Avatar, Real Drive and Nausicaa: A common theme from different world and time.

This is the first time I write a post partly related to non-anime subject but to me, Avatar feels, technically, thematically and emotionally, closer to anime than life-action movie. What inspires me to write this post is the conspicuous similarity of Avatar’s theme to two anime I’ve recently watched, Real Drive and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

This is not a review article so I will not go into much plot details. Hence, there will be no spoilers.

The holy ground where the Navi communicate with the planet

In Avatar, Pandora is the planet full of life unstained by technology and is the home of the Navi, the blue humanoid alien whose way of life is inseparable from the spirits of the planet. The Navi has an organ that can directly connect with other living things both animals and trees. According to Dr. Augustine’s theory, the tree roots connect with each other and form an enormous network of energy and by bonding oneself with the trees, the Navi can directly communicate with every living soul on the planet including the Mother Nature herself. It’s a network of spiritual and biochemical energy.

The trees in the Meta-Real

A network? The idea reminds me of the theme in Real Drive (RD Senno Chosashitsu) which I’ve just finished. RD sets in the near future of planet Earth, in the artificial island build by men. In that time, a cyber brain is as close to daily life as a cell phone is today and people’s minds can serve through the pool of consciousness at will. There’s a new technology called the Meta-Real (the Metal, in short), a network that aggregates people’s consciousness and memories or, ultimately, a network of souls. The trees and the Earth in RD are also connected by forming a global network. Haru, the protagonist in RD, is a Metal diver. In one episode he dives and find the spirits of trees in the metal leading to the assumption that everything, human, animals, trees are connected. The only difference between RD and Avatar is that in RD, the water or the ocean is the media that forms the network, not tree roots.

The trees are healing the Earth

Another noteworthy thing is how nature responds to the intrusion of men. In Avatar, the planet responds by trying to drive the invaders away by force. In RD’s case the trees grew unusually fast and large trying to reclaim the wounded lands. This point leads to Nausicaa. Although Nausicaa shares no obvious theme about the network of life but the anime clearly presents the way nature reacts to the disaster caused by men. The trees in Nausicaa absorb poisons from the ground and emit the gas into the atmosphere in order to purify the land.

Is it just me or western movies rarely contain such environmentalist ideal? The idea that all things are connected and the idea that Mother Nature do exist are regularly seen in anime even the older ones, though it may be presented in more subtle ways. The closest movie I’ve seen that share this theme is Final Fantasy: Spirits Within but that movie is not even half western. Just in case you wonder, yes, I like Avatar a lot for its wild imagination and strong environmentalism (not to mention countless eye-popping action scenes).

Ps. Since I’ve already brought RD up, I will post its full review very soon.

59 responses to “Avatar, Real Drive and Nausicaa: A common theme from different world and time.

  1. Yeah, the environmental theme is only getting more attention recently in western movies. I don’t really remember any notable western movies from earlier than 2000 that focuses on the environment, but then again I haven’t watched that many movies.

    I’m planning to watch Avatar soon. Lol it’d better be good with a rumored 250-500 million dollar budget.

  2. oh yeah definitely. The same thoughts went through my mind when I saw the fluorescent plants and the weird creatures.

  3. A Western film that focuses on living in harmony with nature? Yeah, for some reason, most of the movies that come to mind are those where the protagonists impose their will upon the environment rather than going with the flow. I think Lord of the Rings could be interpreted in a way to have an environmental message embedded within the epic plot, but that’s certainly not the focus of the movie.

    The reviews floating in for Avatar have been positive. Looks like I’ll have to make it a point to see it in a few weeks.

    • I feel like the idea of living in harmony with nature is heavily influenced by the East. I’d like to see more movie/series about this idea so let’s hope Avatar is not a flop.

  4. Another environmental movie was Princess Mononoke. I have yet to see Avatar, but it looks like one of the best movies of the decade (at least that’s what they’re saying). God I want to see it.

    • Come to think of it, there are environmental themes in a lot of Miyazaki’s films.

      Spirited Away – the whole River thing and that pollution thing (I explained it so that nothing will spoil)

      Princess Mononoke – The whole movie is based on the environment vs industry argument.

      Ponyo – There’s some Ocean environment in there.

      Nausicaa – Already spoken about.

      My Neighbor Totoro – Forest Spirits. That is all.

      Miyazaki is awesome. Two more movies in the next three years also makes me happy.

      • Yeah, Miyazaki’s films are all very green. Totoro is probably the cutest avatar of nature :)
        and, wow, thanks for going into details about Miyazaki films. Reminds me that I should have mentioned them all.

  5. yes, true, japanese (anime) movies are largely more analytical, environment-wise. But I think the really great movies of each culture usually touch on some meaningful aspect, even if it’s not nature.

