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Messages from Japan’s Most Famous Animator:

Feminist and Environmentalist Themes in

Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Spirited Away

 

Many of my movies have strong female leads – brave, self-sufficient girls that don’t think twice about fighting for what they believe in with all their heart. They’ll need a friend, or a supporter, but never a savior. Any woman is just as capable of being a hero as any man.

Maybe that’s what these films are doing. They are my way of blessing the child.

 

Hayao Miyazaki

Chihiro, female protagonist in Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, 2001) heeds the warnings of the mysterious Haku.

Chihiro, female protagonist in Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, 2001) heeds the warnings of the mysterious Haku.

A young girl gazes over a bridge connecting the peeling, rundown buildings behind her with the ornate, traditional Japanese bathhouse standing tall into the sky. Suddenly, a young boy appears, a serious expression painted on his face, and warns her to leave immediately.

“Get out of here. Now!” he yells.

The sun quickly and unnaturally descends into the multicolored clouds below. The little girl runs back to the buildings, whose lights begin to illuminate spontaneously. The combination of paper lanterns, electric light bulbs, and neon lights reveal brilliant colors unseen before nightfall, but they also reveal grey and black humanoids, spirits who appear sitting on the stools, standing by the posts, and walking down the streets. Frightened, the little girl runs in search of her mother and father, not knowing the supernatural tasks she will have to endure to find them.

Creator of the above scene from the film Spirited Away, Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, is often revered by critics as the greatest living animator in the world. However, Miyazaki and his production team at Studio Ghibli are not well known in the West, nor do they rely on contemporary computerized animation techniques popularized by giants such as Pixar and Dreamworks. Instead, Miyazaki and his team continue to employ the arduous, century-old technique of drawing each animated frame by hand to create complex narratives whose settings range from ancient Japan to a thousand years into the future. As a priority, Miyazaki seeks to create animated films that entertain audiences. Yet, at the same time, throughout his career, Miyazaki has produced complex animated features exploring serious social and psychological themes.

Two of these themes, feminism and environmentalism, emerge in most Miyazaki films; this stems from his questioning of traditional gender roles and his passion for nature. These qualities shaped him as he grew up in a changing Japan, recovering rapidly from the Second World War. Arguably, Miyazaki’s breakthrough film was Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), which expressed feminist and environmentalist themes almost blatantly. Seventeen years later, Miyazaki released Spirited Away (2001), now the highest grossing film in Japan, which also explores these same themes but differently from Nausicaä. While Nausicaä was made as the Japanese economic powerhouse was in full swing and Miyazaki was beginning his directorial career, Spirited Away was produced at the turn of the century when Japan’s economic bubble finally gave way.

 

Miyazaki’s Beginnings: Affirming Female Strength and Challenging Gender Stereotypes

Miyazaki’s viewpoints on feminism and gender roles seem to stem from childhood; his birth was in 1941, just as the war began. Helen McCarthy, in her book Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation, describes his mother as one of the “biggest impacts” on Miyazaki’s life. She “was a woman of very strong character and intellectual interests, […] determined, no-nonsense” who “played a huge part in forming [Miyazaki’s] view of the world” (26-27). Her personality and their relationship translated into Miyazaki’s own work ethic and character. In his prime as director, Miyazaki would review every key frame of an animated film (several tens of thousands of drawings) and redraw any he found unsatisfactory; this meticulous approach to editing exhibited his perfectionism (Anime and Manga 192). The same no-nonsense personality of his mother also influenced his outlook on life, even though Miyazaki himself argued that he couldn’t “trace his parents’ influences on him” (26). In a 2001 interview after a screening of Spirited Away, Miyazaki described himself as a pessimist, but in keeping with the character of his mother, he “[didn’t] want to transfer [his] pessimism onto children”. After Miyazaki started school, his mother became ill. However, she declined to show pessimism to a young Miyazaki and his three brothers due to her illness (Midnight Eye).

