Nausicaä: The Wind of Change

One paradox holds true: the only thing that doesn’t change is that everything changes. And if there’s one word that characterizes the career of Hayao Miyazaki, it would be “change.” Floating in and out of retirement for over a decade, when it looks as though Miyazaki were truly done, a change blows in on the wind, and he’s back at it again. As a child of World War II, he witnessed a tumultuous time of change in Japanese society. He grew to express that in his films later in life, and those films in turn changed an industry. Without a doubt, the life of Hayao Miyazaki has been an eventful one, constantly changing. But none of the Master’s films reflect this more than the his magnum opus, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. It is a work that has shaped him as much he has shaped it. It is a relationship of which he cannot be divorced, no matter how long the distance placed by time may be. It is the gust of inspiration that returns, time and again; a breeze of renewal quietly shaping Miyazaki’s pieces throughout his career…

Nausicaä started as a manga in the pages of the ever-popular Japanese magazine, Animage. Announced at the end of 1981, the first chapter didn’t make its debut until February of ’82, two years before its film adaptation – an adaptation that, upon agreement, was never supposed to happen. Miyazaki had been meeting with future Ghibli co-founder and Animage editor, Toshio Suzuki, back in November of ’80 for a number of articles. Miyazaki was no stranger to the magazine: he had received extensive coverage before on his animation on Hols: Prince of the Sun (and other works), and had received acclaim for his directorial debut, Future Boy Conan, in ’75. But, he was now enjoying the limelight as the director of a feature film with the release of Castle of Cagliostro of ’79.

In these fateful meetings, Suzuki and Miyazaki poured over Miyazaki’s sketchbooks, brainstorming and concocting ideas for animated features. Suzuki would return with each in turn, pitching them to publishing giant and owner of Animage, Tokuma Shoten. Each idea was shot down. But, during this back and forth, a deal was proposed for Miyazaki to author a manga that would be serialized in Animage;  Miyazaki agreed on condition that it never be made into a film. Nausicaä was to remain a manga, exclusively. However, history had something else in store.

Upon seeing the manga’s garnered acclaim, Tokuma Shoten eventually went back on their word. The publisher begged for a 15 minute short; the Master upped the ante to an hour direct to video release. Not to be outdone, Tokuma Shoten counter proposed to sponsor a full-fledged theatrical release, and after mulling it over, the Miyazaki consented. And since Nausicaä, Tokuma Shoten has backed every Ghibli release since.


The year is 1984. March 11th, Kaze no Tani no Nausicaä opens in theaters. It’s a Sunday, and most people have the day off, so they wander into the theater to see the latest picture on the silver screen, unaware of what they were about to see…

Yesterday, I had a telephone call from my younger brother in Niigata. …my younger brother in Niigata was worried for me and took his whole family of four to see the movie. …just four more! [burst of laughter] And yet, and yet, I really want this film to be a hit. It’s a model of one approach to film-making. If Nausicaä becomes a hit, it might be possible for me to make serious projects from a different point of view.

~Hayao Miyazaki, March 12, 1984

Roman Album Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Tokuma Shoten, May 1, 1984

The film was a moderate success at the box office but not the one studio Topcraft needed. The studio went bankrupt June 15th of the following year. The forty-three-year-old director had exhausted close to one million dollars in a mere nine months of troubled production. Halfway through the project, studio Topcraft fell dramatically behind schedule and lacked sufficient staff to make up for it. In a last ditch effort to rectify this, the studio ran an advertisement in Animage, calling any and all animators to help put out the fire.

