Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984): The Movie Structure Archives
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
- Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Act 1 (1%-25%)
- Hook: A masked figure walks in a barren wasteland, commenting that another village has been destroyed by the “Toxic Jungle.”
- Nausicaä, the protagonist, explores this Toxic Jungle and shows another, gentler side to it. She’s comfortable and knowledgeable about its inner workings and its gigantic insect-like inhabitants.
- In the distance she hears gunshots and uses her glider to fly into the open. The masked figure from before is being chased by an Ohm, the guardians of the Jungle. Using an insect call, Nausicaä calms the Ohm and saves the figure who turns out to be a close friend.
- This friend is Lord Yupa, who gives her a fox-squirrel, but it bites her hand. Patiently, she lets it continue biting her until it realizes she means no harm, earning its trust. The group head home to the Valley of the Wind, an enclave protected from the Jungle’s spores.
- Upon returning home, Nausicaä and Lord Yupa meet with her father and grandmother, the beloved rulers of the Valley. They discuss Lord Yupa’s travels and the legend that a figure will appear, dressed in blue and standing in a golden field, to bring humanity to prosperity again.
- Inciting Event: That night, a Tolmekian airship crashes in the Valley. In the burning wreckage, Nausicaä finds a young girl in chains. The girl dies in her arms, but with her last breath reveals that she is the captive Princess of Pejite, and pleads with Nausicaä to destroy the ship’s cargo. The villagers find an insect survived the crash, and Nausicaä leaves the body to calm the insect and lure it back to the Jungle without harm.
- The villagers scan the Valley for toxic spores that might have been carried on the ship, combing each house and field. Meanwhile, Lord Yupa helps clear the rubble from the ship and finds a gigantic beating heart, unhurt by the crash. He fears it is the core of a Giant Warrior, one of the weapons humanity used to destroy the world generations ago.
- Key Event: Tolmekian airships invade the Valley, come to retrieve their cargo. They kill Nausicaa’s father and she flies into a rage until Lord Yupa calms her, reminding her that more bloodshed will not protect them.
- The Tolmekians take the Valley hostage, intending to use it to breed a new Giant Warrior from the core. Either the villagers will help or be slaughtered like their king.
- 1st Plot Point: Nausicaa submits to the Tolmekian’s wishes to protect the villagers, being taken back to Tolmekia as a prisoner.
Act 2 (25%-75%)
- The night before she is to be taken away, Lord Yupa finds Nausicaä in a hidden room deep inside the castle. She is surrounded by plants from the Toxic Jungle, but none of them are poisonous. She’s learned that the plants are only made toxic by the water and soil they grow in.
- On the trip back to Tolmekia, a dogfighter shoots down most of the Tolmekian airships. Nausicaä escapes the crashing ship and out of kindness helps her captor, Princess Kushana, escape alongside her.
- 1st Pinch Point: Nausicaä and other captives from the Valley land in the Toxic Jungle and are confronted by the Ohms, who Nausicaa bonds with and calms, protecting the others.
- The villagers set off back home while Nausicaä leaves to find the dogfighter, who she saw crash into the Jungle. Upon finding him she saves him from a hoard of insects but is knocked from the sky, falling deep below the Jungle floor.
- Midpoint: Upon coming to, Nausicaä is in a strange underground cavern next to Asbel, the dogfighter she saved. The two had fallen through the sand and down to the roots of the Jungle itself, and she realizes that the poisonous plants are drawing toxins from the soil, leaving this cavern purified.
- 2nd Pinch Point: Back in the Valley, Princess Kushana’s underlings have almost revived the Giant Warrior, and the Valley is becoming infested with spores. The villagers beg the Tolmekians to give them something to kill the spores with.
- Lord Yupa meets the villagers who were taken captive in a hideout at the Acid Lake where they’re keeping Princess Kushana locked up. She explains that other kingdoms will soon arrive to take the Giant for themselves if the Valley or the Tolmekians don’t use it. In her eyes, no one is safe unless they strike first.
