How Miyazaki and Zizek Could Be Friends: Social Thought in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki has long been an accessible master in the anime world, and for good reason: his films are more enchanting than Harry Potter, and often more sociologically or philosophically engaging than just about any other children’s movie.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is one film with an exceptional amount of depth. Yes, it’s entirely, clearly eco-friendly–it addresses topics that range from pollution to animal ethics to straight up ecology, and was even presented by the World Wildlife Fund when it first came out in 1984–but what is really interesting to me is the amount of socio-ecological philosophy that goes into the film.

In fact, I think a lot of it lines up with Slovene philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s idea of ecology. If you’re not familiar with him, he’s an amazing (and sometimes depressing) person, and this video is a really great intro to his philosophy.

Anyway, different schools of thought are represented by the different societies in the film, so I’ll start out with a li’l overview:

Tolmekians

Screen shot 2013-04-07 at 4.00.08 PM

The total bad guys. Seriously, they suck as people all the way up until the very end of the movie. The Tolmekians are always described and depicted as “war-like people” who just want to conquer. Their (really angry) Princess Kushana even explicitly states her intent to resurrect the Great Warrior in order to pretty much rule the world. The Tolmekians seem to be the most industrialized of the three societies presented in the film, and are most easily characterized/analyzed through constant power struggles (more on that soon). We also never see their country of origin; for all intents and purposes, the Tolmekians are globalizing, and so seem placeless.

Pejites

Screen shot 2013-04-07 at 3.59.01 PM

Poor Pejite. They got seriously messed up in the process of having the Great Warrior embryo stolen by those villainous Tolmekians, then got their entire city wrecked by the Ohmu in an effort to inflict the exact same damage to the Tolmekians (granted, they stole an Ohmu baby. We have learned that you should never steal an Ohmu baby). Still, the Pejites just wanted to use the Great Warrior in order to restore human order in the world, and eradicate the Toxic Jungle so that humans could live without fear of nature. But…

The People of The Valley of the Wind

Screen shot 2013-04-07 at 3.59.45 PM

have been living without fear since forever. They can live with the Toxic Jungle simply because they understand it as part of their world. They kind of accept it as Zizekian fact; no ecology is bad ecology, nor is there good ecology. It simply is. The difference between the “good guys”–the People of the Valley of the Wind (PVOW, to make things simpler)–and the Pejites and the Tolmekians is that the PVOW recognize that they are part of nature. They aren’t caught up with a capital-“N” Nature that exists external from the human experience.

To contrast the Tolmekian’s lack of place, the PVOW are reliant on and even part of their little valley. They have taken the time to understand their place, as opposed to expand on it, as the Tolmekians try to do.

So let’s get into social stuff! The whole point of having the separate groups is, it seems to me, to demonstrate the various stages of human society as we globalize and industrialize, and to argue that the socio-ecological philosophy of the PVOW is sounder than the philosophies of industrialized societies. The Tolmekians are so busy with their whole geopolitical “rule everything because we can” thing that they forego eco-philosophy entirely, and the Pejites, with their humanist egos, see Nature as something to dominate.

You could take the Tolmekian and Pejitian philosophies as different Marxist approaches, on two different levels: Humans struggling for power against other Humans, and Humans struggling for power against Nature. I think Miyazaki posits that there IS no Nature, and that any and all struggles are completely socially constructed.

Yes, it the entirety of the film can easily be read to be about hippies trying to get people to leave Nature alone. But it’s so much more complex than that. The PVOW aren’t the direct opposite of the two other societies. They “use” the environment just as everyone else does. Nausicaä dynamites off an Ohmu eye within the first fifteen minutes of film, for Christ’s sake.

 "The world is beautiful! Now I'm gonna go get help ripping this Ohmu corpse apart."


“The world is beautiful! Now I’m gonna go get help ripping this Ohmu corpse apart.”

And that’s where Zizek comes in. The PVOW have accepted ecology as a social fact; there’s use value to the dead and ugly things in the world, as well as a beauty in it that is always present. Their philosophy is immediately evident in their name–they are OF the Valley of the Wind–and they seem to inherently recognize the existential place of humanity within ecology.

The Tolmekians and Pejites, meanwhile, are busy thinking of humanity in the wrong way. They fail to recognize that humanity’s role is not to dominate Nature (Pejite), nor is it to establish some sort of hierarchy within humanity (Tolmekia), but rather, there IS no role for humanity.

And that’s a scary, existential-type thing to think about. Nausicaä addresses that fear every now and then, most notably when she and Kushara get stuck in the Toxic Jungle. Nausicaä tells Kushara to put her gun down, asking what she’s “afraid” of. It’s in response to Kushara’s attempt to assert her dominance in the situation, and it makes a lot of sense when you see it as a confrontation of two different philosophies. It’s difficult and scary to let go of the idea of “Nature” and realize that ecology and society are mutually inclusive.

As a film, Nausicaä works really wonderfully as an introduction to eco-thought. But more importantly, it serves as a really gripping artistic vision of a paradigm shift that realllllly needs to happen in reality, despite our fears or doubts or egos. And not because some of us are more wrong or right than others, but because ecology is fact. In the film, there is a very, very obvious tipping point to the Tolmekian-PVOW-Pejitian conflict: the Ohmu stampede/Great Warrior resurrection scene (one of the most terrifying things that I’ve seen).

Seriously, that thing gives me nightmares.

We may not have a herd of gigantic insects pushing us to change, but that’s the beauty of films (and art!!!): it can turn an intangible social and ecological reality into something visual that is both understandable and complex, and really, really good. Producing culture is a subtle and important avenue for inciting paradigm shifts, and Miyazaki is totally down with that.

4 responses to “How Miyazaki and Zizek Could Be Friends: Social Thought in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

  1. Nausicaa the movie started my journey into environmentalism almost three decades ago. It holds a dear place in my heart (the movie’s intro is the banner on my blog) and I thank you for this analysis that connects.

    Have you had the opportunity to read the Nausicaa manga? Miyazaki goes into much more depth into the motivations of the Tolmekians along with an extensive exploration of what ecology and nature really means. I highly recommend it.

  2. Pingback: Ideas City 2013: Tiny Parks, Bacteria Drawing, and Trash Art | Artvironmentalist·

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