In the Toxic Forest

Here is Steven Den Beste’s review of my favorite Miyazaki, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds, too many words.
I disagree (a lot) about Nausicaa.

In some ways this is the most horrifying of his films, because of the general hopelessness of the overall situation. Humans are fighting a rearguard action against the advancing fungus jungle; but it’s a battle of attrition that the humans will eventually lose. It’s revealed that the fungi are purifying the planet, but part of what they’re purifying is the presence of humans, and it’s difficult to see how humans will be able to survive the overall process.
Still, there are some idiotic humans who are keen to make it happen faster, as long as they can make it happen to their enemies first. Naushika and her people, by contrast, try to get along with the fungi and everyone else, but eventually their valley, too, will be consumed. All they can hope for is to delay that reckoning as long as possible.
There’s something of an upbeat ending: the fungi are charging towards Naushika’s valley to destroy it, and are turned away at the last minute. Disaster is delayed — but not denied. It only takes one undetected spore for the valley to be spoiled and all the humans there to either die or have to flee. And the film overall has a feeling of gloom and doom because of the inevitability of this destruction.

Feh. Did we see the same anime? I found Nausicaa to be overwhelmingly hopeful. Nausicaa and Monoke are very nearly the same anime. The protagonist refuses to fear and hate, and instead shows by example. In Nausicaa’s underground laboratory she proves the seeds taken from the toxic forest (the Sea of Corruption in other translation) grow clean and non-toxic in clean water and soil. The toxic forest is purifying the poisoned ground left from the Seven Days of Burning. Nausicaa controls the ohmu by being unafraid of them, and by using scientific knowledge of their behavior response. She is safe in the toxic forest through both knowledge and refusal of prejudice and fear.

Lady Eboshi and Princess Kushana are the same character. A powerful evil woman finally persuaded to good by the examples of Ashitaka and Nausicaa.

I found Nausicaa profoudly hopeful, the triumph of science over superstition, the triumph of love and courage over hate and fear.

Author: matoko

transhumanist hoping to become a deist. Pythagorean, platonist, 'board rat, hiphop head. dedicated otaku of GitS and Miyazaki.

19 thoughts on “In the Toxic Forest”

  1. The link between “Nausicaa” (the film) and “Princess Mononoke” is “Nausicaa” (the manga). Because the film was made long before the manga series was finished, the manga covers a lot more territory (and darker territory at that) than the film did. Miyazaki dealt with some of the concerns from the latter part of the manga in “Mononoke” — albeit within the context of a very different story (at least on the surface).

    The new, larger-sized (and properly manga-formatted) edition of “Nausicaa” is quite fine — totally superseding the earlier English version.

    “Nausicaa” is probably my favorite Miyazaki film (but it’s very hard to pick).

  2. michael, i love Nausicaa the best, except when i’m dealing with my own unhealing wounds. then i love totoro. it is like medicine for me. and crack for toddlers. hmmm… a correlation? 😉

    miyazaki re-uses the same themes a lot, like redemption of an evil person, and using the same curse (like steven said) for porco and sophie.

  3. There are many moods that “Totoro suits better than “Nausicaa” does. These are my two biggest Miyazaki favorites. My VERY favorite Ghibli, however, is Takahata’s “Only Yesterday” — and Kondo’s “Whisper of the Heart” also always hovers very near the top of my Ghibli favorites list.

    Currently awaiting receipt of Ghibli’s latest (unheralded in the West) film — Kazuo Oga’s adaptation of “Taneyamagahara no Yoru” (a work by the great early 20th century writer Kenji Miyazawa — who was also a Buddhist scholar and leading agronomist).

  4. Back to “Nausicaa” — the film (as opposed to the manga) ends on a pretty hopeful note. Nausicaa has expanded her purification project from the lab to the real world — and lots of young valley folk seem to be working on learning to “fly”.

    One needs to learn that watching the final bits of Ghibli films (sometimes shown under the credits) is absolutely essential. I note SDB must not have learned to do this yet — as he missed an essential clue at the very end of “Porco Rosso” too (on a topic he complains was left unresolved). And he also misses important features about “Totoro” ;~}

  5. i had an argument about totoro with him!
    i think mei got a baby brother out of that trip to the hospital!

    but i will have to watch porco again….i think i missed it too. 😉

  6. I agree that Nauisicaa is a very hopeful film. I have always found it uplifting, even the first time I saw it (and that was the Warriors of the Wind version that edited the crucial bit about Nausicaa being a meticulous scientist…urp)

    I strongly disagree that Kushana and Eboshi are the same person. Kushana, while impressive in some ways, is a villain. She and Kurotowa are villains with merit and a degree of honor (in the manga much more than the movie) but they are basically out to conquer the world, get vengance, and hang anyone who gets in their way.

