Welcome to the conclusion of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.
Exiting the hidden garden, Nausicaä realizes that Ohma has gone on by itself to Shuwa. A group of wormhandlers track her down and swears fealty to their new guardian deity. Surrounded by loyal subjects willing to do her bidding, Nausicaä realizes that she is no different than the first Dorok emperor, who centuries before went off to Shuwa to “save humanity.”
At the capital of Shuwa, King Vai, the Torumekian Emperor, routs the remaining Dorok defenses. He demands entrance to the crypt, but the surviving Dorok prisoners warn that he must wait for a messenger. King Vai attempts to blast open the doors of the crypt, but the strange black structure proves impervious to weapons fire.
Ohma arrives on the scene, demanding immediate cessation of hostilities in accordance with the wishes of Nausicaä. Frightened Torumekian soldiers fire on Ohma, only to be incinerated by an explosion not seen since the Seven Days of Fire. King Vai succeeds in manipulating Ohma into turning its awesome firepower against the crypt. There is an exchange of fire between Ohma and the crypt, which leaves Ohma fatally injured and the crypt broken. Overhead, the explosions forces the valley gunship piloted by Mito and Asbel to crash land on top of the crypt.
From a distance, Nausicaä sees multiple mushroom-shaped explosions and senses the pain of Ohma. During a rest from a thick rain of ash, she tells the wormhandlers about the Sea of Corruption, that the forest is not humanity’s punishment for polluting the world, but is actively working to clean the world. The wormhandlers rejoice at the news and the hope that it brings. Nausicaä does not reveal the secret she learned in the Garden, that there will be no place in the purified world for humans. She confides to Selm telepathically that she will go on telling this lie so people will have a reason to live on.
Back at Shuwa, King Vai and his fool are the only survivors from the battle between Ohma and the crypt. People calling themselves scholars of the crypt crawl out of the living, oozing structure and ask to meet with the new regime. They invite the King inside to meet the Master. The fool comments that these scholars are parasites, living as intermediaries between the Master of the Crypt and the outside ruler.
On top of the crypt, an injured Mito notices that the living walls of the crypt are slowly healing and resealing themselves. He urges Asbel to head inside in structure to investigate while he stays behind to rig up explosives to keep the walls open. Inside, Asbel discovers a human/heedra nest constructed around the interior of the crypt.
Nausicaä and the wormhandlers finally arrive on scene. Sensing her authority, the scholars take her down to see the Master of the Crypt. Nausicaä arrives in time to see King Vai pondering the bargain offered by the scholars: immortality and other exotic technologies in exchange for protection from any outside interference.
Darkened temporarily by the damage caused by Ohma, the Master of the Crypt is a giant sphere of flesh with writings inscribed on its surface. With power restored, it begins probing the minds of everyone in the crypt with a piercing light. Welcoming them with a host of holograms of people from the ancient world, the Master speaks of the need for purification and rejuvenation through the Sea of Corruption. It reveals that the crypt contains technology and knowledge necessary for the construction of a purified world, a world without suffering. The Master asks Nausicaä and King Vai for their help, to ensure that the light of the crypt does not go out.
To this, Nausicaä has this response to set up the climax of the entire saga:
“Because no matter how much knowledge and technology you have, you will still need slaves to do the work for you the morning you replace the world!? Our bodies may have been artificially transformed, but our lives will always be our own! Life survives by the power of life… To live is to change… But you cannot change. You have only the plan that was built into you. Because you deny death. Speak the truth! We have no need for you.” (Hardcover Edition, Vol. 2, p. 508)
The Master responds to Nausicaä by asking her to imagine the days of despair during the Seven Days of Fire, a world where tens of billions of humans would do anything to survive in a damaged world with poisoned air, punishing sunlight, parched earth, and crippling disease. Having no time, they entrusted everything to the future. The Master admits that the crypt is a grave marker of the old world, but says that it also represents hope for the new and pure one.
Nausicaä rejects this hope, believing it is no longer relevant in the present world. While she does not doubt that the people of the old age began their project out of idealism and desperation, the crypt’s inability to deviate from its original intention makes it a threat to life now. Nausicaä believes that to live is to suffer and grow, things that the static and pure Master of the Crypt knows nothing about.
The Master claims that unexpected problems can be addressed and corrected, and accuses Nausicaä of condemning the human race to extinction. It says that without the technologies within the crypt, current humans will succumb to an incurable hardening disease and will have no future. Nausicaä retorts that is for the planet to decide. The Master accuses her of nihilism, of nothingness. Nausicaä counters that the sympathy and love of the Ohmu were born from the depths of nothingness.