Transitioning into adulthood, the young animator aspired to be a comic artist. However, in 1958, Miyazaki was inspired to become an animator after watchingTaiji Yabushita and Kazuhiko Okabe’s Hakujaden ( The Tale of the White Serpent ), Japan’s first full-length color animated film. His feminist sympathies were evident when Miyazaki revealed in a 1988 lecture that he “fell in love with the heroine of this animated film” and was “moved to the depths of [his] soul […] after seeing the dedication and earnestness of the heroine” (Miyazaki 70). It’s no coincidence that many of his subsequent films, including Nausicaä and Spirited Away feature female protagonists; Miyazaki possesses an affinity for these characters from both his mother and Hakujaden .

While fascinated with films like Hakujaden , Miyazaki was also distressed by what he viewed as the shortcomings of Japan’s animation (anime) industry as a whole. He despised the term “anime” because the truncated nature of the word reflected the mass-produced quality of then-current Japanese animation, as well as character stereotypes popular in the industry (Miyazaki 72). In mainstream Japanese animated features, directors often omitted details to save money, and depicted favorable (masculine) extraordinariness through everything from explosions to giant robots. Female heroes were emphasized in their artistic detail at the expense of their varied expressiveness, usually having, “without any particular consistency, gigantic pupils” with an extreme of “up to seven different colors [used to draw] highlights,” as well as “hair in every imaginable wild color in emulation of the latest fashions” (Miyazaki 79). According to Miyazaki, the only motive of male protagonists in these films was to “[discover] what’s underneath a skirt” (Miyazaki 82). Responding to these animated gender stereotypes, Miyazaki decided to portray females in his features in a much more complex light. Miyazaki’s filmic feminism offers a cultural, rather than a more explicitly political, view. As a filmmaker, he affirms female strength and courage, while challenging both female and male gender stereotypes.

 

Miyazaki: Environmentalist Influences

While feminism was rooted in Miyazaki from an early age, his environmentalist beliefs came later. Not until Miyazaki was in his thirties did he begin to “[notice] the beauty of a tree” (Miyazaki 356). The Japanese traditionally have a strong respect for nature and forests, a belief that was slowly degraded by Western influence. Miyazaki is aware of this change and dislikes it because of its anthropocentric ideology. Even when campaigns focus on ecology awareness, Miyazaki expresses pessimism: “It’s a mistake to think about nature from the idea of efficiency, that forests should be preserved because they are essential to human beings” (Miyazaki 359). Miyazaki’s environmentalist ideals center on the importance of the environment for life’s sake, rather than exclusively for humans, whom Miyazaki sees as the source of the current environmental crisis. Margaret Talbot, who interviewed Miyazaki in 2005 for The New Yorker , says that “he looks forward to the time when Tokyo is submerged by the ocean […] when the human population plummets and there are no more high-rises.” This perspective expresses itself in Miyazaki’s second film, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind , set one thousand years after the self-induced destruction of mankind.

 

A Millennium in the Future: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

In Nausicaä , set in a post-apocalyptic future, environmentalist themes dominate the narrative. Due to the obnoxious state of mankind, pollution and weapons of mass destruction have poisoned the earth and killed off most of humanity. McCarthy recalled what inspired Miyazaki to create the film: the post-World War II pollution of Japan’s Minamata bay. In the 1950’s, the slow accumulation of industrial wastes in the bay caused mercury poisoning in Japanese people who consumed the fish ( Griesbauer) . While people stopped eating the fish upon realizing that the water was contaminated, the fish continued to thrive in the waters after adapting to the poison (74). In Nausicaä, Miyazaki visually captured this phenomenon in the fukai (the Sea of Decay), a forest of vast fungi, giant insects, and deadly plants that spread over the world after the apocalypse. Miyazaki wanted to show how nature can endure even after seemingly total destruction. However , as a direct consequence of pollution, nature became something deadly. Even the colors of the fukai, otherworldly glowing pinks, purples, and turquoises, exemplify not only the foreign and mysterious aspect of the plants, but also the original beauty that Miyazaki sought to portray.

The eeriness of the fukai is enhanced by the odd colors and the electronic soundtrack (Hayao Miyazaki, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind , Studio Ghibli, 1984).

The eeriness of the fukai is enhanced by the odd colors and the electronic soundtrack (Hayao Miyazaki, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind , Studio Ghibli, 1984).

