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Nausicaä and the Technique
Alex Steffen, 30 Apr 05

So, I finally got a chance to see Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the 1986 anime feature based on the much-beloved ecological manga series Kaze no Tani no Nausicaä, about a future in which humans have poisoned the planet, with the survivors breaking into small kingdoms, and a toxic forest of fungus and giant insects spreading over the land.

Unfortunately, I think I came to this flick ten years too late. I mean, I was much taken with the character of the "warrior/pacifist Princess Nausicaä" and some bits of the animation were quite good, but the message, that left a lot to be desired.


Now, I'm pretty passionate about engaging culturally with our planet. As a student I had a big planet Earth poster on my wall and a sculpture of a wild Green Man with lolling tongue on my bedstand and read every story about people and nature I could find, from Ecotopia to creation myths and stewardship injunctions from scores of cultures. I have a nearly complete collection of Gary Snyder's works and an admirable fan collection of bioregionalist kitsch: heck, I even ran a neo-bioregional magazine (Steelhead) myself. I've hung out with many of the big deep green folks. I've spoken at ecological cultural meetings on three continents. I've spent more time alone in the woods than most Americans, participated in a Council of All Beings, and had some even less rational ritual experiences way out on the backside of nowhere.

I still like Northwest Native Art. I still think knowing the place you call home in deep ways is an essential part of being fully human. But I find the standard environmentalist cultural works to be full of outworn tropes: the angered planet, the monster which is at first terrifying but proves to have an important message from Nature for humanity, the outsider hero who's the only one who really understands the natural world, the soul-warming message that while human beings are outside the natural order of things, it's not too late to live in harmony with nature. Et cetera.

They're boring; they're cliched, but most of all, they no longer ring true to me. I no longer find inspirational these legends of the Fall. I'm much more interested in visions of the Transcendence, of futures bright-green and full of happy humans living in profound dynamic grace with the natural systems of the planet. I don't think we're sinful creatures. I think we're stupid. I think, ultimately, that our story is not so much that of Adam and Eve expelled to wander, weary and alone, from Paradise, but that which William S. Burroughs understood when he dreamt the words:


How we came to fully understand the Technique, how we became wise and wonderful as well as powerful: that's the story I want to hear.

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For a movie, you might want to take a look at the "Wind Village" segment in Akira Kurosawa's "Dreams."

"Nausicaa" is indeed somewhat disappointing both as a movie and a book. I'm going to look at it again before I give the DVD to nephew and niece as I think there's more there and I think it deserves a second viewing. Both "Castle in the Sky" and "Princess Mononoke" take on these issues in slightly different ways.

Reread Gary Snyder's "Four Changes" from time to time as it is still a pretty good place to start. I'm reading Nancy Jack Todd's history of New Alchemy Institute and if there's anybody who had a handle on the Technique, it's the New Alchies (whose alumni are going strong by the way).

You might also want to read Three Solar Projects (, especially "Mr Franklin's Folks," which outlines a tactic to bootstrap a more ecological culture through public demonstrations at such venues as farmers markets and community fairs.

Posted by: gmoke on 30 Apr 05

Okay, I can see your point but my first reaction was "well thanks for that, 20 years after the fact".

The movie may not represent the best vision we can come up with for our future but one thing I think that's worth saying is that as a product of pop-culture it goes far beyond most of the stuff we produce and pass as entertainment. And Miyazaki's work taken as a whole presents a sensitive and moving commentary on the world that seems almost entirely absent from popular culture in N. America.

Posted by: Neil Bruder on 30 Apr 05

You should see Pom Poko. You'll probably like the messege more.

I think the problem with writing about utopia is by definition there is no conflict in utopia. What drives the story? I know what you mean though, I liked the end of Princess Mononoke is also really good. I think you're missing the point of these movies. The point is that we've lost or innocence. That it is to late to live in harmony with nature in the way we did in the past. We have lost innocence, we can't go back, but we need to find a way to use technolgy to live with nature, to rejoin it in a new way. The messege isn't as clear in Nausica as some of the others. Don't even bother to watch spirited away though. The ending is abysmal.

Posted by: Matthew Broudy on 1 May 05

'Spirited Away' isn't about ecological catastrophe. It's about a young girl learning the confusing rules of the spirit world, which end up being a stand-in for the confusing rules of the adult world. Similar to 'The Cat Returns,' but much, much better.

As far as The Technique is concerned... We'll have to figure out exactly what it is before we can make movies about it.

Posted by: Paul on 3 May 05



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