Religion has affected art for centuries, because human responses to art and religion involve similar processes: imagination and emotional involvement (Beit-Hallami, 1983). It seems natural for religion to continue its influence on popular culture, especially film, because of its wide reach. However, looking at Japan, is it possible for a “non-Japanese” religion like Christianity to exert influence its popular culture, and to what extent?
To answer this question, we look at the 1984 animated film of Hayao Miyazaki, Nausicaï¿½ of the Valley of the Wind (Kaze no Tani no Nausicaa). Nausicaï¿½ is said to be the quintessential Miyazaki film (Osmond, 1998) and it earned 740 million yen, with almost a million viewers. It owes its popularity to the incorporation of universal themes like religion, the environment and industrialisation. It contains so many themes, both Japanese (feudalism, Shinto) and non-Japanese (Greek Mythology, Christianity, European medievalism). It is interesting to note that Miyazaki is often described as a humanist, following no particular religion, yet Nausicaï¿½ contains an almost equal amount of references to Shinto and Christianity in the film.
There are many English versions of the various terms and names of the characters in the film, partly because there is a more complex manga of the same name. For ease of reference to the film, I use names and terms as they appear in the English-dubbed version of Nausicaï¿½ released in 2005, to convey the Shinto and Christian elements found in the film, looking at broad themes as well as symbols.
The story in Nausicaï¿½ takes place a thousand years after a global war, the “Seven Days of Fire.” Great Warriors, biological weapons with nuclear capabilities, destroyed everything. However, enclaves of surviving human colonies exist throughout the Fukai, or the Sea of Decay. ,The Fukai is a new ecosystem consisting of a vast toxic forest of giant fungi and giant insects with the Ohmu as guardians. The main protagonist is Princess Nausicaï¿½, daughter of the ruler of the Valley, a feudal community protected from toxic spores by strong sea winds. She is a nature-loving pacifist with a gift for communicating with insects and animals. Lord Yupa, a wandering mentor, inspires her to find a way to stop the spread of the Fukai. Nausicaï¿½ often explores the Fukai to obtain plant samples and cultivate them in her secret room.
One day, an airship carrying a Great Warrior embryo crashes into the Valley. This embryo was first unearthed by the Pejites, but it was stolen by the imperialistic Tolmekians. These two states intend to use the Great Warrior to destroy the Fukai and the insects. In the struggle for the Great Warrior, Tolmekia invades the Valley. The Fukai and the insects are assaulted in this struggle, and the Ohmu are baited to the Valley to destroy it. Nausicaï¿½ sacrifices herself before the Ohmu, thereby calming their rage. They bring her back to life and heal her wounds, and then return to the Fukai, leaving life to return to normal in the Valley.
Now we will look at two religions that are referred to extensively in the film: Shinto and Christianity.
Traditional Japanese religiosity is a mixture of Shinto, Buddhism, Confucianism and folk religions. “Shinto”, meaning “the way of the kami”, refers to the ancient native Japanese religious practices and sentiments. Shinto has four general tenets: worshipping and honouring the kami; love of nature; tradition and the family; and cleanliness (Picken, 1994, as cited in Wright, 2004). Muraoka Tsunetsugu (1964) distinguishes philosophical and ethical distinctive characteristics of Shinto: 1) accepting life and death, good and evil, as inevitable parts of the world we live in, and 2) reverence for the “bright” and “pure”, in all matter and thought, endeavoring to overcome physical pollution with rites of exorcism and bad thoughts with a “pure and bright heart”. The close link between humans, kami and nature, and the significance of purification and rituals are two themes in Japanese religion that carry on even to Japanese contemporary religions today (Earhart, 1982). For the scope of this essay, I will look at the Shinto themes of harmony with nature, reverence for nature and life, and instance of purification and rituals found in Nausicaï¿½.