The same holds with the music played by electronic instruments during scenes involving the fukai; each instrument plays a repetitive sequence of notes. This symbolizes the enduring, indifferent growth of the fukai; the unfamiliar sounds of the instruments also enhance the strangeness of the flora and fauna in this poison forest. In his essay, “Meadow and Apocalypse: Constructions of Nature in the Early Works of Hayao Miyazaki ”, Viktor Eikman compares the fukai to “real-world postwar fears of a lingering “radioactive miasma from nuclear weapons” (43). This is a fear unique to Japan as Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the only cities in history that endured the atomic bomb; this contributed to the empathic value of the film when released in its home country, although the impending doom of humanity due to the poisons of the fukai could frighten anyone.

The rest of the film revolves around several groups of humans trying to survive in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, while the titular character Nausicaä attempts to forge a peaceful relationship between all the humans as well as with nature. Nausicaä, a brave young princess of the Valley of the Wind, frequently ventures into the fukai to study the deadly wildlife and, hopefully, discover how both the fukai and the humans can coexist. Eikman states that the narrative’s most basic message is that “human action in the past – including the viewer’s present – is therefore the root of all of the frightening environmental crises of the future” (45). However, Miyazaki does offer condolences in the form of Nausicaä, who discovers that it is not the plants themselves that are poisonous, but rather the soil that they grow in. Once again, this is a direct result of human intervention, but Nausicaä’s discovery shows us that we as humans can learn to be communal with nature even after our greatest downfall.

In Nausicaä, Miyazaki portrays nature as something to be respected. This is evident in the smallest of characters, a fluffy fox-squirrel who Nausicaä befriends and names Teto. Upon first meeting, Teto bites Nausicaä’s finger enough to draw blood, but it is through the determination of Nausicaä to befriend the fox-squirrel that they eventually trust each other. While it is easy to mistake Teto for a cute harmless animal, we soon learn that it’s not favorable to make these assumptions, just as the people of the Valley of the Wind made the assumption that the fukai was irrevocably deadly. This is a metaphor of the central theme that nature can harm us, even kill us, but that shouldn’t stop us from learning to coexist peacefully.

As a character , Nausicaä is as much a proponent of environmentalism as she is representative of feminism. Miyazaki described Nausicaä as “not a protagonist who defeats an opponent, but a protagonist who understands, or accepts” (McCarthy 79). While this quality of acceptance may seem traditionally feminine, Nausicaä exhibits a far more diverse set of personal qualities. She is an aviator who flies into the fukai alone to study the plants. When a ship crashes into the Valley where Nausicaä lives, she is the first to fly into the fiery wreckage to save any surviving passengers.

Nausicaä tames a wild fox-squirrel, who is remorseful after biting her.

Nausicaä tames a wild fox-squirrel, who is remorseful after biting her.

In the final climactic scene, another group of people, the Tolmekians, attempt to use a baby Ohmu (a giant insect creature native to the fukai) to lure a huge group of Ohmu into a trap that would kill all of them, due to the perceived danger the swarm poses to humans. Nausicaä fights to save the baby Ohmu because she believes that it is wrong to completely destroy their supposed insect enemy, essentially repeating the senseless destruction of the apocalypse. Her theme music is also set apart from the synthetic sounds of the fukai. Nausicaä’s more traditional music employs familiar orchestral instruments for a heroic-sounding accompaniment with a piano piece that, with its repetitive melody, suggests Nausicaä’s own endurance in her cause. Miyazaki “wanted to create a character who could get over the immediate danger […] and cope with whatever happened next” (McCarthy 80). Nausicaä is not just a dynamic feminine character, but also a distinctly human character with flaws. She “knows despair as well as optimism,” which is exemplified in her near loss of faith during the climax that humans could not understand the harmonious relationship they had to form with nature (McCarthy 91).

Nausicaä prepares to sacrifice herself to protect her people from the Ohmu stampede.

Nausicaä prepares to sacrifice herself to protect her people from the Ohmu stampede.