    Eboshi is ambitious and effective, but she is pretty damned good, taking in the outcasts of society, prostitutes, ronin an such. Despite being restricted to the boarders of the wilderness, she has developed a niche to support her people (the iron smelting operation). She is not trying to conquer the world, merely reach an agreement that will leave her and her people unmolested. She has NOTHING to gain by helping the lepers except perhaps leprosy, yet she does it anyway.

    The brilliance of the story is that, with the possible exception of the monk, none of the on camera charachters are villains, the forest spirits, are rightly feeling pressed, but their lashing out at the people of iron town is hardly productive. Eboshi has little recourse but to defend her people from the predations of a forest that has developed the random encounter table from hell, and the expansion of the mine, is absolutely necessary to keep the ecconomic viability of the little settlement (the old hill is tapped out) and keep her people away from bondage or death.

    There actually seems to be far more intense hatred on the part of the animals than Eboshi, who, for instance does not kill San when she has the chance, instead honoring Ashitaka’s truce. She seems to admire Ashitaka for trying.
    She seems to have grudging respect for the Wolf queen thru the whole film.

    On a different note, I have often wondered if the Great spirit of the forest did not, in part, plan the climax of the film….that is was the whole thing a controlled burn of sorts?

  7. huh! Eboshi’s people shot the boar the turned demon and poisoned ashitaka.
    They started the whole thing with their iron ball.
    I haven’t read the manga, but i was charmed by how Kushana began to care about Nausicaa, worry about her.
    In the anime Kurotawa remains evil.

  8. Kurotawa and the monk are not “evil”, they are simply “pragmatic”. Kushana has a job to do in the film (protecting her on kingdom) — and has no more concern (initially) about collateral damage than certain major nations do today. She is far more complex in the manga. Eboshi is an idealist — whose ideals are at variance with those of San.

    In “Totoro”,the mother probably has tuberculosis — a disease that was too common in Japan (and elsewhere) back in the era in which the film is set. The epilgue stills shown during the final credits depict a lot of future developments. Mother definitely is seen at home again — but the baby (if part of their family) would have to come considerably later (it may just be a neighbor baby). I would happily buy Christmas cards with the snow Totoros shown in the credits.

    In Porco, step through the closing sequence very closely — and pay VERY careful attention to what vehicles are docked at Gina’s island.

  9. hmmm…mei is the same age, or close…but she looks like she is caretaking the baby, holding his hand and feeding him. i like my version better. 😉

    do you think SDB is re-watching porco? i did. 😉

    and the iron ball that demonized the boar was the beginning of the end of the forest. yet the forest could not be completely destroyed. you admire eboshi…i am more like san.
    i knew her people meant the death of the forest, and i hated her.

  10. The iron ball that was likely fired in defense against an attack, by the boar who felt he was defending the forest…that’s why its tragic.

    Of course, I’m being silly. Anyone can see that it would be preferable if she had allowed her people to die like a responsible Malthusian. Inconvienient trash, whores, debtors, masterless warriors and lepers led by an uppity woman who didn’t know her place…all better off dead and unmourned. FAR better that they perish than the traditional order be shaken up, or the forest disturbed by something so unatural as human existance. Tampering with nature. Feh.Its almost as indefenseable as genetic engineering, cloning or stem cell research. Sheer blasphemy I say!

    Interestingly, San is the only charachter in the film who doesn’t grow or learn in the course of the story.

    Ken ducks….he covers….he fleees! 🙂

    I still do wonder if the Great Forest Spirit was not doing a controlled burn….he healed Eboshis wound and cured the lepers.

  11. ….and another thing….

    San could be seen as the great failure of the film.

    As a being of two worlds, she, rather than Ashitaka, would seem to be the logical choice for bridge building. Eboshi is nothing if not pragmatic, reaching an understanding/ compromise with the forest spirits would be both sensible and bennificial, simply replanting trees over the tapped out hill might have been enough, but San pretty much just tried to kill Eboshi.

    Of course San has her reasons and they are understandable, but this missed opertunity can be considered to be what starts things at the begining (and off screen).

    “Djoo hear that!??? She’s dissi’n Eboshi!”

  12. ha ha ha! lolol…domo arigatu gozaimasen for the epiphany, Ken.
    i deeply admire Nausicaa and Ashitaka and wish to be more like them.
    but i am irrevocably and unredeemedly San.

  13. I don’t think Miyazaki takes sides between San and Eboshi — both are presented as justified — within the ambit of their own (legitimate) interests. Ashitaka alone (as an outsider) can see things in a wider context.

    The only REAL villain of the story is never shown — namely the Emperor, who wants a god slain for his own selfish interest.

    San, by the way, grows substantially during the course of the story — just not so much that she can become a part of “normal human society”. She will now become substitute guardian of the forest — and the of the ordinary creatures who will re-inhabit it.

    In Athabaskan mythology (Apache, Navaho, etc.), the world was populated by semi-divine giant animals when the people first entered this world. The slaying of the mythical giants (by mythical heroes) was an essential phase allowing the people to establish themselves in their new land. The situation in PM reminds me very much of this mythology — and I wonder if the very well-read Miyazaki was aware of it?

