close-knit and friendly community. And, with this backdrop, we can look at Nausicaa’s character and journey in this movie from a feminist perspective.
Nausicaa’s character, with how much she stands out from the other women in the Valley, is evident from her first few minutes in the film. She is introduced while making one of her regular trips into the jungle, soaring to it on an air glider and then traversing the uneven terrain on foot, collecting spore samples from plants and tracking an Ohmu down to where it’s shed its shell. The shell, she knows, could be of use to her people, and she can’t wait to tell them about it. She is very familiar with the plants she sees, despite their variety, and admires them for how beautiful they are while fully acknowledging that they could kill her in mere minutes without a mask on.
From this alone we learn a lot about Nausicaa; her traditionally “masculine” traits of bravery, confidence, and physical fitness blend with her traditionally “feminine” aspects of concern for others, appreciation of beauty, and the way she tries to disturb the natural order as little as possible. This balance between masculine and feminine within this one character is a constant throughout the film.
So, let’s continue. Many times throughout the movie, Nausicaa is the first to notice and react to someone else’s distress. Immediately following her introduction, she can feel something is wrong and rushes out to investigate, only to find a man being chased by an angry Ohmu. She takes action immediately, giving orders to the unknown man before trying to reason with the rampaging insect. When this doesn’t work right away, she stuns it and then charms it with a whistle, successfully ending the chase and urging it back into the jungle. This is a prime example of the masculine and feminine working together in Nausicaa, with her taking charge and giving calm, rational orders, combining with a love for all life, patience, and desire not to harm. A little later, the princess tries and fails to prevent an airship from crashing, and when she pulls a mortally wounded young woman out of the wreckage, Nausicaa stays calm and reassuring, and promises the woman’s last wish will be fulfilled. Later still, she takes charge when she, some soldiers from the Valley, and the antagonist have crash-landed in the toxic jungle and upset the insects. She gives directions to the others, and when the antagonist points a gun at her to try to become the one in control, Nausicaa stares her down fearlessly and even accuses the older woman of acting like a child. When Ohmu arrive to investigate, it is Nausicaa alone who isn’t afraid of them, and she apologizes to them and gets them to leave them alone. From there, she goes to rescue the very man who shot them all down, as he is being chased by insects.
In all of these and even more scenarios, Nausicaa proves to be steady under pressure but kind to the people depending on her, to always have a plan which works out to cause as little harm as possible, and to be able to care for everyone no matter what they have done to her. Masculine and feminine work in harmony, and for the most part things go the princess’ way. Sometimes, however, one side or the other takes control of her, and this seems to be where she suffers most.
The first time one side takes over comes when the Valley is invaded by another country. Nausicaa rushes to aid her bedridden father, but arrives to find him already dead. Here, the masculine kicks into high gear, and Nausicaa flies into a vengeful rage, beating the soldiers in the room with a cane and then eventually drawing a sword. She even flies at better-armored soldiers when they enter, despite the fact that she probably couldn’t harm them. She doesn’t stop until a family friend jumps in and catches her sword with his wrist. Nausicaa sees his blood dripping down the sword and snaps out of her rage, but she starts to panic and realize what she had done. By the end of the confrontation, she has passed out, and later she ends up crying, horrified that she could be capable of trying to kill someone.
The feminine side takes over toward the end of the movie, and while the result turns out to be for the best, it causes the princess a lot of pain. One of the rival countries has kidnapped and wounded a baby Ohmu, and are using it to lure the adults into the Valley to ruin it. Nausicaa is disgusted by their cruelty and frees the baby, but gets shot in the shoulder and foot in the process. When she sees how much it’s bleeding from its many wounds, she tries to get the baby to stop moving so it doesn’t bleed out or walk into the acid lake, but it doesn’t seem to understand. She cries and pleads for the baby to stay still, putting all her weight against it, but it seems to be no use, especially with how hurt she is. It ends up pushing her into the lake, eating at the wound on her foot until she collapses in pain. Only then does the baby stop, and when it reaches out to touch her she cries, simply grateful that it’s okay.
In both of these cases, the balance that makes Nausicaa stand out from the other women of her village seems to tilt, making more trouble for her. That being said, masculinity and femininity and associated traits are all fairly objective, so what other feminist angles apply to this movie?
Let’s talk about the heroine’s journey. While in many ways, Nausicaa breaks this mold by already existing partly outside of the feminine, she still somewhat fits into the model. The separation from the feminine arguably begins with her violent reaction to her father’s death–though if being compliant is considered a feminine trait, she breaks that pretty quickly. Regardless, she recruits a couple of allies in the family friend Lord Yupa, an army man, and the prince of a third kingdom, Asbel (who, incidentally, does not become a love interest, and in fact returns home at the end of the movie with no sign of them reuniting), and all of them are male, so this could be considered embracing the masculine as well. Nausicaa only really faces one big trial, with her capture at the hands of Asbel’s people against his wishes, but before that she does have to deal with being held hostage, knowing her Valley is being occupied by another country’s army, and protecting her friends from insects when they end up in the Jungle. Nausicaa’s mother is absent and only mentioned once throughout the film, so the mending of a mother-daughter split might be manifested in her concern for the wounded Ohmu baby. She also has to draw a gun and threaten some enemy soldiers to get them to help her stop the Ohmu rampage, and while she doesn’t shoot to harm, let alone kill, it is still the first time since her father’s death she has used a weapon with any intent–healing the wounded masculine. At the end, Nausicaa is back to the balance she had before, leading her people in their recovery of the Valley while also being a kind and caring optimist who insists on living with the good of nature in mind.
As a last note, there are also just a lot of important women in this movie. The antagonist is a woman, and she is also the commander of the army of an entire country. She is missing three of her limbs (and perhaps more of her body), and military power is her game. After the king, Nausicaa’s father, is killed, an old blind woman takes temporary lead of the Valley, guiding the people and even urging them to rebel against the invading forces. She does not fear her own death but is loyal to her people, and to the princess. The woman Nausicaa tried to save from the airship wreckage was the princess of another kingdom, just as beloved as Nausicaa is by her own country. When Nausicaa is held prisoner by the third kingdom involved in the war, it is the women of that kingdom who help her escape and apologize to her, even though they are all on the same airship as the men they are betraying.
And last, but not least, there’s Nausicaa herself. Aside from being a princess, there’s also the matter of the prophecy that foretold the events of the movie. It’s depicted on a tapestry as a man with a mustache, dressed in blue, a bird on his shoulder, standing in a golden field. This man was predicted to be the one to save humanity from the thousand years of darkness and guide them to peace with the earth. Well, in the end, the prophecy turned out to be the most approximate prophecy ever made: the blue clothes were actually pink clothes dyed by baby Ohmu blood; the golden field was made of glowing Ohmu feelers; the bird was a fox-squirrel; and, of course, the Messiah of this story, weird Ohmu-feeler resurrection and all, was a woman.