- Having given the villagers tools and flamethrowers to kill the spores with, the Tolmekians are turned on when the villagers realize they must burn the Valley to prevent the toxins from spreading.
- 3rd Plot Point: Nausicaä and Asbel escape the Jungle and fly to Pejite, Asbel’s home kingdom. When they arrive they find that nothing is left but a destroyed city, stampeded by the gigantic Ohms. Nausicaä is taken captive by the Pejites and told of their plan to bait an Ohm stampede into the Valley to destroy the Tolmekians and the Giant.
Act 3 (75%-100%)
- The mother of the Pejite Princess Nausicaä saved helps her escape from her cell. Asbel protects Nausicaä as Tolmekians board the Pejite airship and she makes her way to the Valley.
- On the way, a Tolmekian airship follows her, trying to shoot her down. A gunship from the Valley arrives with Lord Yupa, who leaves Nausicaä with the gunship while he helps protect the Pejites.
- In the Valley, the Tolmekians, led by Princess Kushana, bring in the tanks and drive the villagers to a standoff at the Acid Lake. The villagers take cover inside their hideout and wait for the inevitable.
- Climax: On the way to the Valley, Nausicaä spots the Ohm stampede and realizes a ship has captured and tortured a baby Ohm, using it to bait the herd. She changes course, taking her glider to follow the ship and manages fight off the pilots, but is shot in the process. Struggling to calm the baby Ohm she is crushed by the amount of cruelty she’s witnessed.
- Climactic Moment: The Tolmekians use the now revived Giant Warrior to incinerate the Ohm stampede, but the Giant fails and collapses in on itself. Nausicaä lands with the baby Ohm in front of the herd and waits. The stampede tramples over both her and the baby before they grow calm. Nausicaa has proven her sacrifice, and the Ohm come to understand this, reviving her in a glow of yellow light. She fulfills the prophecy of a figure in blue, walking through a field of gold, and the surrounding people realize she was right all along; Humankind is out of balance with the world and must change its ways to heal.
- Resolution: The movie closes with scenes of the Valley being rebuilt. The Ohm retreat into the Jungle and the Tolmekians return home, while the Pejites stay to help the villagers. Life goes on and the story ends with a shot of an unpolluted tree growing deep beneath the Jungle.
Character 1: Nausicaä
- Nausicaä doesn’t follow a traditional arc. Instead she’s an example of a flat arc, meaning her progression is slightly different. Read more about that here.
- Nausicaä begins the film already knowing her truth; that humanity is out of balance with nature and must learn to work alongside it instead of trying to destroy it. However, the people around her don’t understand and she either struggles against their beliefs or hides her truth entirely.
- With the invasion by the Tolmekians, Nausicaä’s values are tested. She falters early on, reacting violently to the murder of her father until Lord Yupa stops her. Later she gives herself up as a prisoner to protect the villagers, and when the Tolmekian ship is shot down, she saves the Princess who captured her instead of leaving her to die. She repeatedly shows her adherence to her truth despite the challenges she faces. Her turning point comes when she and Asbel discover the underground caves that confirm her truth; the Jungle isn’t destroying the world but healing it. She sets out with a new and important understanding.
- Nausicaä’s lowest moment comes when she learns of the Pejite plan to destroy the Valley and later finds the tortured baby Ohm. Not only does this threaten her home and family, but it goes directly against her truth in how cruel and brutal it is. Physically wounded and emotionally crushed, Nausicaä has to make a decision. In a world with such a capability for cruelty and war, is it worth sacrificing herself to uphold her truth?
- Nausicaä resolves her arc when she sacrifices herself in front of the Ohm herd, hoping that somehow returning and protecting the baby Ohm will calm the stampede against all odds. Her knowledge from the Midpoint proves to her that the world is worth saving, that prosperity is possible. The Ohm reward her for this sacrifice, allowing her to succeed in her flat arc by fulfilling the prophecy. She passes on her truth despite the challenges and entrenched central problem of the world around her and is revived by the Ohm. Her story ends in a prosperous Valley, surrounded by her friends.