    But then, you really have to compare the best ones to be able to respect the movies of both cultures, or else if you look at ones such as that recent GI Joe movie you’ll be hard pressed to appreciate the western intellect in their movies >.>

    • Your point is absolutely true. There’s countless brilliant western movies out there. I never intend to be disrespectful since obviously I watch lots of movies, too:)
      I only wish a few more would touch on environmental subject. But on second thought, such subject is quite hard to sell.

  6. i search Avatar and nausicaa brings me up here. :)

    • since you search for those two words, you must have some idea about them already. It’d be nice if you share it here ;)

      • Same here, tried to search whether anyone else sees some Naushika in Avatar :) I had a strong feeling that I see the Forest of Decay… everything lighting, unbreathable for humans, all the shapes of flora… and then came the scene which reminded me of Laputa, the floating Islands… indeed it’s basically impossible to make something wholly original today, so I don’t scrap it for that, actually pretty much liked it, as it was nicely done :)
        And, then there was the idea of external neural connection, which intrigued me, which does seem quite original to me. Not the network indeed, but the ability to join another person, or even an animal, a plant… kind of nice. There’s a lot about telepathy in sci-fi, but this is actually something different :)

  7. Damn it, I’ve been watching hippie anime?

  8. I didn’t see Avatar yet and frankly i only heard about it just few days ago. (i am not a movie fan …)
    I don’t like a movie when everything is focused on visual effects and where the script is poor. I hope it’s not the case for Avatar.
    I’ll try to see it but Nausicaa will probably keep my favor :)

    Well surely your post is very interesting.

  9. Regarding Western films on the same theme:

    Fern Gully is an animated film from 1992 that bears more similarity to Avatar than just an environmental theme – the entire basic plot is the same. It’s about the fairies and creatures who live in a forest that is being cut down by humans. One of the humans destroying the forest gets shrunk down to fairy size and ends up joining them against the humans.

    Sounds VERY familiar, doesn’t it?

    • Fern Gully: The Last Rain Forrest. Oh, I haven’t seen that one but the story sounds very similar and very green indeed. It’s an Australian film, isn’t it?
      Thank you for pointing that out :)

      • It is an Australian film, yes. It was a very “American” movie though, in terms of voice cast and so on, so I always forget that it’s Australian. ^^;

  10. DAMN YOU! LOL, I WAS GONNA REVIEW AVATAR LOL! It’s all good. You know, that’s a very good comparison :) I honestly never thought of that. Like furreal. I need to stay on top of my plot libraries lol.

    • Well, this post isn’t exactly a review. It’s more like an observation with some additional commentary. Hey, I’d love to read your full review on Avatar :)

  11. I haven’t seen Avatar yet, but just from the trailers and stuff, I can already see your points on the similarities between Nausicaa and this. Good observations. ^ ^

  12. Yes. I feel that Avatar took a lot of its cues from Miyazaki films, so much it was actually a little distracting, because not only are the themes somewhat recycles, even some of the scenes remind me of scenes from other movies.

    Adding to the lists:
    Those glowy tree vines that heals/matrix stuff reminded me of Nausicaa’s scary giant bugs with glowy tentacles that heals stuff.

    Blue stones that can float? Laputa. Also? Giant tree – in Laputa, there’s a freaking gigantic blue floaty stone inside of it. In Avatar, it sits on top of a large resource of similar stones. Sure, Laputa was less about save the world and more about technology is evil, but the imagery are similar.

    • Yeah, the film’s story is stereotypical though the end result, in my opinion, is nevertheless magical. (hehe, I’m defending the film like rabid fanboy, -sign-)

      Oh! Those are interesting points you raise there, the bugs and Laputa. They do look similar especially the floating mountain and the castle in the sky :)

      • Yes. Ultimately I wasn’t sure what bothered me more about Avatar (though I still think it’s a must see at the cinema) – the fact that the story follows so closely to other films ( Miyazaki’s in particular), or how similar the concept and make up of those imagery (like the tentacles mentioned, or the strange forest plants, big tree, floating stones, the way the flying scenes were shot, etc, etc) were to other films (and again, Miyazaki’s in particular). I mean, as brilliant and awesome the effects were, it didn’t feel as imaginative or has as great an impact on me as those Miyazaki films did some what 30 or so years ago (on 2D anime, no less!). I have to think Cameron borrowed quite a lot from Miyazaki (and himself from earlier days) while constructing Avatar.

        Oh, I haven’t watched Princess Mononoke in a long time, so I have no idea if there are similar imagery there (though the point of the story is quite similar – as it is to Pocahontas as well). But I would watch it again to see.

