Friday, September 6, 2013

Do We Want or Need a Sequel to Nausica ?

One of the stories that intrigues me most amongst the recent wave of Ghibli news - much of which I will be addressing, in one form or another, over the days to come - is talk of Hayao Miyazaki and/or Hideaki Anno revisiting Nausicaof the Valley of the Wind, the iconic 1984 film that launched Studio Ghibli, established Miyazaki as a great and popular filmmaker, and gave Anno's young career a rather spectacular kick-start. Various rumblings about a possible Nausicasequel have been heard over the past month, given that Miyazaki's latest (and final) film, Kaze Tachinu, serves as a reunion of sorts for him and Anno (who voices the film's main character, Jiro Horikoshi), but the issue was addressed most plainly late last month, when Miyazaki, asked point blank about making a Nausicasequel, :

"No, I don't. I don't really feel like doing it, but Anno keeps on saying, 'I want to do it! I want to do it!,' so I tell him now that I've come to think lately that if he wanted to do it, it would be fine for him to do it."

An interesting quote. A fascinating possibility to ponder. AFTER THE JUMP, more thoughts on this rather provocative hypothetical...

First things first: Do I actually believe a Nausicasequel will ever be made? No, probably not. Studio Ghibli does not roll that way, and never has, the closest they have ever come to sequel territory being 2002's The Cat Returns, which spun off a character from 1995's Whisper of the Heart. Though even calling it a spin-off is a bit of a stretch, as the character in question - the Baron - appeared only in fantasy sequences in Whisper, and The Cat Returns sports a completely different tone and even animation style from the earlier work. In truth, Ghibli has never shown any interest in developing sequels to its films, and has never made a movie that left itself open to sequels in the way Western film studios often do. I feel that even if there were an impulse to make a Nausicasequel, it would never get past the planning stages, as an original project would inevitably take precedence.

Case in point: Before making Kaze Tachinu, Miyazaki had spoken several times about his possible desire to make a Porco Rosso sequel titled The Last Sortie. It was to be set many years after the original, reflecting the gap between the film's 1992 release and the present day, and would, like the original, explore issues and subject matter very near and dear to Miyazaki's heart. While there is no official statement I am aware of addressing the non-development of The Last Sortie nor its possible connection to Kaze Tachinu, I think it is a fairly easy logical jump to make to assume that Miyazaki ultimately chose to develop a new original project, one that covered much of the same thematic territory - Kaze Tachinu obviously deals heavily with aviation, for starters - without doubling back on preexisting material. And I believe that would likely be the fate of a suggested Nausicasequel as well; ideas would be thrown around, but ultimately, they would be incorporated into something new.

Miyazaki is retiring from feature film work, of course, and the dynamics of the studio could change in the process. But as he indicated in explaining the motivation behind his retirement, Miyazaki has no plans on stepping away from Ghibli itself. "As long as I can drive," he said at the conference, "I will be going to the studio every day." I find it unlikely, therefore, that the Ghibli environment would change radically enough for a sequel to be a major priority, especially now that Ghibli will be forced to focus on developing new voices in the wake of Miyazaki's retirement. And making sequels will always be counterproductive to letting new artistic voices establish themselves.

All that being said...Miyazaki is clearly open to the idea, and while he has made it clear he would not plan on being directly involved, the fact that there is a respected, established filmmaker willing to make the film in Hideaki Anno does make the Nausicasequel a possibility, however minor it may be. And even as a hypothetical, it is a notion worth discussing.

Here is the most basic question: Do we want or need a sequel to Nausica ? I think for many people, the answer will be an immediate 'yes,' and not without good reason. Nausicais one of the greatest films ever made, in any genre or medium, and it is only natural for fans to want more of it.

But for me, that is exactly the reason why my kneejerk reaction to the question is a rather firm 'No.' Nausicais such an overwhelming masterpiece, its style, voice, tone, and narrative style all so utterly singular, that I cannot help but think expanding upon it will inevitably be a reductive exercise. It is a clichto say so, but one that applies to this situation - there would be no way to live up to the original, in part because the original is simply that great, and in part because the original has had 29 years now to build a legacy in the minds of viewers.

Moreover, I personally wonder if there is anything more that needs saying, or any more story that needs telling, beyond what the 1984 film provides. Miyazaki's manga obviously continued for many years after the release of the film, all the way up through 1994, and there is plenty of outstanding material there that could make for a perfectly compelling feature film. But the 1984 movie nevertheless feels so utterly complete to me, so confident and assured in what it has to say, and so satisfying and fulfilling in its narrative, thematic, and emotional arcs. It does not end on a note of total finality, but I think that is intrinsic to the core ideas of the picture; the world is still a dark and broken place, even as Nausicahas brought a modicum of light back into it, and ending on that note helps to reinforce the film's central message about the importance of living and moving forward, even when hope seems pointless. That is, after all, the gift Nausicahas that makes her a great leader - she recognizes the darkness of her world, and sometimes feels lost in it herself, but has a capacity for optimism and clarity many around her lack.

In any case, I feel very strongly the world does not need a Nausicasequel, and while 'want' is a matter of purely subjective opinion, I do not necessarily 'want' one either. I am happy with what we have.

Hideaki Anno, left, Hayao Miyazaki, center

All that being said, however, I would be completely open to, and even excited by, the idea of Anno, not Miyazaki, helming the hypothetical sequel. Miyazaki crafting a Nausicasequel is something I would never have much interest in, much as I love him, for all the reasons stated above and more. It would, in short, be retreading artistic ground for a filmmaker who made a career out of challenging himself, and even if he made a great film, it would not be as significant to me as a new, original idea.

But if Anno made a Nausicafilm? Well, that would be a whole different matter entirely. That would automatically lend the project artistic purpose, because it would allow the characters and mythology of Nausicato be analyzed by a pair of different directorial eyes, eyes that have a strong connection to the property, but ones that would obviously approach things differently than the original creator.

Anno, for those who do not know, animated several of the most complex sequences in the original Nausica , most notably the 'giant God soldier' sequence near the end. He was only in his twenties at his time - Miyazaki, for reference, had already had a long career at this point, and was in his forties - and the work he did in Nausicalaunched a very successful animation career, which included the creation and direction of the landmark anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion, a show partially inspired by the work he did with Miyazaki.

With that in mind, I honestly would be intrigued to see Anno's take on the world of Nausica . If he is, as Miyazaki has indicated, eager about the prospect of a sequel, I assume he has some narrative or artistic justification in mind, and I would like to see what ideas he has come up with. It would not break my heart to go the rest of my life without a Nausicasequel - the original is plenty rich enough for one lifetime - but if Studio Ghibli announced tomorrow that Anno had come on board to write and direct the hypothetical film? I would absolutely be on board, and I would be counting down the days until its release. Anno is a great filmmaker and animator in his own right, and while I could not guarantee his Nausicawould be a creative success, it would undoubtedly be a sequel with strong artistic intent and a clear, unique interpretation separate from the original, and that is what I personally want out of most sequels in the first place.

So color me curious. Like I said, I have no burning desire for more Nausica , but the idea of Anno taking over the reigns is compelling. No matter what, this is an exciting and tumultuous time for Ghibli, and as Miyazaki (and, assumedly, Isao Takahata) takes his leave, the company is going to have to foster more voices, and bring more people in to continue their legacy. Nausicasequel or no, I think Ghibli would be wise to work with Anno in the future, and I obviously look forward to seeing whatever ideas - hopefully and probably original - are dreamt up in Miyazaki's wake.
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