One boy by the name of Hideaki Anno bet everything he had on the job, and moved to Tokyo with only a single bag slung over his shoulder. The twenty-three-year-old took the job for financial reasons, trying to support self funded film projects at DAICON Films (the company that would eventually become GAINAX the next year), chasing his dreams of animation. Miyazaki had seen Anno’s work on DAICON and was so impressed with the expelled college student that he trusted him with the climactic appearance of the melting god warrior. Anno spent the next few months living at studio Topcraft, working furiously on his cuts during the day and sleeping there at night. As a result, he repaid that trust tenfold with one of the most amazing animated scenes of all time. So beloved was his contribution to the film that when the time came to leave Topcraft, Anno was given a moped by Miyazaki himself as a parting gift. There was a mutual acceptance between the two men of just how much they valued Nausicaä. But Nausicaä forever impacted Anno, and he would revisit thoughts of his time on the production multiple times over the course of his career (Evangelion in particular). (Interestingly enough, it was here that Anno met the legendary Yoshinori Kanada, and would later spend three months under his wing, drawing for Birth; Kanada telling Anno he had to ‘loosen his hand’.)

However, Anno wasn’t the only upstart to be brought onto the project. Mamoru Fujisawa (better known as Joe Hisaishi), having just released his second album, was brought on to score the film. Hisaishi was an insert from Tokuma Shoten, publisher of not only Animage (which ran the Nausicaä manga) but also the record label Hisaishi was contracted with. It was Hisaishi’s first film score, but instead of the reins to an orchestra, he was handed a Casio keyboard and told to make do.

After Nausicaä, Miyazaki and his fellow colleagues, Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki, would later go on to purchase and repurpose Topcraft by the much wider known name of Ghibli. But once the film was completed, the manga still remained. The real hurdle for Miyazaki was just getting to the desk. After the first two years of serialization and a film adaptation, he started to find issues with his creation. This artistic struggle was the source of multiple hiatuses that would last twelve consecutive years of the author’s life. Publication was woven around Ghibli classics such as Castle in the SkyMy Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Miyazaki was avoiding Nausicaä.

After my work on the films ended, and I was feeling dazed and wanted to take a break, I always had the Nausicaä manga waiting for me. This is what I really hated. I would  spend about six months doing everything to avoid Nausicaä, and then, finally, because I had no other choice, eventually start working on it again. So to tell you the truth, as I mentioned earlier, it was almost as if I’d been creating films just to avoid Nausicaä.

I won’t go so far as to say that because I had something as heavy as Nausicaä to work on, I deliberately created lighter works. I do think, however, that if I hadn’t had Nausicaä to work on I probably would have been floundering about, trying to incorporate somewhat more serious elements into films. Of course, I can only say this in hindsight; at the time I didn’t feel this way, and just made such films because I thought it was the right thing to do.

Yomu, Iwanami Shoten, June 1994

The manga finally finished in March, 1994. And not surprisingly, began working on Princess Mononoke later that August. With Nausicaä gone, I suspect the outlet that Miyazaki describes as more serious shifted into Princess Mononoke, which more than makes it a spiritual successor (if it didn’t already bear the title). Directly or indirectly, Nausicaä influenced Miyazaki’s early work.


A wide divergence exists between the manga and the film. The film has a lighter tone, with a focus of how truly difficult being a pacifist is in a world where greed, wants, needs, and survival exists. The message is more centered on how man must strive to get along with something as unrelatable as nature and his fellow man. On the other hand, the manga is more gritty, exploring the worthlessness of war with a more spiritual nature. Both came out in the the early 80’s, during the “get green” movement was going on in Japan. It was even championed by World Wide Fund for Nature. Thus Nausicaä tends be stamped as an eco-warrior; an oversimplification and poor interpretation. When questioned about this, Miyazaki stated:

That wasn’t intended at all. I think Nausicaä just happened to be in the right place at the right time to play that role… What I mean to say is that I didn’t start out writing and drawing Nausicaä because I specifically wanted to talk about ecosystems or the need to protect the environment. I started  out intending to set the story in the desert, but when I drew some illustrations they weren’t  very interesting, so then I came up with the idea of setting the story in a forest, and that seemed to make more sense. So I ultimately wound up with the story you know today.