      • @belinda – I am not surprised that a lot of people find Avatar completely stunning and its visuals imaginative because most of movie goers have never been exposed to Anime (Miyazaki’s in particular). Still, there is magic at work in Avatar whether it is a derivative or not :)

  13. And, hee, I also searched avatar and nausicaa and arrived here too. Glad to know I’m not the only one thinking that while watching avatar.

  14. I literally just got back from seeing Avatar. Aside from being the greatest film I have ever seen ever, I think it is closest to Princess Mononoke, what with the “God” and the war of natives/forest vs incoming people who want to industrialize and rape the land.

    God this movie was great. I need to write a post on how awesome it was.

    • Dude, you gotta be kidding me….this movie was mediocre at best. I know there’s a palpable difference between…I’ll write about it later -_-”

      • Split in opinion seems to be happening everywhere since the film is the center of attention right now. I’ll definitely wait for your take on it, must be fun :)

    • Glo, glad you love it! The aspect regarding Nature vs. Men surely is similar to Princess Mononoke. My post focused more on the ‘network of life’ so I didn’t mention that…but I should have -_-

  15. Pingback: Avatar. « Eye Sedso

  16. It ate my comment.

    Avatar is not about nature. It simply is not. Avatar is about how the Capitalist White Man had lost all contact with nature, with himself, and how the “Magical Indian” can show him the way to return there, the way to inner peace.
    Avatar is Poccahontas with glitter.

    Also, while in movies it may have lagged behind, because they are paid for by big, big bucks, it began, even the Ghibli stuff, by the Western Romantic movement of the late 19th and early 20th century in the united states. Books which deal with these things? Hundreds, and many from before World War 2.

    • Yeah, the Pocahontas resemblace is there (quite obviosly actually). There are lots of people around movie forums who feel that the film shows racism.

      But I still think that both themes (the aniti-capitalism and environmentalism)are there in the movie, though. It’s just a mixture of so many things including war and terrorism. It even implies about afterlife and religions. :)

      It ate your comment?! (that’s terrible) umm..wonder if there’s anything I can do to fix that?

      • Not your fault, an internet hiccup, so ended with a page not found, and hitting “Back” the comment did not return.

        I think the environmentalism is not its own theme, it’s subservient to the “Magical Indian” segment.

  17. I have not been even remotely close to a movie cinema for ages. But seeing you and Glo’s post on Avatar. I might have to break that habit soon. :)
    Also got to watch it to see FaS’s take on it.
    Damn! Is Avatar going to be the next mini shitstorm? Lol!

    Reading your synopsis on how Navi and Nature interacts feels really fresh. Or might I say it, creative. Sounded like something the movies have not shown for a long long time. Probably it’s because I don’t go to movies. Maybe…

    Still, nice read.. :)

    • ‘…how Navi and Nature interacts feels really fresh’
      I wouldn’t put it that way, though. I feel that I rarely see this theme in mainstream, western movies (about which Steve has made good suggestion above) but for us who watch anime regularly, the theme is not really fresh.

      Next shit storm? there’s already snow storm on the East coast of the US.LOL :D thanks for the visit!

      • It’s 5.30am and I can’t sleep. Doing my troll rounds (since I’m reaaally grumpy now) and I noticed I didn’t drop a M.C. bomb at your blog. Which is just wrong!

        So even if M.C. is over, I would still like to wish you.


      • @ blur – Thanks, Merry Christmas ! :)
        I am going to post something tomorrow (better late than never, right?)

  18. I don’t think it’s as much as capitalism as it is about Imperialism..

  19. I know this isn’t your most recent post, but it caught my eye, so I’m responding.

    For environmentalist messages, I’ve noticed the east generally uses these themes more. It might be a consciousness of their own destruction (the Japanese fishing industry or deforesting industry are often themes in Miyazaki’s films). It may also tie into their reverence (or former reverence) of the spirits inhabiting nature. As for western themes, environmentalism does come up, but it’s usually so soaked in agenda that it’s hard to get the heart of the matter. It’s like trying to enjoy a donut that’s been covered in layers of wax (the wax here being stupid politics).

    As for Avatar, the themes are extremely post-colonial in nature, being that an industrialized nation sends in an operative who ends up changing his mind and fighting with the natives against said industrialized group. The idea of connection with nature is very Eastern in it’s ideals, though, which is why I was pleasantly surprised by its presence in Avatar. There’s a lot more I could say, but the words have suddenly left me. Oh well! I enjoyed reading this post and I hope my comment isn’t a bother.

