It’s hard to imagine a time before the mighty reign of Disney Princesses, but I think Gen-X moms can remember it quite well: some of our first encounter with a princess weren’t fairytales, but a feisty rebel like Princess Leia from Star Wars. There was She-Ra, another warrior princess. In a similar vein, my first princess was Nausicaa.
Nausicaa of The Valley of The Wind isn’t well know in the US, but in Japan, it was the first box office success that established Hayao Miyazaki as a director of feature-length films in 1984. Without Nausicaa, Studio Ghibli wouldn’t have gone on to produce worldwide mega-hits like My Neighbor Totoro or Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Nausicaa is Miyazaki’s Lord of The Rings. It began as a serial comic book series in 1982, wrapping up in 1994 with breaks in between while he directed other hits. Just as Lord of The Rings begins lighthearted and takes a darker turn as Frodo realizes the gravity of his mission, same is true of Nausicaa. The world of Nausicaa is the twilight of mankind. The Toxic Forest spreads and steadily encroaches on human habitat, guarded by giant insects that inhabit the forest. There is war and unrest. Nausicaa’s home, Valley of The Wind, is an idyllic little village protected by the winds from the Sea of Corruption–its acidic water keeps the Toxic Forest at bay. Unrest soon finds the village when the militaristic empire of Torumekia decides the village would be an ideal place to launch an attack on the Toxic Forest, to burn it down once and for all. Nausicaa must find a way to save her village and the forest that she loves.
As a 11-year old experiencing Nausicaa of The Valley of The Wind in a movie theater, she had a lasting impact on me. She was so smart, strong and self assured. She was noble and caring, yet stood bravely for what she believed in. I wanted to be just like her. She was my first princess. Here are some of the characteristics I love most about her, and aspire to.
1. She is intellectually curious
Nausicaa is many things, but we’re first introduced to her as a scientist / giant-insect whisperer. Think Jane Goodall on wings (because yes, she flies. See #2). Though the Toxic Forest is the source of suffering for the elders in her village, because its toxins cause neurological damage, Nausicaa understands the vital role the forest and its giant insects play in the overall ecological system. She works tirelessly to find a cure for those who are affected by the toxins.
2. She can fly
Whether on a glider or airplane, she is right at home in the sky.
3. This princess works alongside her people
This princess doesn’t sit back while at home in the Valley of the Wind. She is busy working alongside her people, fixing windmills, farming, teaching kids to fly.
4. She is caring and brave
My favorite scene in the movie is when she and her elderly aides are lost over the Toxic Forest. The cable that tethered the barge and Nausicaa’s plane has snapped. Her aides on the barge begin to panic, unable to pilot the barge on their own. They would rather self-destruct over the forest than to suffer through the horror of being devoured by giant insects. Nausicaa shouts orders at them to dump the cargo, but they can’t hear her over her mask and her plane’s engine. What does she do? She shuts off the engine of her plane, gets level with the barge, and tells her aides to dump the cargo. With a smile! She does this at great risk to herself, as breathing in the toxic air would kill her too. Reassured by their princess’s assurance of safety, her aides follow her orders. It’s an amazing scene.
5. She fights for what she believes in
Things get heavy as the empire of Torumekia, which has invaded Valley of The Wind, puts its plans to destroy the giant insects and toxic forest once and for all. They’ve discovered an ancient weapon that has been said to burned down all civilization in seven days. Nausicaa is desperate to stop them, but by she has run out of time. A huge swarm of giant insects are headed for her home–lured by a young, cruelly tortured insect hung by cables from an aircraft. Nausicaa is determined to return the young insect to its herd, knowing that she will be killed.
You’ll have to watch the movie to see how it ends. All I can say is that this is a movie that set my expectations for what women do in the world. The story continues in the comic book, and Nausicaa’s fight is just as grueling as Frodo’s. I hope you will read it with your daughters and sons, though, especially when our environment seems to be on the brink, and the stakes for women to rise up couldn’t be higher.