Yomu, Iwanami Shoten, June 1994

The key mechanics of Nausicaä do not stem from the manga, however. Incarnations of the god-man and golden fields were first applied to Miyazaki’s Shuna no Tabi or Journey of Shuna. Journey of Shuna is a short masterpiece of 140-odd pages about the tale of one young man who undergoes a perilous and strange journey to save his village from starvation. “Travel West to the god-man’s land, to the golden fields and return with seeds for a new harvest” – it’s a tale that’s found in a children’s storybook. But unlike a children’s storybook, the titular Shuna encounters  the less scrupulous aspects of humanity: slavery, senseless violence; even cannibalism.

Journey of Shuna holds this odd middle ground of being ahead of its time, yet still a precursor and springboard for future projects. Helen McCarthy in her 500 Manga Heroes and Villains states that Shuna is very much a prototype of Nausicaä; not so, given that Nausicaä had already begun publication a year before, but he is cut from the same cloth no doubt. Many of the ideas Miyazaki committed to paper here would later find their way into Princess Mononoke some time later.

Journey of Shuna still is ahead of today’s standards by leaps and bounds, and rivals the works of the God of Manga himself in ingenuity, if not in narrative. Aesthetically it stands second to none; with its half page panels of remarkable watercolors. But unlike most manga, the color isn’t added on, it is a natural part of the art, more than anything Shonen Jump can say. It isn’t cluttered with speech balloons, and is rather restrictive on the dialog, somehow making what little is said weigh more. It is elegant in its simplicity, without sacrificing profound emotional depth.

Absent from Shuna, however, are the miraculous forces of nature. You might even argue that nature itself is absent, as the bulk of the story takes place in a desert similar to the one mentioned in the quote prior. It’s not that creation is forgotten, more that it takes a backseat to the human interaction as Shuna takes his first steps into the world. True, it was the lack of crops’ yield that forced Shuna to take up his quest; one could argue nature is the goal, but even after the seeds from the golden fields are found, the story continues. Finding the seeds was not the resolution, the relationship of Shuna and the woman he meets on his journey, Thea, is the conclusion, part of the reason the story remains open-ended.

But the roots of Nausicaä go back even further, to the very beginnings of Miyazaki’s career. Since his boyhood, Miyazaki had it in his heart to write manga. He was a particular fan of Tezuka’s works, idolizing him for the longest time, imitating his style – a boy’s homage. At eighteen years old, he decided he needed to differentiate himself or as he put it, “rid himself of Tezuka’s influence.” Miyazaki did so in the most rudimentary form, putting his unworthy works to the torch. From that moment, he took upon himself a new rival, the ‘God of manga’.

So when I was finally forced to admit that my drawings actually did look like Tezuka’s, I took out the sketches I had stored in the drawer of our dresser and burned them all. I burned them and resolved to start over from scratch, and in the belief that I needed to study the basics first, I went back to practicing drawing and draftmenship. Yet it still wasn’t easy to rid myself of Tezuka’s influence.

Fusion Product’s Comic Box, May 1989

Another major influence on Miyazaki was Tetsuji Fukushima, author of Sabaku no Mao, or Devil of the Desert. Miyazaki had read Sabaku no Mao as a boy, and combined with Tezuka’s discarded influence, wrote the foundation that would one day be Nausicaä. It was his second professional manga and his first original work. Miyazaki’s firstborn brainchild. Titled Sabaku no Tami, obvious flattery to Fukushima, People of the Desert is in many ways the blueprint for Nausicaä, and in turn for Princess Mononoke.

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In 1969, Sabaku no Tami was published in the Japanese Communist Party’s Shōnen Shōjo Shinbun, running for 26 weeks. Though a self proclaimed Marxist, Miyazaki assumed the pseudonym Akitsu Saburō to escape public ridicule the JCP and associates were prone to. But Sabaku no Tami carries a prestige that prevents it from slipping into propaganda territory. The work chastises the moral failings of mankind under duress and the ugliness of war and greed, almost to the point it stops being targeted at children.