    • Your comment is most welcomed. I agree with you that Western themes do contain environmentalism but, if I may put it this way, lack simplicity in expressing it. While the East likes things simple and clear thus the wax covered donut :)

  20. well it was the same guys who made the spirits within

  21. Avatar definitely shares some common traits with both Princess Mononoke AND Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The former comparison has been made in a number of reviews but I haven’t yet seen Nausicaa mentioned elsewhere than here :) A few thoughts then.

    Both films are built on the confrontation between humans and the hostile, somewhat alien world “beyond the gates”. It is the protagonist(s) who have taken the time to familiarise themselves with the alien world, studied it (the Sea of Decay/the Na’vi tribe), learned how it functions and ultimately developed a deep care and understanding of it.

    And as the conflict looms, they have to take up the difficult and ultimately thankless role of a protector.

    “Nausicaa” and “Avatar” also both show a deep admiration for flight. In addition to providing several heartbreakingly beautiful scenes, Nausicaa with her glider and Jake as the Toruk Makto both convince the viewer that flying is what that sets heroes apart. Flight even gets immortalised in legends and fascinates people across ages and generations (Toruk Makto, obviously, and Nausicaa comes quite close if you also consider the images that illustrate the film’s opening credits).

    However, there is a sharp visual contrast between Nausicaa and Avatar. Cameron’s gorgeous and detailed Pandoran scenery primarily aims at providing a pleasant and immersive experience for the viewer. Miyazaki, on the other hand, does not back away from throwing gruesome imagery on the screen if he finds it conveys the story better. Nausicaa is definitely a VERY GOOD film, but also quite disturbing to look at, I’d say.

    • Thank you for sharing this interesting insight!. Talking about flight, it appears in every film by Miyazaki. Flying is always fun and enhances the fantastic feeling for the film (because in real life, we cannot fly like that). Plus, it implies freedom :)

  22. When I saw Avater for the first time, when we got to the forest scenes, all I could think of was Nausicaa and Princess Mononoke, with their whole environmental themes.

    The second time I saw it in 3D and the only thing I was thinking about was; If James Cameron was Japanese, he’d rival, if not surpass Miyazaki.

    But then again, in true Hollywood fashion, something Miyazaki would never do, James Cameron is making sequels to it.

    • The idea of making a sequel worries me as well. The freshness won’t be there anymore and if the sequel sets in a different planet, according to some sources, it still is very risky. I confess the I want to experience Avatar’s universe more but I do not agree with making a sequel.

  23. Cameron has mentioned that Miyazaki was a big influence, and the theme of redemption runs throughout in the evolution of Jake’s character. The American aspect of it is that the bad are pretty straightforward evil and not as conflicted and ultimately redeemed as Miyazaki’s villains (although Muska in Laputa is pretty straight up bad).

  24. Since Avatar is compared to Nausicaa, would you compare The Matrix to Ghost in The Shell, Ninja Scroll, Akira and Fist of the North Star?

  25. Pingback: Canne’s anime review blog has turned 3 years old! | Canne's anime review blog

  26. The thing that struck me as different between Nausicaa and Avatar (while being similar still) was that while in Avatar, humans are viewed as downright evil, save for the main characters. As in many Miyazaki films, there is always a quality of redemption different from the Avatar one. In Nausicaa, Nausicaa fights to save humanity -and- nature. It seems that in Avatar, while it is mentioned about living in peace, the actions speak louder than words. The humans are still the utter villians. And we -are- human, so it feels a little funny rooting for your own destruction.

    Also in Princess Mononoke, although Ashitaka wants to remain with San, he does choose to remain with the humans. I think these actions are somewhat important. I really wanted to see more conflict in Avatar about Jake’s desicion to turn Navi. (Granted, he was on a time constraint, but still. Even if his legs were useless, he was still human. Leaving this behind didn’t peeve him much.)

    Also, anyone remember how the Omn (the bug things in Nausicaa) communicate? I think it’s with those many feelers that they have, but I could be wrong.

    Not really sure where I wanted to go here, but while I did love Avatar’s animation (so likelike and Final Fantasy-esque in that respect), I was always referencing other movies in my mind while I watched it. Not really all I expected it to be.

    And those multi legged horses? In Norse mythology, they are called Sleipnirs (or Sleipnir, since there may only be one- Odin’s). I like horses, so I still enjoyed that.

    • Cameron probably wanted the characters in Avatar to be more black-and-white thus easily relates to general audience (which kind of work since the movie made loads of money). While Miyazaki has always used gray characters and eventually left a lot to the viewers to interpret themselves.

      I did rooted, shamelessly, for the Navi. And there was also some geeky human scientists to root for as well :P

  27. How come no one compares Avatar to Dune? is Dune an underrated thing to the public both the awesome books and movies (Not the David Lynch perversion)? Dune is the greatest Sci-fi book ever.

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