While Miyazaki portrayed feminism in Nausicaä primarily through the titular character’s compassion as well as bravery, he also refuted the fact that this sort of character is his only representation of feminism through the main antagonist Kushana, who seeks to gain control of an ancient God Warrior, the giant humanoid biological weapon used during the apocalypse. She is the leader of the Tolmekians, who seek to use the weapon to claim back control over the land from the fukai. Her subordinate officers are males; even they recognize her as a “brilliant leader” (McCarthy 80). She does not believe in fighting against the other humans unless she deems it necessary; her morals are quite ambiguous and complex (another trademark of Miyazaki). Kushana simply wants to protect her people in a way that she thinks is right, but as a warrior, she is not afraid to use force against humans who stand in the way of what she views as her movement towards peace. Through this character, Miyazaki affirms the gender neutrality of personality and challenges traditional images of woman.

In the film’s pivotal scene, Kushana uses the God Warrior to deal a devastating blow to the landscape and the Ohmu (who are swarming towards the humans and will eventually stampede them, if not stopped). The explosion caused by the God Warrior resembles a nuclear explosion, a vast and wide mile-high fireball that eventually shapes into a mushroom cloud, sending a shockwave through the air and instantaneously killing the front lines of the Ohmu swarm. This alludes to Japan’s history at the conclusion of World War II and the apocalypse that indirectly caused this climactic conflict. But the blast, while seemingly devastating, had little effect on the swarm as a whole, and they continue to stampede towards the humans. The God Warrior then disintegrates due to being born prematurely (the biological God Warrior develops much like a human in the womb); this alludes to the beginning of the apocalypse and Miyazaki’s fears that contemporary humans utilize technology without understanding its full consequences. But just as the Ohmu near the human settlement, Nausicaä willfully sacrifices herself by standing in front of the stampede, holding the baby Ohmu used to lure the Ohmu swarm to destroy the valley (so as to attain the God Warrior). As a gender stereotype, men are usually the ones who sacrifice themselves for their people, but here we see clearly that Nausicaä fulfills this role instead.

Kushana watches indifferently as her nuclear-like explosion kills some of the Ohmu.

Kushana watches indifferently as her nuclear-like explosion kills some of the Ohmu.

This scene showcases the two most important themes in this film: feminism and environmentalism. In Nausicaä , Miyazaki had succeeded in creating an animated film that entertained audiences, challenged gender stereotypes and raised environmental issues. Due to the success of Nausicaä in Japan, Miyazaki co-founded the animation production company Studio Ghibli in 1985 and created several more successful films, including Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), and Princess Mononoke (1997). However, after Princess Mononoke , Miyazaki entered retirement, “during which he spent time with the daughters of a friend” ( Anime and Manga 191). One of these daughters inspired Miyazaki’s next film, and at the turn of the century, Miyazaki returned to Studio Ghibli to make Spirited Away (2001), which would become the most successful movie ever released in Japan.

 

Returning to the Past: Spirited Away

From the first scene of Spirited Away , the ornate detail of late 1990’s Japan is captured in a brilliant array of water color and digital paint. Miyazaki’s environmentalist imagery can be seen in how these details are painted: the greens and trees are bright and flourishing while the buildings and man-made structures are colored bleakly with stains and cracks of the past. In contrast to Nausicaä, Spirited Away takes a different approach by critiquing consumerism to stress the importance of the environment. In a 2008 interview, Miyazaki told a room of reporters that he “was frustrated because nature – the mountains and rivers – was being destroyed in the name of economic progress,” that consumerism was being single-mindedly pursued while sacrificing the environment ( Japan Times ). We can see this frustration in Spirited Away in the depiction of the ten-year-old female protagonist Chihiro’s family. The car they drive at the beginning is a foreign-made Audi, and the back seat (where Chihiro sits) is filled with shopping bags bearing various brand names. In addition, Chihiro is uninterested in her family’s move to a new house, representing Miyazaki’s own disinterest in what he regarded as the emptiness of consumerist Japan.

The consumerism of Chihiro’s family is evident in this depiction of so many material goods. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, 2001).

The consumerism of Chihiro’s family is evident in this depiction of so many material goods. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, 2001).