The art for Sabaku no Tami is the most Tezuka-like we will see from the Master. We see just how difficult it must have been for Miyazaki to reinvent his style. This is, by far, the roughest and dirtiest we see him… Dirty seems to demean the value; “unrefined” would be a better fit. Perhaps it was due to limitations of a serialized run in a newspaper, but the art feels almost as if chiseled in porous stone.

To draw comparisons to later, more developed works would be a fruitless effort, as Sabaku no Tami is honestly an inferior work. But it’s not a competition. What was started back in 1969 is still relevant because of what it developed into. The anecdotes tightened up, ideas grew, and the story that started in Pejite was carried by the wind for 15 years…with several stops along the way. Coming back to Nausicaa, numerable influences were at work. Fukushima and Tezuka aside, Isao Takahata has perhaps been the single most influential person in Miyazaki’s life. The legendary animator Yasuo Ōtsuka who worked on The Tale Of The White Serpent, (the film that caused Miyazaki to become an animator) even went as far as to say that without Takahata, Miyazaki would be nowhere near as socially responsible, that his films would never ascend beyond “comic bookish things.” But Miyazaki’s relationship with Takahata and Ōtsuka is much better documented in other essays, and goes beyond the scope of what can feasibly be covered here.

With it all laid out in front of you, it’s easy to see the change that occurred on the surface. What escapes prying eyes was just how the man had been changed. There are countless quotes I could lay on the table of how much of a burden Nausicaä was on Miyazaki’s shoulders. The man avoided writing it, then begrudgingly would return to it, and at one point, even began to feel antipathetic towards the direction the story was taking. He struggled with it, largely because he was realizing things about himself that he didn’t agree with.

I myself wasn’t in the lead in creating the story; I was just trying to keep up with it. Rather than rolling on it’s own, I should say it took on a life of it’s own. And it wouldn’t agree to go where I wanted it to go. Of course, while realizing that I wasn’t being very honest about it at all, I still felt forced to try to get the the story to go where I wanted it to, but that’s not something I recommend.

I had intended to organize my thoughts to have a better grasp of things, but in the process of writing Nausicaä I lost control; I felt like I was at a loss for words. I felt I didn’t want to express myself in words; whenever I wrote down something that I thought probably expressed my intent, it immediately turned into something else.

Yomu, Iwanami Shoten, June 1994

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Perhaps most telling was the change of his world view. Miyazaki was passionate about his political beliefs. After being hired for one year at Toei Animation, Miyazaki headed a labor dispute in the company. He was only 24. But this paradigm shift did not feel like one, instead, it was as gentle as the breeze. It’s as if one day he awoke, but left his old beliefs to rest.

As I was trying to complete Nausicaä, I experienced a change in my thinking that some people might regard as a political sell-out. It’s because I clearly abandoned Marxism. You might say I had to abandon it, but it wasn’t easy to decide that Marxism was a mistake, that Marxist materialism was all wrong, that I had to look at the world in a different way. I still occasionally think it would have been easier for me to continue thinking as I had been.

I didn’t experience any dramatic, fierce internal struggle before changing my way of thinking; I was simply no longer able to deal with the various doubts that had been accumulating as I wrote. And I don’t think I abandoned Marxism because of any change in my position within society – on the contrary, I feel that it came from having written Nausicaä.

Yomu, Iwanami Shoten, June 1994

Miyazaki is already 78. He’s an old man growing older. While it’s true he has retired before only to come return in few years time, something happened this last time I did not expect. A symbolic curtain was drawn when Miyazaki gave his protegee, Hideaki Anno, the blessing for further adaptation of Nausicaä. And Nausicaä is more than Miyazaki’s magnum opus, more than just a great story; it a man’s burden.

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