Moved and delighted by Nausicaä’s words, King Vai also rejects being a slave to a dead people, choosing instead to serve no one but himself. The Master of the Crypt cuts off communication and proceeds to destroy their minds.
Outside, Mito detonates a gunship shell embedded within the healing crypt walls. The explosion interrupts the Master’s attack, giving Nausicaä a window to call Ohma for one last strike. The Master, realizing its vulnerability, pleads with Nausicaä to stop, stating that history will judge her as the one who destroyed the light of hope. Nausicaä counters that if the crypt is light, then humans do not need light.
“We can know the beauty and cruelty of the world without the help of a giant tomb and its servants…Because our god inhabits even a single leaf and the smallest insects. Ohma, forget about us. Send your light to this place!” (Hardcover Edition, Vol. 2, p. 518)
With that command, Ohma destroys the crypt’s contents, including all the embryos of humans designed to live in a purified world. Nausicaä shudders at the depth of her sin, believing that these people could have been a peaceful and intelligent race. She notices that the blood of the crypt and the blood of the Ohmu are the same, and speaks once more to the dying Ohma, telling him that he has become a brave warrior, proud and pure of heart. Asbel finds her and escapes with her to safety to a waiting Kushana, Mito, Chikuku, and Charuka.
King Vai is fatally injured by the Master, and although he does not like Kushana, the dying Torumekian emperor passes the throne to her. He urges her not to fall back into the cycle of bloodshed and revenge that engulfed him, and dies. As the only other person to know what she had done, Selm helps Nausicaä share the burden of her decision, asking her to entrust the future to the planet and the processes of life. The story ends.
The ramifications of Nausicaä’s final decision are profound. By ordering the destruction of the crypt, she has permanently severed her world’s connection to the past. All the collective knowledge, technology, and achievements of the ancient world are lost forever, along with any hope of current humans being able to survive in a purified world. Furthermore, Nausicaä continues to spread the lie that one day people can live in a cleansed land, believing that the truth is too harsh to bear for those with less vision than her.
I remembered being stunned the first time I read her decision; it still remains an unsettling scene to return to today. By destroying the crypt, Nausicaä committed genocide against an entire race of people who were waiting to be reborn in a purified world. She does so in exchange for the freedom for life to live without interference, to change and grow and transcend its limitations.
In hindsight, this decision shouldn’t be surprising. Nausicaä’s ethics and actions have always been rooted in life and its process. Her thoughts on the Crypt are voiced well before the final exchange:
“I suppose that men left that black thing as a kernel of the reconstruction… And it never occurred to them that that itself was the ultimate demonstration for the contempt of life.” (Hardcover Edition, Vol. 2, p. 482)
The certainty and safety offered by the Crypt are exactly the qualities what allow, as Nausicaä calls, “sarcomata and filth” to accumulate. Parasitic power relationships, the misuse of life as weapons, and the corrosive lust for control are traps which repeatedly ensnare humans, generation after generation. Nausicaä understands that the mere existence of the crypt promotes a brittle stasis that suppresses the value of life. By destroying the crypt, she seeks to break the cycle of human folly. With no links to the past and an unknowable future, the present is allowed the chance to exist in possibility. In one sense, she doomed humanity to save it.
Ultimately, I don’t know whether Nausicaä’s decision should be praised or condemned. The story leaves behind a character of extraordinary vision and conscience, and I find myself unqualified to judge her actions in light of the burdens she has to live with.
Parallels with The Farthest Shore
The influence of seminal works of science fiction can be seen throughout the Nausicaä saga, from the giant sandworms and messianic Mua’Dib of Herbert’s Dune, to the secret repositories and guardians of Asimov’s Foundation. Yet the themes and ideas I see most woven within the narrative comes from Le Guin’s Earthsea fantasy series.
It is a curious thing to discover that two of my most beloved works, met and treasured during different times of my life, could harbour such strong connections. Proving that there are few coincidences in life, I was pleased to discover that Miyazaki was indeed influenced by Le Guin’s The Farthest Shore (the third book in the series, and a story I have covered before on Ekostories).