Soon, Chihiro’s family becomes lost after taking a wrong turn through a forest. Chihiro’s father, bragging about his car’s four-wheel-drive, accelerates rapidly through the degraded cobblestone road while small branches and leaves are blown off by the windshield. Suddenly, he slams on the brakes because of a statue in the middle of the old road in front of him, and behind that appears a gate to an abandoned theme park. Chihiro’s father’s reckless driving through the woods is a stark metaphor for Japan’s rapid push towards perceived “modernization,” or as Miyazaki criticized, the single-minded pursuit of consumerism at the expense of the environment ( Japan Times ).

Upon realizing that they had entered a theme park, Chihiro’s father explains that it was probably built during the 1990’s economic bubble, and then abandoned when the bubble collapsed. As Chihiro and her family explore the park, they realize that all the vendors are restaurants, and Chihiro’s parents begin to eat from one of the tables, telling her that they’ll use their credit cards and cash to pay for it later. In her essay, “Matter Out of Place”, Susan Napier states that “it is surely no accident that the parents’ orgy of credit-card approved consumption takes place inside the theme park, evoking the orgy of material consumption that characterized the 1980’s and 1990’s” (301). Later, Chihiro discovers that the theme park is a link between the real world and the spirit world. We can even see some apocalyptic imagery in this scene, not to the extent of Nausicaä , but in the fact that the theme park seems utterly abandoned and rundown, a symbol of how far Japan has drifted from what Miyazaki considers Japan’s traditional values, signified by the spirit world.

Chihiro looks down an empty street, a symbol of a forgotten past Japan.

Chihiro looks down an empty street, a symbol of a forgotten past Japan.

After Chihiro returns to her parents, she discovers that they have turned into pigs; she then is befriended by Haku, a young boy who helps her get a job at a bath house, which is the embodiment of the spirit world. As a newcomer, she is tasked with cleaning the filthiest of the bath house’s patrons: a stink spirit, depicted as an amorphous pile of sludge. The smell seems to come from the film through the animation of the stink spirit and the reactions of Chihiro and the other patrons and workers in the bath house. While cleaning the spirit, Chihiro discovers a “thorn” in its side. Many workers help Chihiro to remove the thorn, and it is revealed to be a bicycle attached to an almost unrecognizable chain of human junk. The stink spirit then reveals itself to be a river spirit, satisfied after being cleansed of pollution. Miyazaki stated that he “really [believes] that the river gods of Japan are existing in that miserable, oppressed state.” Napier also agrees, claiming that “the river has become a sacrifice to consumer capitalism, another vision of matter out of place embodied in the detritus clogging the river” (Napier 303).

Chihiro and the staff of the bath house work hard to remove the “thorn” from this spirit.

Chihiro and the staff of the bath house work hard to remove the “thorn” from this spirit.

Through this scene, which he views as pessimistic, Miyazaki shows us that humans can recover from the environmental atrocities that we have committed in the past. While in Nausicaä , the environmental damage was done, Spirited Away occurs at an earlier time. The film displays the abandonment of the theme park and the perpetual cleansing culture of the bath house, symbols that evoke thoughts of waiting and patience. It’s as if these entities were waiting for Chihiro, the new generation of Japan, to return to them. In their article, “The Ecological and Consumption Themes of the films of Hayao Miyazaki”, Kozo Mayumi, Barry Solomon, and Jason Chang tell us that Spirited Away “allowed Miyazaki to craft a story that […] relates the process of personal growth of little Chihiro and her ability to solve environmental problems” (6). Chihiro can be seen in some ways as the analogue of Nausicaä in this particular aspect, but as a whole, Chihiro differs significantly from the feminine hero Miyazaki drew over seventeen years before.

While Nausicaä expresses courage and optimism from the start of the film, Chihiro acts “whiny and sullen” at the beginning of Spirited Away , constantly complaining to her parents about moving away from her friends. She grumbles about her wilting flowers, her father’s driving, having to explore the abandoned theme park, and the coming night.