Character 2: Asbel
- Asbel’s begins his arc with the same central problem as the rest of Nausicaä’s world; he seeks violent and cruel solutions to his problems and is out of balance with the world around him.
- Asbel begins the story attacking the Tolmekian ship, presumably for kidnapping and killing the Princess of Pejite. After falling into the Jungle he struggles to survive against the insects until Nausicaä comes to save him. His ideas and beliefs are challenged by this strange person who seems at home in the Jungle, and he begins to learn from her.
- Asbel’s lowest moment comes when Nausicaä is captured by the Pejites. When she confronts him, he admits that he knew about the Pejite plan to destroy the Valley, and he’s torn between doing what his kingdom wants and helping his new friend.
- Ultimately, Asbel comes to help Nausicaä and thwart his kingdom’s plans as best he can. He’s overcome his central problem and accepted Nausicaä’s truth. His story ends in the Valley, where the people of Pejite come to live.
Character 3: The Pejites, Tolmekians, and the people of the Valley
- Because Nausicaä is a flat arc character, her arc is concerned with her influence on the central problem of the world around her; humanity is out of balance with the world and seeks violent solutions to protect themselves.
- Throughout the story, the people struggle against the insects, the spores of the Jungle, and each other, and each time they seek a violent solution someone suffers for it. The Tolmekians attack Pejite and their ship crashes, Asbel attacks the Tolmekians and falls into the Jungle, and the villagers are forced to burn the Valley to stop the Jungle’s spread. However, redemption seems possible, as different characters repeatedly delay or stop their violent actions to observe Nausicaä’s “strange” behavior, most notably Princess Kushana, who stops her assault on the villagers in the Climax to see if Nausicaä survived in the Jungle.
- It’s not until Nausicaä’s final sacrifice that the people of the world come to realize their error. The Tolemekians retreat and the Pejites join the people of the Valley to help rebuild. All parties pursue an avenue of peace, and the world heals as a result.
Theme: Humanity’s role in nature
This film is anything but subtle with its theme. From the blatant musings of its cast (especially Nausicaä) to the Climactic Moment, themes of environmentalism and peace are at the forefront. As a flat character, Nausicaä’s entire arc is based on this theme and her ability to communicate it to others, and this includes the audience. Without spreading this mindset of peace, the conflict would never be resolved. Only through self-sacrifice does Nausicaä calm the Ohm and help all parties reach a peaceful understanding. In this way, Nausicaä acts as a symbol almost more than a character. This isn’t true of all flat arc characters, but it’s true of her.
However, I can’t say this is a bad thing. While it may be heavy handed at times, the world building and characters are compelling enough to hold up this weighty theme, thanks to how engaging they are. You can see all sides of the argument, and while Nausicaä wins out, you don’t leave the film feeling like any cast member was purely evil or maligned.
Much like theme, this film is heavy with its pacing. Each scene is packed to the brim with setup, characters, and theme, with little room to breathe and take in the landscape. This is especially clear in Act 1, which isn’t abnormally long time-wise, but which works in a tremendous amount of world building. In many ways this is necessary. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind isn’t even two hours long, yet it has a huge and complex sci-fi world to explain and elaborate on, and it does this world building well. The hectic pace is likely an unavoidable side effect.
Overall, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is an enjoyable movie that fits a lot into its short run time. In some ways this is commendable and shows a lot of consideration by the writers and director. Pulling off this level of world building in such a short movie is no easy task. However, it leads to a hectic movie that can feel cut short at times, as if there needed to be a few extra scenes to allow for rest and less heavy handed character moments.
Despite any flaws, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind creates a compelling cast and world, with a real highlight in the people of the Valley. It’s a world you wouldn’t mind experiencing in person, despite how dangerous it is.