  14. yes michael….that is why i think Nausicaa was more hopeful than Monoke, even. Nausicaa was about the triumph of courage and science over fear and superstition.
    but monoke was the triumph of logical, pragmatic humanity over magic.
    the ohmu and the toxic forest still retained their magic, their strange appearance and behavior, but tamed, unharmful to humans.

    i felt loss that the great forest spirit, the lesser spirits and the nightwalker were gone. especially Mara, my great favorite. like the Athabaskan mythos, the magic was gone from the land.

  15. I notice that a lot of the comments here tend to be of the sort “so and so doesnt agree with my interpretation; therefore they didn’t really GET the film.” That’s not really a fair or particularly productive line of discussion. Disagree on the details; that’s perfectly valid – I have yet to even scratch the surface with respect to Haibane Renmei for example. But let’s not get into the whole arts-snobbery thing. I ran into that with my comments on Grave of the Fireflies and it’s always rather annoying. No one person’s analysis trumps anyone else’s, unless it is perhaps the director/writers doing it.

  16. It’s not remotely a matter of snobbery. It’s a matter of criticizing the making of rather extreme snap judgments — when the critic has yet to pay sufficient attention to what he or she is criticizing.

    We clearly view the role of criticism quite differently. Maybe I had best leave quietly now.

  17. Mike, Steven replied at Chizu and points out that he is well aware of the ending credit scene in Porco Rosso. He even provides a screenshot. He just doesn’t think it was as significant as you did.

    It’s your assumption that his interpretation ws made on a “snap” judgement – a completely unfounded assumption – is where the snobbery comes into play, not the particular interpretation you hold (which is just as valid as any other, save Miyazaki’s himself). You assume that others haven’t paid “sufficient” attention as you have; that’s the problem.

  18. I found a pattern of superficiality and carelessness in SDB’s Miyazaki comments. He is, of course, entitled to view Miyazaki (or anything) else in any fashion he chooses. If my finding such level of analysis unhelpful constitutes “snobbery” — I plead “guilty”. But I feel no repentance.

  19. On July 16, 2006, James Berardinelli talked about different kinds of critics. Below are some excerpts from his post:


    “Elite critics” are those who view film first and foremost as a medium for art. They downplay the commercial and entertainment aspects. Elite critics tend to be highly educated with degrees in film and/or film-related subjects. They often write lengthy reviews that delve into esoteric subjects that will be of interest primarily to like-minded individuals.

    “Popular critics” are those who do their best to write for the general population of movie-goers. They view film as a valid medium for artistic expression and entertainment/commercial purposes, and don’t outright dismiss a film for falling into the latter category. Their reviews tend to be shorter and more easily accessible to readers without specialized knowledge of the subject. Many of them do not have a formal education in film, but have arrived in film criticism after taking a non-linear career path. This is the largest branch of film critics, and the one that shows the most growth. It also contains the most diversity.

    Elite critics believe that their members are the only ones who deserve the title of “critic.” They are the keepers of the true flame; anyone who defends a movie on the grounds that it’s enjoyable or entertaining has become a shill of the studios. They are unforgiving in their censure, dismissing popular critics with the same disdain as quote whores and non-critics. In some instances, they don’t seem (at least to studio heads and the general public) to like movies all that much. Their words of praise are often reserved for the most obscure independent and foreign films. They often sneer at blockbusters. And they would rather be tarred and feathered than give a “star” rating or a thumbs up/down designation. In short, when people talk about the chasm that divides critics from “regular” viewers, the finger points directly at the elite critics.

    I am a popular critic, so I have received my share of slings and arrows from members of the elite groups. My reviews are unsuitable because they are not scholarly enough. They do not show enough insight into the mechanics of filmmaking and its aesthetic aspects. I have the temerity to recommend movies that are lacking in artistic value. And I lack the proper educational background (being trained as an engineer and a writer) to possess a true appreciation of film. These are all things that have been written about me, many in print publications. However, those who are making these statements are missing the point. I am not trying to be scholarly, nor do I view artistic achievement as the holy grail of cinema. My agenda is different. I know my audience and my audience knows me. My reviews are informed opinion pieces, not essays that dissect the essence of cinema. I leave that to someone who is better qualified to perform a motion picture autopsy.

    Popular critics often dismiss elite critics as being snobbish and arrogant. I will admit to falling into that category at times. However, it’s impossible to deny that they bring something to the table that popular critics rarely do: a thorough examination of filmmaking as a craft. I don’t aspire to be an elite critic (it would kill my enjoyment of film), but I can, on some occasions, admire the work they do. Unfortunately, the feeling is rarely reciprocated. The reason? Elite critics view popular critics as a blight on the vocation – improperly educated hobbyists whose growing “voice” is threatening the fabric of serious criticism.

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