Forget Dune, Miyazaki Already Did Its Job 40 Years Earlier (And Better)

Forget Dune, Miyazaki Already Did Its Job 40 Years Earlier (And Better)
Image credit: Toei, Warner Bros.

Where David Lynch’s take hit the rock bottom, this animated film succeeded with flying colors.


  • The directorial debut of Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a 1984 sci-fi animated feature film based on Miyazaki’s eponymous manga series.
  • This full-length anime, which is set on a post-apocalyptic, deserted planet where the few remaining pockets of humanity are struggling to survive and are hoping for the arrival of a messiah, is similar in its aesthetic and themes to Frank Herbert’s Dune series.
  • However, compared to Herbert’s dark and edgy fare, Nausicaä is less intense and gritty, and its tone is more lighthearted and positive in the end.

Famed Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki has always been the talk of the animated movie fandom, especially now that his latest (and possibly last) animated film has nabbed the Oscar for best animated feature, more than 20 years after Spirited Away took home the award.

Despite bitter reactions to the win from Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse fans on social media, who felt being short-changed at the awards ceremony, the goodwill for the Miyazaki-led animation house Studio Ghibli remains strong as ever.

While few would argue that the quality of Studio Ghibli’s output is always inventive and refreshing, even more interesting is the first project that Miyazaki did in early days as a director prior to the studio’s founding.

This full-length anime from 1984, titled Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, is also the only movie that Miyazaki adapted from his own work, as it was derived from his 1982 manga of the same name.

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Boasting the dazzling artistry and inspired storytelling which Miyazaki is famous for, Nausicaä is also a recommended watch for fans of all things Dune, as the stylistic influence of the seminal series that has spawned strange popcorn bucket designs is evident in every frame of this animated classic.

Even the story beats read similar to Frank Herbert’s books and their film versions: a young regal savior figure is destined to bring peace to a desolate world with a compromised ecosystem where humans coexist with huge, aggressive insects, leading a fight to prevent squabbling kingdoms from restoring a weapon of mass destruction.

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Only this time, the savior was a lovely girl with a cute hand-biting squirrel-like pet and green sensibilities. And the insects were not truly evil, but rather misunderstood. And the sand-ridden world was not actually all that sandy, with pockets of toxic forests throughout. Also, giant robots. It’s a weird Japanese movie, so just bear with us on this one.

The Dune similarities really stop at the concept level, as Nausicaä was less political and macabre than Herbert’s uncompromising tale of a struggle for domination.

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The anime film was also more good-spirited and wholesome in its overall message than the Herbert novel, with an emphasis on a pro-ecological motif. The ending is also lighter than the stuff you’d expect from a Dune-inspired work of fiction.

Tellingly, Miyazaki never directly admitted being familiar with Herbert’s books, and Nausicaä also shows plenty of influence from other sources, including the Middle-Earth canon and Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea series (which would go on to be adapted by Miyazaki’s son Goro).

Still, the animated film was everything that David Lynch’s 1984 live-action film adaptation wanted to be, and its whole is far more than the sum of its parts. Nausicaä was and remains a groundbreaking film and it opened the way for Miyazaki to start Studio Ghibli, giving us several animated masterpieces, not to mention that it was inspirational to a whole generation of creative professionals.

All in all, Nausicaä is a memorable and exemplary anime film, one of the master’s best to be sure. Messianic narratives are rarely this entertaining.