Nausicaä & Dune - Japanese Animation News & Review - July 1991
Nausicaä & Dune - Japanese Animation News & Review - July 1991
The following article is reprinted from JAPANESE ANIMATION NEWS & REVIEW (The Official Newsletter of Hokubei Anime-kai [North American Anime Circle]) Vol. 1, #4 (July 1991), pages 4, 5 & the bottom 2/5 of page 10.
"Nausicaä" and "Dune" - The Intervwined Worlds of Frank Herbert and Hayao Miyazaki
By David Moisan
Many readers of this fanzine have read Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. As Miyazaki relates in Part 1 (Book 3, "On Nausicaa," p. 48), Nausicaa was inspired by a 5th-century Japanese princess who loved insects, and the girl of the same name that rescued Odysseus in Homer's "Odyssey."
Many of you may also know Frank Herbert's Dune, one of the great masterpieces of science fiction. Ever since I saw the film version of "Nausicaa," I have always wondered if Miyazaki took his inspiration from Herbert's novel.
One wonders: how can a story about a desert planet, a galactic empire and an emerging messiah be like a story about a toxic forest, the remnants of humanity and a girl trying to understand her world and save her kingdom? After reading both books, I've concluded that "Dune" was indeed the catalyst for Miyazaki's work. (Note: I'm referring to the graphic novel version of the story.)
Consider first the ecologies of the two stories. What impressed me most about the stories is the sheer intensity of the portrayal of their respective ecologies. Herbert's Arrakis is a desert planet almost devoid of water; its inhabitants, the Fremen, wear stillsuits that recycle their bodies' moisture. Water is life; water is wealth. The quest to conserve water has driven the Fremen to become the greatest practicing ecologists in the Imperium.
Compare this with Nausicaa's world: 1000 years after an apocalyptic war (the Seven Days of Fire), Earth is buried under a great toxic forest whose atmospheric exhalations are poisonous. An entire ecosystem has evolved - giant insects roam the forest. The few humans which have survived wear masks against the poisonous atmosphere and guard their soil and water against poisonous spores. In the depths of the forest, a tribe - the Forest People - has learned how to live with the forest and the insects.
Arrakis has its "makers," huge sandworms that move through the desert, devouring all in their path, including humans. Makers are part of a complex ecological cycle that produces melange, that unique spice that prolongs life and brings prescient visions and makes Arrakis the richest planet in the empire.
Earth's toxic forests are home to the Ohmu, giant (100'+) 12-eyed, sentient insects that also play an active role in their ecosystem; every 300 years, in the "Daikaisho" ("Great Wave of the Sea"), enraged Ohmu and other forest insects thunder through human settlements in great herds. The Ohmu then die from exhaustion, toxic plants sprout from their corpses, and the forest expands its boundaries.
Furthermore, the forest is also changing. Gradually, the trees of the jungle are absorbing the toxins in the soil and disintegrating, leaving a desert with clean air. Both Yupa and Nausicaa have discovered this, and both wonder about the implications.
Let's now turn to the people of "Nausicaa": in Miyazaki's Earth, three groups predominate: the Dorok Principalities, the Torumekian Empire and the Periphery, the small kingdoms (including Nausicaa's own, the Valley of Wind) that were once part of Eftal. As mentioned earlier, the Forest People live in the depths of the toxic jungle. The Torumekians are at war against the Doroks, for reasons unexplained, and the Doroks are waging an especially brutal counterattack. The Periphery tribes, officially affiliated with Torumekia, are caught in the middle.
The Dorok Principalities have a ruling priesthood that is not unlike the Bene Gesserit, adepts who could detect falsehood and control others by the sound of their voice. Most tribal priests are telepathic, and have other similar talents.
But the real power of the Doroks lies in their research on genetic engineering, which plays a large role in Miyazaki's story. Remember the Bene Tlielax from "Dune" - they were mercenary, amoral scientists who didn't concern themselves with the consequences of their work as long as they profited from it; they specialized in the creation of synthetic life (like "twisted" Mentats, killer Suk Doctors and so on).
The Dorok scientists are just like that. There's a crucial scene in Part 2 (Book 2, p. 41) where Charuka, the warrior-priest charged with finding Nausicaa, is talking to one of them about a newly-developed spore that is more poisonous than anything in the toxic forest, and gets a reply that suggests that the scientists were not thinking of its possible effects.
Indeed, this is borne out when one of the spores escapes from a Dorok air-monitor and grows to an enormous size on the surface - putting the entire Earth at risk!
Taking the place of the Imperium is the Torumekian Empire. Actually, the Torumekian royal family has many of the attributes of House Harkonnen: they are brutal fratricidists who've no compunctions about turning family members against one another for personal gain. It helps that the Vai Emperor, and the Three Princes all resemble the Baron in physique! (Baron Karkonnen was that "floating fat man" who needed suspensors to support his great weight.)
