Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Hayao Miyazaki: Nausiaa of the Valley of Wind

It's been a while. Actually I first read Richard Dawkins's The Greatest Show on Earth, but since I'm not used to writing about non-fiction and can't really think of anything much to say about it except "I like, I like", I will skip it.

So, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, both the comic and the Studio Ghibli film version adapted by the author. It took me until about the halfway point of the book to really get into it. I was wondering for ages what on earth I was going to write about it. But two things really struck me: the setting and the central character. The setting, a future civilisation that has grown up after a great war (yep, more post-apocalyptica) and is threatened by a growing, insect-infested, poisonous forest, is distinctive enough that it could have spawned its own genre (or sub-genre or sub-sub-genre). The film version both strips down the complex setting and expands on it; various factions and intricacies are omitted to make it all more film-shaped, but it doesn't feel wrong, the way infidelity in adaptations sometimes does. It's just a slightly different version of the same fascinating world.

But it's Nausicaa herself who really interested me. Japanese fiction is full of spirited, idealistic heroins, but Miyazaki's eccentric princess has a sort of anarchic energy that adds a new and interesting facet. Not only does she care deeply about her people and want to protect them, but she chooses to do this by throwing herself at a bunch of heavily armed and armoured soldiers and attacking them with her bare hands. She will fly her glider head-on at an air vessel whose pilot is aiming a machine gun at her, stretching out her arms to make herself into an easy target and entrusting her life to the gunner's (potentially non-existent) compassion. She's an idealist who is not the slightest bit intimidated by the harsh reality of soldiers, guns and politics. Rather, she seems to thrive on it. It's this defiant idealism that makes her such a good leader. Similarly, her eccentricity - her habit of talking to insects, for instance - should make her an outsider among her people, but they trust her too much to be put off by eccentricity.

It's often hard to see a fantasy story as relevant to, y'know, life. That's no bad thing, fantasy is primarily about escapism. But some writers, like Miyazaki, can create a setting or a character that really is relevant. Nausicaa is a sort of role model for idealism and defiance, a model of the odd child who grows up - or rather, doesn't quite grow up - to become a great leader. Maybe it's the naive child in me thinking she really is a role model for our times. And maybe I'll get some car stickers printed: "WWND? What would Nausicaa do?"