However, as the film progresses, Chihiro exhibits redeeming qualities; she refuses “to join her parents [eating, which] suggests an inner moral or at least ascetic strength which will prove useful in her coming trials in the bathhouse” (Napier 300). After Haku suggested Chihiro get a job in the bathhouse, Chihiro braves the unfamiliar spirit world to get to the top floor where the master resides. Throughout this scene, she jumps at everything she sees because of the foreignness of the place. It is uncomfortable for her, but she presses on to face the master of the bathhouse, a witch named Yubaba. Chihiro’s inner qualities of assertiveness and bravery are brought out by her environment; when confronted with the literal fiery wrath and anger of Yubaba, Chihiro persists, even giving up her own name, to get a job at the bathhouse (so that she can later save her parents). Miyazaki’s feminism is even evident in Yubaba, who rules the bathhouse, striking fear in and earning respect from all the men and women beneath her.

When Chihiro does get a job, she is accompanied by Lin, a female bath attendant who guides and teaches her how to work. A very independent and confident woman, Lin feels constricted in the rigid social structures of the bathhouse and wants to leave. She cares about Chihiro and helps her to survive amongst the bathhouse’s patrons and workers so that Chihiro can live Lin’s dream and leave.

Napier also points out the feminist qualities of Haku, Chihiro’s first friend in the spirit world. Haku, “the most important male figure in the story, has a suggestively androgynous appearance and, as the audience discovers at the end, is actually a river god and thus associated with the feminine principle of water” (300). This reveals Miyazaki’s persistence in inserting feminist themes in his films, through male as well as female characters. Perhaps, through the character of Haku, he suggests that “feminine” principles are necessary to be human and that gender itself is a relic of a bygone era.

But Miyazaki’s most important reason for inserting these feminist themes into Spirited Away , especially through Chihiro, was revealed in a 2001 interview after a screening of the film. Miyazaki told the audience, “I haven’t chosen to just make the character of Chihiro like this. It’s because there are many young girls in Japan right now who are like that.” While Nausicaä was an aviator who scourged through a fiery airship wreckage to save the passengers, Chihiro was “an ordinary girl, not someone who could fly or do something impossible. Just a girl you can encounter anywhere in Japan” ( Midnight Eye ). The fact that audiences across Japan, and even in the United States ( Spirited Away won the 2003 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature), loved this film further demonstrates that audiences could connect with Chihiro’s rebirth and bravery, and as a result, Miyazaki’s feminist and environmentalist values and critique of consumerism.

Miyazaki went on to direct several more films, including Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) and Ponyo ( 2008). Both films feature heroines as protagonists; both depict the wrongdoings of environmental destruction, although in much smaller focus. Miyazaki’s most recent feature, Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises) , is based on a manga he wrote about Jiro Horikoshi, who designed a fighter aircraft used in World War II. While the primary focus of the film is Jiro and his dreams of building airplanes, Mark Schilling from The Japan Times notices Miyazaki’s “reminders of the era’s social and economic turmoil and hints of later environmental calamities…” So even in this film, Miyazaki still incorporates a degree of his environmentalist views. Still, his growing filmography and consistent themes exhibit not only Miyazaki’s passion for feminism and environmentalism, but also his enduring love of animation and the role it plays in depicting these themes through entertainment. It is through this talent, the novel technique of making animated moving pictures, that Miyazaki can share this passion with audiences across the world. As Miyazaki said, “The films you value can be lifelong friends.”

Chihiro returns home, at peace with herself and the spirits.

Chihiro returns home, at peace with herself and the spirits.

Hayao Miyazaki Filmography

Year

Film

Notes

1979 The Castle of Cagliostro Director and co-writer
1984 Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Director and writer
1986 Castle in the Sky Director and writer
1988 My Neighbor Totoro Director and writer
1989 Kiki’s Delivery Service Producer, director and writer
1991 Only Yesterday Producer
1992 Porco Rosso Director and writer
1994 Pom Poko Planning
1995 Whisper of the Heart Writer and planner
On Your Mark Director
1997 Princess Mononoke Director and writer
2001 Spirited Away Director and writer
Whale Hunt Director and writer
2002 Koro’s Big Day Out Director and writer
Mei and the Kittenbus Director and writer
Imaginary Flying Machines Director and writer
The Cat Returns Planner
2004 Howl’s Moving Castle Director and writer
2006 Monmon the Water Spider Producer, director and writer
House-hunting Producer, director and writer
The Day I Harvested A Planet Director and co-writer
Tales from Earthsea Original idea
2008 Ponyo Director and writer
2010 Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess Director and writer
The Secret World of Arrietty Co-writer and planner
2011 From Up on Poppy Hill Co-writer and planner
2013 Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises) Director and writer