On the other hand, Princess Kushana, fourth daughter of the Emperor, is quite different from her brothers. She is a brilliant tactician who trained her army, the 3rd, into the finest of Torumekia in much the same way that Duncan Idaho and Gurney Halleck trained the Duke's army. Despite having been betrayed by her father and her brothers by having her army stripped from her, she still maintains a great sense of honor and integrity that Duke Leto might have understood - like his, her army's loyalty to her is legendary.
There are further parallels - like the Fremen and the Forest People. On Arrakis, the Fremen dream of making the planet green. Pardot Keynes, the Imperial Planetologist, taught the Fremen about their planet's ecology, and set into motion a plan that would make Arrakis green within 500 years. The Fremen are secretive about their plans - they bribe the Spacing Guild to keep weather satellites from the skies. The Fremen are underestimated and under-recognized by both House Harkonnen and the Emperor, to their peril.
The Forest People have a similar history. During the last Daikaisho, 300 years before the events in the story, they were subjects of the Kingdom of Eftal, destroyed in a brutal civil war that sparked the Daikaisho. They were led into the forest by the "blue-clad one," who showed them how to survive there. One can easily imagine that the Doroks and the Torumekians would have the same disregard for the Forest People as House Harkonnen and the Emperor had for the Fremen.
They also seem secretive. When Yupa meets the Forest People for the first time, he asks one of them, Selm, about the change in the forest:
"As the trees fossilize and crumble, the cavities should expand upward from the roots of the forest. What happens when they reach the surface? Please... tell us! It's been a thousand years since the forest was formed - somewhere on this planet must be lands where it has already happened." (Part 2, Book 2, p. 48)
Selm rebuffs him: "It is forbidden to speak of these things."
We now come to the real pivot of both stories: Nausicaa and Paul Muad'Dib. Throughout Herbert's story, Paul Atreides struggled to learn his true purpose, and we see him evolve from a naive son of a duke, dimly aware of life's realities, into the Kwisatz Haderach, the man who can see all realities, past, present and future. Paul glimpses his "terrible purpose" - a jihad, and tries in vain to stop it. Paul, like his father, has tremendous personal magnetism which he uses to unite the Fremen and overthrow the Emperor.
Nausicaa apparently follows a similar path. Like Paul, she has an uncanny ability to lead and direct; but, like Keynes, she is also one with her environment, able to communicate with the Ohmu and the other insects. Nausicaa has a talent much like the Voice, the Bene Gesserit means of command.
Gradually, Nausicaa realizes that she has a purpose, though she doesn't yet know what it is. At first, when the Torumekians order her to war as the representative of the Valley, she's afraid, both of the war, and of what she might herself do in anger - she killed a Torumekian soldier with Kushana's search party at the beginning of the story. After her encounter with the baby Ohmu in Part 1, Book 5, she becomes determined to find her purpose.
There's something else: Herbert developed the concept of racial memory; the Fremen are able, under controlled circumstances, to directly experience the memories of their ancestors, aided by the Water of Life, the exhalations of a drowned Maker. Paul uses the Water of Life to make his final transformation into the Kwisatz Haderach.
As we've seen in "Nausicaa," the Ohmu are sentient and telepathic. When Nausicaa is unconscious under the forest, an Ohmu speaks to her:
"Little One, our race has known of your coming since years gone by... Our hearts speak across time and space..." (Part 1, Book 3, p. 22)
So, the Ohmu are telepathic and possibly prescient! Midway through the story, the Dorok priest of the Mani tribe has a vision of the "Blue-Clad One" - Nausicaa!! When the Forest People mention the "Blue-Clad One," Yupa wonders:
"Is the Blue-Clad One just the hope passed down by the aboriginal Dorok religions based on an historical person? Or are they real people, created by the very lifeforce of our species, *reaching across space and time* in our moment of need . . . ?" (Part 2, Book 2, p. 50, emphasis added)
It would seem that Miyazaki is headed for a conjunction of events that is every bit as portentous as the final chapters in "Dune." Whatever happens, like the Daikaisho, there'll be a wave like the one that made Paul Muad'Dib Atreides into the Emperor of the galaxy. Of course, there's much in "Dune" that is unlike "Nausicaa"--CHOAM, the Great Houses, and the Spacing Guild are among many things that don't appear in the story. Paul Atreides was brought up in a militaristic feudal society; Nausicaa, in a peaceful agrarian society (the Valley of Wind). Both are products of their respective societies. It's unlikely that Paul and Nausicaa even have the same philosophy; Nausicaa probably wouldn't want to be Emperor any more than Paul would want to study the trees and the forest.
However, Miyazaki, like Herbert, understands the most important principle behind ecology: the study of consequences. And he is, in his own way, exploring the messianic impulse as Herbert did. Ecological messianism is the "real" parallel between "Nausicaa" and "Dune." It's a great example of literary cross-pollination - what a shame that Herbert and Miyazaki will never meet! (Frank Herbert died of cancer in 1987.)