Wa, or harmony with nature is seen to be of utmost importance. One accepts the good and bad with nature, and tries to make peace with it. Miyazaki explains that Nausicaï¿½ is based on a Phoenician princess in Homer’s Odyssey and a Japanese heroine, a “princess who loved insects”1. Nausicaï¿½ believes that humans and the Fukai can live together in peace. She embodies the “relational resonance with humanity and the natural world” suggested by Tucker (1999). At any rate, the surviving humans have to learn to live with the Fukai or risk destruction by insects. The telepathic Ohmu and other insects can be seen as kami, animistic spirits with powers. The Ohmu went “blind with rage” when Pejites speared a baby Ohmu in order to bait the Ohmu towards the Valley and destroy the Tolmekians. Disharmony with nature is seen to have damaging consequences.
In Japan, nature is still venerated and exalted, even though the actual state of nature may be the opposite. Shinto is associated with reverence for nature and all forms of life. In the first few minutes of the film, Nausicaï¿½ is shown flying on her aircraft into the Fukai. The toxic jungle is rendered beautifully, with glittering poisonous plants, translucent flying insects and serene music in the background. Here we see the unconditional beauty of nature, be it harmless or poisonous. In a following scene Nausicaï¿½ comes across a shell of an Ohmu. It takes up almost the whole frame and Nausicaï¿½ is miniscule in comparison. She pronounces the shell to be “perfect” and “amazing”. Embellished with vivid music, an image of a nature revered for its sacredness and perfection is projected.
Reverence for nature also comes from seeing it as sacred, and from knowing its power. In the film, humans fear the lethal spores of the Fukai, and its constant spread. At the same time, as the viewer discovers later on, the Fukai actually has restorative powers. It is in fact cleansing the Earth of mankind’s waste left behind from the Great War. Similarly, the Ohmu possess benevolent telepathic powers (although they can only communicate with Nausicaï¿½) as well as the power to destroy humans and civilisation. In another scene, Kushana, commander of the Tolmekian army, announces her plan to burn the Fukai. In response, the Valley people exclaim in hushed tones, “Burn the Toxic Jungle?”, “Is it possible?” showing that they consider the Fukai indestructible. These powers of the Fukai and the Ohmu cause humans to fear and respect nature at the same time.
Nausicaï¿½ reveres the life of both humans and insects. She implores countless times to the warring Pejites and Tolmekians, “Please, no more killing!” and “I can’t bear to have anyone else die”. Instead of killing insects that attack humans, she uses an insect charm to calm them down and coax them back to the jungle. This was the case with an Ohmu who was chasing Lord Yupa, and a giant insect that caused the crash of a Tolmekian airship. When two Pejites captured a baby Ohmu to use as bait, Nausicaï¿½ risked injury and her life to try and return the baby Ohmu back to its herd. Being part of nature, both humans and insects are seen as equally important and worthy of preservation. Hence, we can see the importance of harmony with nature, because of its sanctity, power, and its inclusion of all forms of life.
Another main theme in Shinto is the importance of purity and the use of rituals to overcome a state of contamination. In Nausicaï¿½, the Earth has been polluted by mankind, the worst being the nuclear-like Great Warriors which ultimately resulted in the Earth’s destruction. Nausicaa realises the toxic Fukai is actually purifying the world: wastes are absorbed by the trees, which turn into stone, crystallizing the poison into harmless sand. The Fukai symbolises a purifying ritual, comparable to how a “bright heart” would continuously purify itself by ridding itself of bad thoughts, or wastes.
Nausicaï¿½ is an example of a “pure and bright heart” (Tsunetsugu, 1964) who in her mission for peace, tries to purify the hearts of humans from their lust for war and bloodshed against each other and the Fukai. However, she does not have any clear “rituals” that she uses to achieve this purification except perhaps, her repeated self-sacrifice. In comparison, Kushana also has a purification ritual of her own. She wants to clear Earth of the Fukai by burning it and destroying it completely in order to build a “world of prosperity”.
