Is it possible to find a Nausicaä-like girl in a live-action movie?
It’s difficult for me to find heroines influenced by Nausicaä outside of Japanese animation. It’s also hard to find heroines like her before Nausicaä. Of course, it’s possible to find prototypes of Nausicaä in myths and historical facts. Hayao Miyazaki reportedly named Nausicaä after the princess in “Odyssey” who heals the injured Odysseus. The “Lady who Loved Insects” from “The Tale of the Heike” is also one of Nausicaä’s prototypes.
There are probably many who see Nausicaä in Joan of Arc. A girl who hears the voice of God that others can’t understand, forsakes her girlhood, and bravely fights for her mission. Numerous actresses have portrayed this role in films, from Renée Jeanne Falconetti in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928) to Milla Jovovich in Luc Besson’s “Joan of Arc” (1999). However, I can’t superimpose Nausicaä on the images of Joan portrayed by these actresses. The clean, boyish Joan of Arc, depicted by French children’s book author M. Boutet de Monvel in 1897, is much closer to Nausicaä.
One can find the aspect of Nausicaä as a “daughter of her father” in various stories of heroines. This “father” is Jhil, the leader of the Valley of the Wind who dies leaving Nausicaä behind, but at the same time, he represents all the men of the old generation who built civilization and polluted the Earth. A daughter of the father who failed to fulfill his ideals and disappeared, leaving the burden on the next generation. This is a theme of Marie-Louise von Franz, a well-known Jungian psychologist, and a recurring heroine in fairy tales.
For example, Belle, the heroine of “Beauty and the Beast”, known from Jean Cocteau’s live-action version and Disney’s animation, is a typical “daughter of her father”. She becomes a captive in the castle where the ugly, terrifying beast lives, in place of her father. In contrast to the original Belle, who was a merchant’s daughter, it’s worth noting that Disney’s Belle, who depicts an independent spirit, is a daughter of an inventor. This father is captured by the beast when he leaves home to participate in a town’s invention fair. It reminds me of Maki Oyamada in “Farewell, My Beloved Lupin”, which is considered a prototype of Nausicaä in Miyazaki’s anime, who is the daughter of a robot scientist. The pattern of the daughter becoming a sacrifice and fighting against fate because of her father’s failure can also be seen here.
American girls who grew up with Disney’s animation since the 1990s regard Disney’s Belle as an ideal girl image with a spirit of independence and rich imagination. Nausicaä is also an “ideal girl with a spirit of independence and rich imagination”, but is she playing the same role in Japan? Compared to Nausicaä who bravely flies through the sky, Belle is a very ordinary girl. That resonates with people. For teenage girls who try to see themselves in the film, Nausicaä is never a heroine close to them or someone they can empathize with. She’s too ideal. Is Nausicaä a special heroine that only exists in animation? Can real girls have a body and mind like Nausicaä?
As long as Nausicaä is a “sixteen-year-old girl”, she must be connected somewhere with other teenage girls in the film. By identifying the characteristics of Nausicaä as a girl, I want to find a Nausicaä-like heroine existing in contemporary live-action films.
Without the heavy role of the savior, what kind of girl would Nausicaä be? A daughter who carries her father’s ideals and fights for her father’s unfulfilled dreams. A natural child who plunges into the Sea of Decay that people fear, listens to the voice of the wind, and interacts with insects. By listening to nature, she knows the truth of a world completely different from real society. If she were in the real world, she would probably be treated as a heretic.
Just as Joan of Arc, Nausicaä might have been burned at the stake. And Nausicaä is a lonely girl. While she seems loved and admired by the people of the Valley of the Wind, nobody truly understands her essence. She has never known love like an ordinary girl, and she has no peers with whom she can build true friendships. In the manga version, a strange bond, like that of comrades-in-arms, grows between her and Princess Kushana, but Kushana is not the one to whom Nausicaä can reveal her truth.
Finding a Nausicaä-like girl in reality might save her from this loneliness, which is too unique. And it may also lead ordinary girls to find a path to becoming a heroine like Nausicaä.
Among those created after Nausicaä, I would like to mention three live-action heroines that possess the features I have mentioned as the “Nausicaä as a girl”. The first is Ellie, the astronomer played by Jodie Foster in “Contact”. As the receiver of a “message” that overturns common sense, she is Nausicaä-like. Ellie, who is involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligent life and receives a message from them, is far away from both the movements of the real world and the “God” people rely on. She is a staunch believer, an empiricist who doesn’t believe in God. Immersed in science, she is a “daughter” who lost her father when she was young. Her loneliness as a daughter leads her to listen to voices from afar, to the truth of the universe. The universe alone responds to Ellie’s loneliness with great salvation. When she accepts that message, Ellie is released from being a fanatical scientist, a hero who heroically pursues her own path, turning her back on the world.
It’s not a person, but the natural world that accepts Nausicaä’s loneliness. Ellie and Nausicaä can resonate in that loneliness and salvation. However, Jodie Foster, with her strong expression and muscular body, might be more suitable for the role of Princess Kushana if Nausicaä were to be brought to live action. Even so, I believe we can get a little closer to Nausicaä in reality through Ellie.
When the action movie “Kick-Ass”, based on a comic, was released in 2010, Hit-Girl, played by Chloe Grace Moretz who was 10 at the time of filming, garnered more attention than the main character who tries to become a masked hero without any abilities. It might anger many to compare Hit-Girl with Nausicaä.
But please consider this. Nausicaä, who would ordinarily be considered a heretic, is admired and respected by people because she is a strong warrior physically, which backs up her unique charisma. And with that robustness, she can even kill people.
