Monday, February 20, 2012


In Boston over the weekend, I took in a showing of Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, part of a retrospective on Studio Ghibli at the Museum of Fine Arts. I had seen it on the small screen before, but it is a treat to see one of Miyazaki's masterpieces in the theater. Like some of his other films, it is unabashedly eco-feminist-pacifist in its politics, blended with a healthy dose of pop Japanese mythology and Gaia-style new-age spiritualism. If that sounds dull or preachy, think again. The story is gripping and moving, the characters vivid. The overall tone is deeply sad, despite many humorous moments, an irresistibly spunky heroine, and a somewhat hasty and forced happy ending.

In the film the forces of love and life face off against the forces of rage and violence; the former are often associated with nature and the female, the latter with technology and the male, but Miyazaki is no dogmatist, and the correlation is far from one-for-one. The gigantic insect-like Ohm, standing in for nature and the earth itself, are capable of love but also blind and self-destructive rage; our heroine Princess Nausicaä is inspired and assisted by Master Yupa, who appears at first to have walked straight into the film from a John Ford western, but is really a buddha-like seeker.

Seeing it I was reminded yet again of how exquisitely beautiful Miyazaki's films are, how cinematic, and how downright visually clever. In Nausicaä, there is great beauty to be found in the tranquility and fecundity of the natural world, but also in the scary, explosive violence of battle. At no point is your eye tempted to wander from the screen.

Like his later Princess Mononoke, this is a cautionary tale, and part of the sadness comes from knowing that we humans are busily failing our planet, and ourselves. Alas, only in the movies are we saved by the heroic princess.

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