 

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: Plot Synopsis

One thousand years has passed since the Seven Days of Fire, an apocalyptic war that destroyed human civilization and gave birth to the vast fukai,a forest swarming with giant mutant insects in which everything is lethal to humans. Scattered settlements exist wherever the fukai relents. The Valley of the Wind is one such settlement. The Valley’s settlers have a prophecy stating that a man “clad in blue and surrounded by fields of gold” will one day reunite man and nature.

Nausicaä, the agile, cheerful and peace-loving princess of the Valley of the Wind, has managed to befriend the fukai. She explores the fukai and communicates with its creatures, including the gigantic, armored caterpillars/trilobites called Ohmu.She often travels on a compact jet-powered glider in order to find out about the origins of the fukai, understand its nature, and even find a cure for both humans and the world.

One night, a large fixed-wing cargo aircraft from the kingdom of Tolmekia crashes in the Valley. Nausicaä tries to rescue an onboard passenger, the wounded Princess Lastelle of Pejite, who pleads with Nausicaä to destroy the cargo before dying. The cargo is an embryo of a God Warrior, lethal genetically engineered bioweapons that caused the Seven Days of Fire. Initially discovered by Pejite, the invading Tolmekians seized the embryo and Lastelle. The Tolmekian plane, however, was attacked by mutant insects before it crashed.

The next morning, Tolmekian troops, led by Princess Kushana and Officer Kurotowa, subjugate the Valley and secure the God Warrior embryo, killing Nausicaä’s sick father in the process. Kushana plans to mature the God Warrior and then use it to burn the fukai, even though history warns of fatal consequences. Kushana announces her decision to leave for Pejite along with five hostages from the Valley and Nausicaä. Before leaving, Nausicaä’s master discovers her secret garden of fukai plants. According to Nausicaä, plants that grow in clean soil and water are not toxic. The fukai’s soil, however, has long been tainted by man.

Kushana and her detachment never reach their destination, as an agile Pejite interceptor decimates the entire Tolmekian wing before being shot down. Nausicaä, her fellow hostages and Kushana crash-land in the fukai, disturbing several Ohmus, which Nausicaä soothes. She then leaves to rescue Asbel, the Pejite pilot and the twin brother of Lastelle, but both are swallowed by quicksand and end up in a non-toxic world below the fukai. Nausicaä realizes that the fukai plants purify the polluted topsoil, producing clean water that remains hidden underground.

Nausicaä and Asbel return to Pejite, only to find it ravaged by the insects. Pejite survivors, boarding a single plane, reveal that they lured the creatures to eradicate the Tolmekians and would do the same in the Valley to recapture the God Warrior. To prevent any intervention, they take Nausicaä captive, knocking Asbel out in process. Later, with the help of Asbel and his mother, Nausicaä flees on a glider. While flying home, Nausicaä finds a team of Pejites using a wounded baby Ohmu to lead scores of enraged Ohmus into the Valley. Tolmekians deploy tanks and later the God Warrior against the herd to no avail: tanks prove too weak and the God Warrior, hatched ahead of time, soon disintegrates.

Nausicaä liberates the baby Ohmu and gains its trust; in the process, her pink dress becomes stained by the Ohmu’s blue blood, turning completely blue. Both land in front of the herd, but are run over. The herd, however, calms down, and the Ohmus use their golden tentacles to heal Nausicaä’s wounded body. Nausicaä awakens and starts to dance on top of the hundreds of glowing golden tentacles. Thus Nausicaä, “clad in blue, surrounded by the fields of gold” fulfills the prophecy. The Ohmus and Tolmekians leave the Valley afterward, while the surviving Pejites remain with the Valley people, helping them rebuild. Meanwhile, a tree is beginning to grow underground, meaning that the planet is beginning to heal.

 

Spirited Away: Plot Synopsis

Ten-year-old Chihiro Ogino and her parents are traveling to their new home when her father takes a wrong turn. Thinking that they have found an abandoned amusement park, her father insists on exploring and they cross a dry riverbed. While Chihiro’s parents eat at a restaurant stall, Chihiro finds an exquisite bathhouse. She meets a young boy, Haku, who warns her to cross the river before sunset. Chihiro discovers that her parents have become pigs and that it’s too late to cross the flooded river.

After finding Chihiro, Haku has her ask for a job from the bathhouse’s boiler-man, Kamaji, a spider yōkai (spirit) commanding the susuwatari (small enchanted black soot balls). Kamaji and the worker Lin send Chihiro to the witch Yubaba, who runs the bathhouse. Yubaba gives Chihiro a job but renames her Sen. While visiting her parents’ pigpen, Sen finds a goodbye card addressed to Chihiro and realizes that she has already forgotten her name. Haku warns her that Yubaba controls people by taking their names and that if she forgets hers like he has forgotten his, Chihiro cannot leave the spirit world. While working, Sen invites a silent masked creature named No-Face inside. A stink spirit arrives and is Sen’s first customer. She discovers he is the spirit of a polluted river. In gratitude for cleaning him, he gives Sen a magic emetic dumpling. No-Face tempts a worker with gold, then swallows him. He demands food and begins tipping extensively.

Sen discovers paper shikigami (small spirits inhabiting paper manikins) attacking a dragon and recognizes it as Haku transformed. When Haku crashes into Yubaba’s penthouse, Sen follows him upstairs. She reaches Haku, and a shikigami stowed away on her back transforms into Zeniba, Yubaba’s twin sister. She transforms Yubaba’s baby son Boh into a mouse, creates a decoy baby and turns Yubaba’s bird creature into a tiny bird. Zeniba tells Sen that Haku has stolen a magic gold seal from her, and warns Sen that it carries a deadly curse. After Haku dives to the boiler room with Sen and Boh on his back, she feeds him part of the dumpling, causing him to vomit both the seal and a black slug, which Sen crushes under her foot.

Firming her resolve to return the seal and apologize for Haku, Sen confronts No-Face, who is now massive, and feeds him the rest of the dumpling. While vomiting, No-Face chases Sen out of the bathhouse before returning to his normal size. Sen, No-Face and Boh travel to Zeniba. Enraged at the damage caused by No-Face, Yubaba blames Sen for inviting him in and orders that her parents be slaughtered. After Haku reveals that Boh is missing, Yubaba promises to free Sen and her parents in exchange for retrieving Boh.

Sen, No-Face and Boh arrive at Zeniba’s house. Zeniba reveals that Sen’s love for Haku broke his curse, and Yubaba had used the black slug to control Haku. Haku appears in his dragon form and flies both Sen and Boh back to the bathhouse. On the way back, Sen recalls a memory from her youth in which she had fallen into the Kohaku River but was washed safely ashore. After correctly guessing that Haku is the spirit of the Kohaku River (and thus revealing his real name), Haku is completely freed from Yubaba’s control. When they arrive at the bathhouse, Yubaba makes a deal with Sen that in order to break the curse on her parents, Sen must recognize them from among a group of pigs. After Sen correctly states that none of the pigs are either of her parents, Sen is given back her real name Chihiro. Haku takes Chihiro to the now dry riverbed and vows to meet her again. Chihiro crosses the river and reunites with her restored parents, who do not remember what happened. They walk back to their car and are surprised by the apparent passage of days (if not weeks).

 

Works Cited

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Steven Guitron Author’s Note


Steven Guitron is currently a junior studying mechanical engineering with a concentration in management. He enjoys writing about the current trends of today, popular culture such as films, and technology-related topics. Steven also likes to write fiction; sci-fi is his favorite genre, and he has written many short stories exploring what technology may bring in the future, and what effect it will have on individual lives.

At MIT, Steven has taken a writing class concerning popular culture where he wrote several essays exploring the recent phenomenon of social media. Most recently, he’s taken another class studying visual media, where he wrote the essay featured in Angles about Hayao Miyazaki, one of his favorite film directors.