This idea of sacrifice brings us to the other religion alluded to repeatedly throughout the film: Christianity. Although Christianity is not native to Japan, and not very well-received throughout the years, its prophetic and theistic messages do have some universal value and some Japanese can relate to them as they are something different from the animistic elements of Shinto.
In many ways, the appearance of strong elements of Christianity, a ‘foreign’ religion, is not surprising. Miyazaki’s work is strongly Western-influenced due to his education (Osmond, 1998). Christianity still has a relatively small following in Japan, because Shinto and Buddhist rituals are still a major part of Japanese life what it means to be ‘Japanese’. The Christian themes in Nausicaï¿½ constitute one of many foreign elements that Miyazaki has appropriated into this film. Here we will look at three doctrines of Christianity: redemption, original sin, and resurrection.
Throughout the film, Nausicaï¿½ repeatedly saves people. When Lord Yupa, the samurai-like wanderer, returns to the Valley, he praises Nausicaï¿½ by saying “Who else would rescue me when I’m in trouble?” In another scene, the barge carrying Valley hostages comes loose and is about to crash into the Fukai. Nausicaï¿½ cries out to them “Everybody! I’ll save you for certain!” These examples show the Messianic nature of Nausicaï¿½.
To further cement her image as a prophet-like being, in another scene Nausicaï¿½ is speeding back to the Valley after escaping from a Tolmekian ship and in desperation she implores “Please dear God, please hear this prayer! You must protect the people of the Valley!” Obaba, the wise old woman of the valley, realises this explicitly for the benefit of viewers. At the beginning of the film, Obaba, or Grandmother, recounts the ancient legend of the saviour clad in blue who will come to save mankind and “guide the people…at last to a land of purity”. At the end of the film, she realises that Nausicaï¿½ is the saviour spoken of in the legend. The theme of redemption is clearly portrayed in the film. However, why does mankind need to be saved?
The doctrine of redemption comes hand in hand with the doctrine of the original sin. In the concept of the original sin, mankind is born in a state of sinfulness and is doomed to hell unless he is ‘saved’ by accepting Christian beliefs. Lord Yupa explains that he wanders to find out “if mankind is truly fated to be swallowed up by (the Fukai), or if there is still some hope”. Obaba teases him, claiming that he is in fact looking for the blue-clad Saviour. The film addresses mankind’s inevitable doom and the search for a saviour.
Symbols play an important part in portraying the doctrine of resurrection. Nausicaï¿½ appears twice with her arms outstretched – reminiscent of Jesus being crucified on the cross – when trying to stop Asbel and the Pejites from shooting. Here we see that Nausicaï¿½ adopted such a gesture as a symbol of righteous fearlessness (she was determined to stop the killing that she felt was wrong) and surrender (she put herself at the Pejites’ mercy). In trying to save her people from an attack by the Ohmus, Nausicaï¿½ is shot twice, burned by acid and finally dies facing the Ohmu stampede.
The Ohmus, however, revived Nausicaï¿½. Her death and resurrection mirrors that of Jesus’ after his death and burial. At the end of the film, a chiko plant grows in the pure sand in the Fukai, symbolising the resurrection of nature at last. We see that it is not only Nausicaï¿½, but also nature, that is brought back to life.
In this essay, we have seen that Christianity can indeed influence a Japanese anime, however, the Shinto elements in Nausicaï¿½ are far more extensive. The Shinto themes mainly stress mankind’s relationship with nature while the Christian themes focus on mankind’s destiny. Apparently Miyazaki did not intend to have such religious overtones in Nausicaï¿½. However, in the spirit of symbolic interactionism, these religious themes nevertheless have meaning for those who ascribe meanings to them. Viewers (like me) interpret the images and scenes in the film and make sense of them in different frameworks, such as religion.
Did Nausicaï¿½ manage to truly unite mankind with nature? Perhaps through the medium of popular cultures, she serves as a “female Japanese prophet” to remind us to strive towards peace and harmony with nature and mankind.