The final confrontations in both stories parallel each other. Nausicaä, seeing the crypt’s projections of people from the old age, dismisses them as shadows that should have no influence over her world. In Shore, Ged banishes apparitions sent forth by Cob the necromancer, knowing that the dead can “walk upon the hills of life, though they cannot stir a blade of grass.” (Shore, p. 215). Ged also notes that the “counsel of the dead is not profitable to the living” (Shore, p. 97)
In the climax of their stories, Miyazaki and Le Guin comment that immortality – life that is certain, unchanging, and everlasting – is little different than death. Nausicaä condemns the Master of the Crypt in a fiery exchange:
“To live is to change. The Ohmu, the mold, the grass and trees, we human beings… We will all go on changing. And the Sea of Corruption will live on with us. But you cannot change. You have only the plan that was built into you. Because you deny death.” (Hardcover Edition, Vol. 2, p. 508)
Crossing into the land of the dead, Ged confronts Cob in a similar fashion:
“Here is nothing, dust and shadows. There, he is the earth and sunlight, the leaves of trees, the eagle’s flight. He is alive. All who ever died, live; they are reborn and have no end, nor will there ever be an end. All, save you. For you would not have death. You lost death, you lost life, in order to save yourself. Yourself! Your immortal self! What is it? Who are you?” (Shore, p. 237)
Both stories claim that to seek complete escape from death and tragedy is to deny opportunity for joy and happiness in life. Humans by their very nature suffer, experience pain and sorrow. We can and should ease individual cases of suffering, but to end suffering as a whole eliminates a core part of what it means to live. In her exchange with the Master of the Garden, Nausicaä claims that “the greatness of a mind is determined by the depth of its suffering”. (p. 443) She rejects the crypt’s offer of purity because it seeks to sacrifice the present world, both corrupt and beautiful, for a fixed future of inhuman bliss. This cost is too high for Nausicaä, who constantly chooses to cleave to the messiness of life. Similarly in The Farthest Shore, Ged explains to Cob that in his quest to become immortal, the necromancer has forsaken everything worth living for:
“You exist: without name, without form. You sold the green earth and the sun and stars to save yourself. But you have no self. All that which you sold, that is yourself. You have given everything for nothing.” (Shore, p.237)
In the end, both protagonists take drastic action to restore balance to their respective world. Ged, pitying his enemy, offers Cob this small comfort:
“I would give you life if I could, Cob. But I cannot. You are dead. But I can give you death.” (Shore, p.237)
Proclaiming that “all things are born from darkness and all things are returned to darkness” (p. 512), Nausicaä unleashes the light of Ohma into the heart of the Crypt, destroying it utterly. Both Nausicaä and Ged take no comfort in their deeds, but rather see them as necessary steps to entrust their world to life and living.
Coda: The Nausicaä Saga
It’s been eight years since I had first finished the Nausicaä manga. On every subsequent rereading, I am awestruck by the complexity and scope of the narrative. Miyazaki manages to create an original and compelling epic that manages to weave in ideas of nature, culture, and self without the tale degenerating into a preachy parable or a strict condemnation of modern society. There is rarely a false note throughout the entire work. Scenes of deep meditations, unforgettable battles, and satisfying character arcs are all capped off with an incredibly gutsy and open-ended conclusion that reflects its creator’s philosophy on life: That no matter how difficult circumstances are, life must be allowed to live.
There are many more elements that must remain unexplored. I have included in the reference section links to essays and interviews that examines the manga in greater detail. They have been very helpful in fleshing out my thoughts throughout this project, and I hope you have a chance to check them out. I am planning one more little surprise to cap off this ten part series (pending permission), so stay tuned in the next month or so. As always, I welcome your comments, criticisms and feedback, and thanks for reading.
Next Up: Exploring the nature of hope.
- Nausicaä Vol. 7-1: The Garden
- Mindful Action: Le Guin’s The Farthest Shore, Part 1
- Le Guin’s The Farthest Shore, Part 2
- Before Cameron’s Avatar: Princess Mononoke
Anderson, Nicholas S. (2012). Nausicaa and the Noise of the Earth. Retrieved from The Anthropoeccentric: On the Margins of Humanism.
Osmond, Andrew. (1998). Nausicaa and the Fantasy of Hayao Miyazaki. Retrieved from http://www.nausicaa.net/miyazaki/nausicaa/article_ao_foundation.txt.
Saitani, Ryo. (1995). I Understand NAUSICAA a Bit More than I Did a Little While Ago – An Interview with Hayao Miyazaki. Retrieved from http://www.comicbox.co.jp/e-nau/e-nau.html.
Images of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind © 1991, 1993, 1994 Nibariki Co., Ltd. All rights reserved. New and adapted artwork and text © 2004 VIZ media, LLC.