Nausicaä’s violent side is depicted only once in the movie. When her father is killed, she loses herself to impulse in the temple and kills the Tolmekian soldiers one after another. The kind Nausicaä, who loves animals and children, is also a person with the ability to slaughter many men.
In the movie, Nausicaa quickly seals away her violent impulses, but for her, a kind-hearted girl who loves animals and the weak, to become a hero who saves the world, it is impossible to completely discard that fierceness. And violence, which is not originally in the nature of a girl, becomes a hidden charm of Nausicaa. If a girl, who is considered weak, can defeat men who try to overpower her, she can render men’s violence meaningless. To take away power from violence, the girl releases her violent impulses. There’s a reason why a fighting girl is more attractive than a fighting boy or man.
Hit-Girl is a girl raised as a avenger by her father, the masked hero Big Daddy. Although she appears to be a lovable preteen girl, she has been taught all kinds of killing techniques. The action scenes in “Kick-Ass” are filled with raw violence. It’s not fantasy violence. It’s also not right as a treatment of a girl. But there’s a special exhilaration in the scenes where this “father’s daughter”, grieving and angry at the death of Big Daddy, storms into enemy territory and slaughters grown men, that cannot be denied. By releasing the ability that Nausicaa had hidden as a rule-breaker, Hit-Girl became a hero for girls. Conversely, Nausicaa also has the element of an anarchic anti-hero, just like Hit-Girl.
Girls cheered for the anti-hero Hit-Girl. So what about a true heroine?
In 2012, the film “Hunger Games”, based on a young adult novel, was a big hit in the United States. The novel, written by Suzanne Collins, is set in North America after a civilization has been wiped out. The country has been destroyed by natural disasters and wars, probably brought on by global warming, and most of the land has sunk into the sea. The remaining land is divided into thirteen districts and governed by a nation called Panem. But when a revolution seemed likely to break out, the Capitol came up with a cruel display game. They select a teenager boy and girl from each district as sacrifices, and let them fight to the death in the “Hunger Games” until only one person remains.
In Japan, the “Hunger Games” was talked about for its similarities to “Battle Royale” (Japanese film), but there are hardly any intense killing scenes. The focus is on how the sixteen-year-old girl Katniss, who volunteered herself as a game sacrifice for her sister, survives in the forest, which is the stage for the “Hunger Games”.
Katniss is a girl born poor, even in the disadvantaged District 12. She goes into the forbidden forest to hunt with her bow and arrow, gathers nuts, sells what she gets at the black market, and supports her mother and sister. As a “father’s daughter”, she takes on the role of her deceased father. Her willingness to kill, her robust physical and mental strength to face danger, her understanding of the forest and nature, all help her in the game. Her action of mourning the dead during the game makes her a target as a rebel by the Capitol. Eventually, Katniss becomes a symbolic leader for those who rise against the Capitol.
The reason “Hunger Games” was such a big hit is not unrelated to the current atmosphere in America, where the Occupy Wall Street movement has broken out. The young generation is forced to pay the price for this world that the old generation has consumed in every sense. The righteous anger towards this gives dignity to the movie “Hunger Games” and to the heroine, Katniss.
If I were asked to name the heroine most similar to Nausicaa at the moment, I would pick Katniss from “The Hunger Games.” Suzanne Collins created the heroine Katniss based on the Greek mythological hero Theseus, who defeated the Minotaur.
Katniss, raised in the forest, a natural child and a warrior, has the heavy responsibility of protecting her fatherless family. If there is something that makes Katniss “Nausicaa-like” beyond that, it greatly depends on the physicality of Jennifer Lawrence who played Katniss. When Jennifer Lawrence landed the role of Katniss from among many girl stars who auditioned for this movie, there were some voices of disapproval. The reason being that her body was too “feminine”, contrary to the original setting.
As she says herself, Jennifer Lawrence, the “only actress without anorexia rumors in Hollywood,” has a body far from the slender ideal in American cinema. She doesn’t have the adorable, large eyes like other girl stars either. Her features are characterized by small eyes that appear young and plump cheeks. However, her heavy breasts, wide birthing hips, and muscular thighs, along with that look, are also her strengths as an actress. Her presence that makes one feel there is real “substance” is inseparable from her body. With Jennifer Lawrence’s physique, Katniss has surpassed the shallow “game heroine” portrayed in Young Adult literature and has become a resonating presence in the current societal situation, allowing many people to confidently believe in her victory. And this body makes Katniss a Nausicaa-like girl.
Nausicaa is not a delicate girl. She is known for having a large bust, but if you look closely, the shoulders that support it are also solid. With her well-trained muscular physique and respectable thighs, a girl who is a warrior and maneuvers the Mehve (Mowe) by reading the wind cannot have a fragile body.
Like Katniss, could Nauscaa also be a heroine that resonates in this era?
But Katniss is still not Nauscaa. She, with a strong body and will, also has a fragile heart and, being a sixteen-year-old girl who occasionally sways in love, she is accepted with empathy. The overly ideal Nauscaa is still a distant existence from other “girls in the movies”.
However, if girls influenced by Katniss can find a heart similar to theirs in Nauscaa, it seems only a matter of time before they start to read the wind and take flight. Now, in movies, girls are facing solitude, listening to the voice of nature, unleashing their power, and gaining strong bodies that match their inner selves. It may not be long before a true Nauscaa-like girl comes alive on the screen.
Madoka Yamazaki – Born in Tokyo in 1970. Columnist, translator. Author of “Innocent Girls: The Worst and Best Lives of People,” “Girls and New York,” etc.