Sunday, May 17, 2009

Fifth World Movies: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Early on, when I thought I could skip right ahead to writing the game in full, I included a sidebar about movies that had inspired some part of The Fifth World. I really appreciate when games do this—like at the end of Legend of the Five Rings, or in the sidebar at the beginning of the Eberron Campaign Setting. Sometimes, that can help more than anything to help put you in the right frame of mind and get the right tone for the setting.

Unfortunately, nothing really hits the right tone for The Fifth World. That very vacuum gives me one of my main drives to keep working on this: nowhere do we have a really good vision of an optimistic future that really works. I think that lack of vision has a lot to do with why things have gotten to the point they have in the world. It seems odd, but the right work of fiction might make all the difference. I wonder how different today's world might look if Gene Roddenberry had stuck to Westerns.

So, I found that a simple list of movies won't suffice; The Fifth World just doesn't fit so neatly into an already-defined genre. All the same, I did find a list of movies that shared some themes; with a little explanation and a few caveats, I thought they could really help communicate the tone of The Fifth World. So, rather than sit on this any longer, I'll start posting them here.

I'll start with Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, because of all the movies on the list, this one probably bears the least explanation. It starts with a very similar premise: the survivors after the collapse of civilization. The relationship between the toxic jungle and its insects and humans could fit perfectly into The Fifth World: misunderstanding and tension might abound, but you need each other, and ultimately, you have to find a way to live with one another. Like The Fifth World, Miyazaki's films present problems that you can rarely solve simply through outright confrontation; it poses instead the dilemma of reconciliation. That might sound very soft and simple, but Nausicaä provides a clear example of how exciting such a story can get. Right at the beginning, it provides a scene that gives me one of the best illustrations I have, with Nausicaä and the fox squirrel. Lord Yupa warns her of their vicious streak, and the baby's particular rambunctiousness. But the Princess offers her hand nonetheless, and says, "There's nothing to fear." The fox squirrel bites down, hard. A bit of blood sprays. Nausicaä winces, but otherwise shows no reaction. "See?" she says. "Nothing to fear." Nausicaä's authenticity proves so powerful, so genuine, so radical that the fox squirrel becomes ashamed of what he's done, and begins licking the wound. He remains fiercely loyal to her throughout the rest of the film. That scene inspired me to include mechanics in The Fifth World for changing relationships: a display of unflinching vulnerability, when you know it will hurt you, can Open a relationship up.

Nausicaä examines that theme over and over again. The titular heroine succeeds precisely because of how much she will sacrifice to prove her authenticity to all sides, separated by doubt, suspicion, misunderstanding, and the festering old wounds that spawned all of that. She doesn't became a heroine by overcoming her enemies; she becomes a heroine by restoring relationships, whether between different groups of humans, or ultimately, between humans and the earth from which they'd become estranged.

All that said, I still wouldn't put Nausicaä on a list of Fifth World movies. Its aesthetic goes in a rather different direction. What exactly fuels Nausicaä's glider, much less a Tolmekian airship? And what exactly makes Nausicaä a "princess" anyway? Watching it last night, I told Giuli, "This is the kind of princess I can appreciate: No special treatment, no special rights, and she can't order anyone to do anything. Kind of makes you wonder what makes her a 'princess', doesn't it?"

More importantly, Nausicaä depicts humanity in a far more dire state than The Fifth World. The toxic jungle swallows up one kingdom after another, and many worry whether or not humanity will go extinct under the pressure. The Fifth World supposes that the last collapse goes much along the same line as past collapses, where people settle in to new patterns of living, and quality of life generally improves. Despite the sometimes idyllic life we get to see in the Valley of the Wind, Nausicaä still invokes a lot of the classic post-apocalyptic tone, wherein the loss of civilization leads to a terrible dark age for humanity.

That said, I have yet to see the film that comes as close to The Fifth World in tone as Nausicaä; it comes as close as any film would to getting on a list of "Fifth World Movies" without an asterisk.

No comments: