On Your Mark and Nausicaa

nausicaa of the valley of the wind is my favorite miyazaki film. the first time i saw it was in the theater at the berkeley museum of asian and pacific art or whatever it was called, when the museum was on bancroft, with the big metal calder sculpture in front. they were hosting a week of ghibli movie events where there’d be an academic talk accompanying a viewing of a ghibli film or two. i think i went to at least two events, one featuring nausicaa and one featuring princess mononoke.

at the nausicaa event, they showed a short film afterwards (i think that was the order). i remember it was a music video. and even though it was much shorter, the images from the short film stayed with me for a long time. i remember the speaker talking about miyazaki’s heroines not all looking the same, but if you were going to pick two that looked the most similar, they’d be the angel from On Your Mark and Nausicaa, and talked about how miyazaki had just finished something about Nausicaa while making OYM (from looking it up now, it was that he’d finally finished the Nausicaa manga). i remember the cult. i remember the signs that we were told translated to “Danger! Radioactive!” i remember the underground city, and flying cars or something, and chases, and i remember above all the girl lying on the floor with trash and empty soda cans around her, her wings limp, and i remember the characters driving her out of the underground city, and i remember the angel lighting up and unfolding her wings and soaring first just a little and then more and more, and i remember crying. i remember getting this whole story from a short music video, that humans were underground now, there were these cults, they’d trapped an angel and were torturing her basically, these cops were supposed to raid the cult but then they decided to go renegade and free her, it’s clear they can’t go back to their old lives after that, the world underground is cyberpunk and full of trash and darkness and neon lights, the world outside is lush and green (not like how you’d imagine a post-apocalyptic world).

last week, a bunch of studio ghibli’s films were released on streaming services. i use the “new” hbo max (it is very purple) because i have an hbo subscription as part of my cell phone plan. i’m sorry. the first thing i watched on hbo max was nausicaa. i let it play in english because i’ve never watched it dubbed, and i normally wouldn’t, except i noticed that edward james olmos (elder adama in battlestar galactica (2003)) and sir patrick stewart were among the voice actors. i liked the english dub way more than i thought i would. i started it again a few days ago in japanese and haven’t finished it yet.

it got me thinking about the music video. i looked it up. the song’s name is “On Your Mark.” here is information about the song and about miyazaki’s animation for it. FAQ // On Your Mark // Nausicaa.net

here is a link to a copy of On Your Mark that someone put on vimeo. https://vimeo.com/75179415

and here is a transcript of a class session of one of the first college courses to use nausicaa. i now wonder if this was the person who gave the talk when i saw nausicaa. i wonder if i can find that talk in the berkely bamfp (bampf?) archives or something.


anyway, i want to mirror the text here. it’s existed since 1999 and will probably outlast us all at this rate but i don’t know, just in case. i am laughcrying at “Whenever we start on, we always catch a prevalent cold.”

Coda: On Your Mark and Nausicaa

Presented in class on April 7th and 8th 1999
Marc: Okay I guess I get to start class today. This will only take about fifteen minutes or so, unless I really start talking too long. If I do that, Pam, just come up and slap me and drag me off. (class laughter)

Pam: I may just do that for fun anyway… (more laughter) . That will look good on the student evaluations…

Marc: This is actually the coda to Nausicaa because we ran out of time last class because the movie was so long. We talked about how the manga ended last time. About the time that Miyazaki was completing the manga, he and Studio Ghibli were hired to do a music video by one of the most popular musical duos there in Japan named Chage and Aska. This was just going to be your typical music video of one of their songs, except that it would be completely animated, but you’ve seen animated music videos before on MTV, so that was nothing new. But this being Studio Ghibli, they wanted to do a spectacular job, so they went over budget. In fact so far over budget that there was no way for the video to make a profit just being shown on the Japanese MTV or any other video outlet. So instead, they released it as a short in the movie theaters where it played just before the Ghibli film Whisper of the Heart that I talked about two weeks ago. Chage and Aska also played it at their concerts and it was eventually released on laserdisc and video, which is how I got the copy I’m about to show you.

Now the first thing you have to realize is that this is in Japanese, obviously, and there are no subtitles. But don’t worry about that because you don’t need to know what the lyrics are to follow the video. In fact I will read you a rough translation of the lyrics here By the way, the title of this is On Your Mark . The title is in English and the phrase “on your mark” appears repeatedly through the song. This is because in Japan and other Asian cultures, English phrases are considered cool whether they make sense in English or not. You will hear them in pop songs, you will see them in ads andin product slogans, you will see them on t-shirts. In fact my favorite example of this was from a book where the author saw a person wearing a t-shirt in Taiwan which said: “UCLA: I Am Yuppie Good Life” (laughter) Now of course over here we do some of the same thing. I’ve seen a lot of designer clothing that has beautiful Japanese and Chinese calligraphy as part of the design. We’re wearing these $200+ outfits and have no idea what that writing means. It could be completely meaningless or it could say “I’m with stupid” for all we know.

So here’s the translation, and bear with me, this is a native Japanese speaker translating into English, so it’s a bit clunky

Then we are there with our smile and form as usual. And we brush away dust.
As we let a coin go out of my hand, it fall without clink. And we cannot catch it never again.
I will try to overtake the dawn with you by our bicycles.

On your mark.
Whenever we start on, we always catch a prevalent cold.
On your mark.
The reason we don’t give up is that we feel we can go up the slope to lead our hope.

Then we talk out together, like the words shower fall to our blank space in our minds.
It is an answer that we do not answer.
It is finding a time to see the face of a clock without hands.
We are too young to appreciate all of together.

On your mark.
Whenever we start on, we always catch a prevalent cold.
On your mark.
The reason we don’t lose it, is to encourage together to point toward our heart of hopes.
Then we are…

On your mark.
Whenever we start on, we always catch a prevalent cold.
On your mark.
The reason we don’t give up is that we feel we can go up the slope to lead our hope.
On your mark.
Whenever we start on, we always catch a prevalent cold.
On your mark.
The reason we don’t lose it, is to encourage together to point toward our heart of hopes.
Then, where we will go?

This obviously loses a lot in the translation, but you know, it’s about as deep as the lyrics of a lot of English pop songs.

In this case it just works out better that you ignore the lyrics and just pay attention to the images and the music. Miyazaki deliberately wrote against the lyrics; he made no attempt to make the images or story here match any of the words in the song. And when people see this, they think it’s the trailer for an upcoming film. A lot of folks have posted notes on the usenet group rec.arts.anime.misc saying, “I saw this and it looks great! When is the feature length version of it going to come out?” Well it isn’t, thisseven-minute video is all there is. There is a complete story here, but it’s nonlinear. You will see flash fowards, you will see flashbacks, you will see the same scene done over with a different ending, it’s disjoint. But hey, you’ve watched enough MTV. Since when have you seen any music video with a logical progression of a story? This is just your typical music video style of storytelling…

One more thing you need to to understand about the background to this music video is that is was partially inspired by the nuclear accident at Chernobyl in Russia back in 1989. This was where the nuclear power plant had a meltdown and the container with the fuel ruptured blowing radioactive falloutall over the countryside. The only way they could contain the destroyed corew as to build a steel and concrete “coffin” (that’s the term they use for it) that encased the original building and just leave it there. And in the town of Chernobyl next to the plant, there is still a high enough background radiation from the fallout when the meltdown and rupture occurred that no one can livethere anymore. You can go visit there for a day or a short period and be safe, but if you lived there all the time you’d get too high a dose of radiation from the fallout. So the town is now abandoned. And about the time that Miyazaki was starting on this video, he read or saw a news report about this town. The report showed how now that the people were gone, that Nature was taking back the city. The houses were falling apart, the wild animals were moving in and the grass was taking back the roads. So that was one of the inspirations here, the large metal structure you’ll see when the video opens is suppsed to be a coffin for a nuclear power plant which had a meltdown, and the pretty New England-looking town next to it is abandoned.

So watch this, and see what similarities in themes you see between this and Nausicaa .

show video

I forgot to mention a couple of other things. First is that the two police officers look like the two singers Chage and Aska. You wouldn’t know that since you don’t pay attention to Japanese pop music, but of course everyone in Japan recognized who the officers were. The other thing is, as you probably gathered, that this story takes place in a time where, because of some massive ecological disaster, nuclear meltdowns, destruction of the ozone layer, etc., humans can no longer live out in the open and must live in the underground cities as you saw there for protection. Miyazaki hasn’t made it clear how dangerous it is outside of the city, but there’s been some speculation that it’s so bad that these two police officers may have been sacrificing their own lives by taking the angel out in that small open air car without any radiation suits or protection. You’ll remember the opening scene shows one of those armor protected vehicles out in the country by the coffin, and the two officers started out trying to take the angel in one of those, but had to switch to the convertible. You saw the sign in English which said “Danger”. The signs you saw in Japanese and Chinese said things like “sunlight is dangerous” and “Caution: certain death”.

So, comments?

student:: It was really good.

another student: It has flying again, that’s a reoccurring theme in his work,it seems to be something spiritual

Marc: Right, well it is flying, and that can also can represent freedom, so it can mean different things. Did this remind you of any other movies, US movies,you’ve seen?

student Blade Runner

another student: Fifth Element

Marc: Right about Blade Runner . I haven’t seen Fifth Element so I can’t say about that one. Blade Runner was the movie that started the cyberpunk visualstyle in movies, all the cyberpunk futuristic films borrow heavily from BladeRunner . And cyberpunk settings and stories are very popular in anime. In fact that was one of the reason that this was something of a shock to Japanese audiences when it came out. Miyazaki was known for doing more traditionalstories, heart warming films like Totoro or Kiki , or epics like Nausicaa . Miyazaki doing cyberpunk? What’s going on here? Of course he balances the cyberpunk urban environment with the complete natural world outside the city. One other movie you didn’t mention: E.T. The scene were the angel is being zipped into the body bag and taken away by the men in the baggy radiation suits is straight out of E.T.

Pam: What about the cult there at the beginning?

Marc: Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that. Another major influence on thisvideo was the Aum Shinri Kyo attack in Toyko. Back in March 1995, a religious cult in Japan set off a series of gas bombs with the poisonous nerve gas sarinin several Toyko subways, all in an attempt to bring about some sort of religious apocalypse there in Japan. The attack killed about 40 people and several thousand more were injured. This was massive shock to the Japanese psyche, they are such a group-oriented society, one where the common good is revered far more highly than it is here in the US. They preceive most threats as coming from the outside. The thought that a Japanese group could do something like this to other Japanese was unthinkable before this. So while Miyazaki created the video before this attack occurred, these images really resonate with the Japanese audiences. When they saw the police here attackinga religious cult, the first thing they all thought of was the Aum Shinri Kyo.

Pam: And the flying girl image there, she doesn’t seem familiar to you in anyway, does she?

Marc: People have claimed that all Miyazaki’s heroines look alike. And there is some stylistic resemblance which comes from the fact that they’re all creations from the artistic talent of the same person. But they’re not identical in apperance. Nausicaa doesn’t look like Kiki who doesn’t look Lana whodoesn’t look like Fio who doesn’t look like Satsuki. But the angel in On Your Mark does bear a very strong resemblance to Nausicaa, more so than any othertwo Miyazaki characters. In fact in several interviews (here’s one example) he refers to the angel as the “girl of bird” or a better translation would be “bird girl”, whichis the phrase he has often used both in the manga and in interviews to describe Nausicaa.

Angel prophecy from the opening sequence of the film Nausicaa.

Angel prophecy from the manga Nausicaa.

Angel from On Your Mark.

So put one and one together. He has just finished this thirteen year heroic effort to finish this epic manga, something that has taken a terrific effort on his part to bring to a conclusion. And the very first thing he does after he’s finished is make this music video with a character who looks almost exactly like Nausicaa. What conclusion would you draw from that?

student: That he’s writing a story where Nausicaa has come back in another form somewhere else

Marc: Right I think she’s come back symbolically. I think what Miyazaki is doing here is saying “I don’t care what the music or lyrics are here. I’m making this video as my own personal, symbolic release of Nausicaa. I’ve put this poor girl through thirteen years of hell and suffering in that manga. Now I’m going to set her free, free from all the pain, and let her fly back into that perfect blue sky where she has always belonged.”

Pam: It’s closure for him.

Marc: Yeah, and another point is that in the manga, the perfect heaven that is promised in their religions and that Nausicaa actually sees at one point is a completely natural world called “the pure lands”. Now I have to point out that all this is just my personal interpretation. Miyazaki has never said any of this in print and there are other Miyazaki fans and experts who disagree with my take on this.

Pam: One thing to notice here is the disjunction between the style of the music and the style of the animation. If you just had heard the music, would you ever have thought of paratroopers?

student: no way! (laughter)

Pam: You can tell that this was deliberately done to be something more than just your standard music video on MTV.

Marc: I brought the 1998 Studio Ghibli calendar with me. Each month shows either an image from one of the movie or an image that might have come from one of the movies. In this case the December image is the one of the police officers releasing the angel. And in my personal opinion, this is one of the most powerful images Miyazaki has ever created. It’s got Nature, technology, humans, and flight all mixed together into a single image.

Pam: I like the cops in their little racer car. (class laughter)

Marc: One last thing here. What made me think of this interpretation of OnYour Mark was Shakespeare’s play The Tempest . Now it is generally agreed that The Tempest was the last play that Shakespeare wrote before retiring from the stage. And in the play is the character of Prospero which most scholars agree is Shakespeare’s projection of himself . Shakespeare has written all of these plays and, like a magician-god, he has stage managed and moved all of his characters around to reach the end of the story. And in Tempest he does this explicitly, the audience sees the character Prospero as a powerful magician who skillfully manipulates the actions of all the other characters around him in order to finally bring justice and a happy ending for all of them. And at the end of the play, after the other characters have left, Prospero’s final act is to free this magical air-spirit Ariel whom he has used as his servant throughout his time he has spent on this island. He tell Ariel “you are no longer my slave, you are now free to go and fly away.” And then Prospero breaks his magic wand and says he is now returning to the world of mortals. And most scholars see this as Shakespeare symbolically freeing all these fictional characters he hascreated and saying, in effect, “that’s all, you’ve done your job for me, you’re now free to go.” And so I think this is similar to what Miyazaki is doing in On Your Mark . Like Shakespeare/Prospero he is saying goodbye and thank you to his character and finally ridding himself of this obsession that has driven his life for nearly 14 years.

Pam: And another thing that plays in here is the question of the different realities going on. Miyazaki is facing the same dilemma that Shakespeare andmost other writers and artists have to face at some point: in which world do I live and put all my energies into? Do I choose the real world or do I live inthis magical fictional world that I’ve created and where I rule?

Well, that’s a good place to end this. Next we’re going to move on to tonight’s regularly scheduled topic which is “Earthscapes and Spacescapes” and views of the astronomical universe, and Dr. Hairston has agreed to stay and help with that too…

Back to the main AH3300 page.

the museum has a name. it is the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). the museum has a search page. results for “nausicaa” include:

i can’t find an event listing that mentions “on your mark” along side of nausicaa. but the early 2000s had (at least) two showings of nausicaa:

since i think i watched it as part of a ghibli series, not a more general anime series, it was probably the 2005 one. i also remember it being a beautiful summer day, which makes it more likely to be in June than November (though with berkeley, who knows), though also i was looking for like a saturday afternoon showing in the early 2000s, which i couldn’t find. oh… i guess if i thought of it as daytime, 7:30 in June actually makes sense.

anyway this is what i’ve spent the last 2 hours doing because i deny categorically that the outside world exists. it’s too overwhelming.