Everyone Has Their Reasons - Thoughts on Nausicaa's Title Sequence
Some screenshots from the spectacular credits sequence in Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind. This is an exceptionally brilliant series of shots, combined with Joe Hisaishi's swelling score. The first time I saw this movie, watching on a run-down, impossible-to-see bootleg copy, I knew I was in for something special. Here is an animation film with depth.
Whenever I'm asked to name my favorite Hayao Miyazaki movie, I always cop out and reply, "Whichever one I saw last." But if push comes to shove, it's pretty clear to me that Nausicaa and Totoro are his finest directorial films. Between the two lies the great emotional and artistic depth of Miyazaki's vision. And I think you can make the case that Nausicaa is the finest anime film ever made. Its variety in tone and style, its depth and complexity, its personal honesty, its willingness to ask hard questions without providing answers, and most of all, it's thrilling and exciting animation - all of these qualities forge a masterpiece.
I think Nausicaa is the direct successor to the 1968 landmark film, Horus, Prince of the Sun, the spiritual successor. I have the vision in my mind of the middle-aged Miyazaki revisiting his youth, reexamining, honing, perfecting, understanding. Future Boy Conan was a part of this thread, but its feet were firmly planted in his goofy love of cliffhanger serials. With Conan, Miyazaki frowns and smiles, and then laughs. There are no such laughs with Nausicaa. The serious, complicated depth of Hilda, anime's most influential heroine...she's the one who casts her shadow over this movie, just like Marlon Brando's shadow was cast over The Godfather, Part II.
This title sequence in Nausicaa is breathtaking. Do you feel the same sensation? The paintings, patterned after the Bayeux Tableaux, were very carefully crafted and painted, and it shows. Details, colors, textures are remarkable, vivid. I'm reminded a little of Yuri Norstein's first directorial film (also from 1968), which wrapped itself in the mantle of the great Russian artists. These sequence of shots also seem to evoke the memory of Andrei Tartovski's Andrei Rublev, of the final series of shots that closely examine the artist's masterpieces.
Miyazaki reveals his ambitions with this scene. This is not a modest introduction by any means. The amount of care and dedication in creating this tableaux is evident, and only raises the stakes for the rest of the movie. You are in for a challenging ride, dear viewer.
I especially enjoy the cutting between the tapestry and the shots of the God Warriors stalking the landscape like prey. These are ancient warriors set to burn the world, and they move with a quiet grace. Is Miyazaki lamenting these creatures as monsters, or does he identify with them? In a story that pits man against nature (and man against himself), human beings are not treated as the innocent victims nor the valiant heroes.
The God Warriors are not depicted as villains. These events are treated as matter-of-fact, and it's only later that we realize these "gods" fulfilled the suicidal wishes of their human creators. The signs of human civilization are abstract, fractured; these warriors are themselves humanized. There is an elegance to their movements...can we almost identify with them? We can surely sympathize with them; this shocking idea bears itself out in the story of the lone survivor, who is dug out of the earth and then grown in his womb by warring empires. This final God Warrior becomes a tragic figure in Nausicaa's climactic showdown.
This moral complexity, this ambiguity, haunts this film. "Heroes" and "villains" are exposed as myths, local tribal myths. Nausicaa's vision of peaceful coexistence is severely challenged, if not rejected outright, by neighboring tribes. And the locals commit violence in the name of their greater good. Everyone who lashes out in violence does so with a sense of justice from their point-of-view. We may identify with all of them; we may identify with none of them. Everyone Has Their Reasons.
It's easy to take Nausicaa's side through all of this; she is the main character, after all. But she is swayed by the same fiery passions as everybody else. Her moment of rage, when she cuts down a room full of guards, is the most shocking moment in the entire movie. Nausicaa's violent killings echo in your head and you can't wish them away with simplistic platitudes. Miyazaki has entered the realm of Yojimbo and The Searchers, only with a far deeper sense of sorrow. He quietly fears that this is the fate of all men, and he no longer has any idealistic faith in the ending. Preachy morality has been banished. The cowboy in the white hat has been banished. Doubt has entered the picture, doubt and sorrow and hope.
Nausicaa is a movie with an ending, but it does not end. It cannot end, because its many questions can no longer be answered. So the conflicts continue, and the Sea of Decay grows, and Miyazaki's Heroine continues to ask questions and search for answers.