Reviewby Theron Martin,
Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind
In the far future, 1,000 years after a holocaust called Seven Days of Fire, the very survival of humanity is threatened by an ever-spreading toxic jungle rife with fungal growths and giant, sometimes hostile, insects. One of the few surviving bastions of humanity is the peaceful Valley of the Wind, where the ocean breezes are so strong that the spores from the jungle cannot settle. Nausicaä, the young princess of the Valley of the Wind, directs the people with loving care while doing her own research into the nature and causes of the toxic jungle. The safety and well-being of her valley is threatened, however, when it becomes embroiled in a conflict between the warlike nations of Tolmekia and Pejite, who are bent on controlling a recently-discovered, dormant Giant of Fire (one of the beings thought to have destroyed the old world). It will take all her talents and will to see her people through the crisis and lead all of humanity both to salvation and to a new understanding of the toxic jungle and its denizens.
This 1984 movie represents Hayao Miyazaki's first collaboration with the men who would soon after help him form the renowned Studio Ghibli. It also establishes the distinctive Miyazaki style which permeates all later Studio Ghibli productions; Princess Mononoke in particular can be looked at as a more refined spiritual descendant of Nausicaä. Though a dub was originally released in the States in the mid-80s under the name Warriors of the Wind, that version was so heavily edited and rewritten that it cannot rightfully be called the same movie. Thus, this recent DVD version by Disney's Beuna Vista studios is the first true adaptation of the original, uncut movie into the English market. It is long, long overdue, but thankfully Disney has done an excellent job with the production. The digital remastering and sound upgrades have produced a wonderfully vibrant and superb-sounding print which deserves a place on any otaku's shelf.
Nausicaä bears the irrefutable stamp of Hayao Miyazaki's direction, storytelling, and artistry. It is quite interesting to see how many elements of this early work became staples in many of his later efforts: you have the wonderfully exotic locales (the toxic jungle), fascinating and inventive creatures (the insects), strong environmentalist elements, dynamic action scenes which emphasize the beauty of the character's movements as much as the action itself, and the determined, capable young heroine. There's even a hint of romance, though, as usual, it isn't the focal point of the story. Character designs and facial expressions are distinctive of Miyazaki's guiding hand; even if you knew nothing about Nausicaä, you could tell that it's a Miyazaki movie just by watching the first few minutes of it.
Every great movie requires an appealing protagonist, and this one has one of the all-time great anime heroines. Nausicaä is fearless, adventuresome, capable, decisive, and charismatic; though somewhere between cute and pretty, that is the least of the factors which attracts a viewer's attention to her. She is a gentle, peace-loving soul who always seeks the least violent resolution to conflict and yet is capable of astonishing rage when confronted by great tragedy. Though full of youthful exuberance, she possesses a wisdom and maturity well beyond her years. She also possesses an almost supernatural level of natural empathy, which becomes crucial to the story at many points. It is easy to see why she is so adored by her people; even Kushana, the warrior-princess of Tolmekia, is so intrigued by her that she is willing to set aside an impending battle should Nausicaä arrive on the scene in time to try to stop it.
Though the focus of the movie remains firmly on Nausicaä for most of its run, a bevy of interesting supporting cast members also make their presences known. Chief amongst them is a fox squirrel which Nausicaä acquires early on and who becomes a constant companion. Though he doesn't talk, he is so believably expressive and natural-seeming in his actions that he is more like another character than a simple animal companion. Aside from the aforementioned Kushana, the other major human characters are a famous swordsman named Lord Yupa, who is like a second father to Nausicaä; Kurotowa, the right-hand man to Kushana who charms with his sardonic smile and come-what-may attitude; Telo, the protective, eyepatch-wearing Valley man who looks out for Nausicaä even when she doesn't always look out for herself; and Asbel, a prince of Pejite whom Nausicaä falls in with for a while. Like many Miyazaki films, there aren't any true villains here, as even the rampaging insects never attack without provocation. The massive, multi-eyed, sluglike ohms (so-called in the dub; they are "ohmu" in the subtitles) are the most interesting denizens, as their eye color changes depending on whether they are in “normal” or “enraged” mode and they seem to have some degree of telepathic ability, amongst other things.
An anime movie wouldn't be a Miyazaki movie without some kind of strange and wondrous setting, and the toxic jungle serves quite well in Nausicaä. All the spores and fungi are wondrous to look at and vivid in their detail; the imagination it took to put together something like this, which doesn't exist in the real world, and yet still make it look convincing is incredible. The technology of the time is also interesting, with the ungainly-looking and ugly Tolmekian planes contrasting markedly with the sleek and graceful powered glider Nausicaä uses, or the valley's one true gunship. This is a world where tanks and guns are readily used alongside swords, heavy armor, and flamethrowers, but the technology beyond that seems fairly primitive.
Character designs are typical of Miyazaki's work: simple features and hairstyles, with eyes smaller than the norm by anime standards. Male faces are often heavily mustached amongst certain groups, with care taken to distinguishing certain racial features amongst the various nations. This is furthered by distinctive patterns of dress amongst the various different human groups. And though female figures are depicted with a distinct figure, not much emphasis is given to it nor is there any effort put into making female characters look sexy (Miyazaki has always had a reputation for producing family-friendly fare, though, so anyone looking for fanservice in one of his films is barking up the wrong tree). Backgrounds are generally well-detailed though usually a bit distinct from the characters. The animation is as smooth and fine as one would expect from a feature movie, especially in the fight sequences and the scenes of Nausicaä on her glider. This is not the technical masterpiece that Miyazaki's later films were, though; the artistry has an unrefined edge not present in the most recent Miyazaki films, the color scheme isn't as broad, and this was made all with cel art in the era before CGI. The cel count is also less than half that seen thirteen years later in Princess Mononoke, so this film can be seen as the first major step on the road to excellence on which Studio Ghibli was built. Still, technical merits are quite good overall. A bit of trivia here: the Giant of Fire, who appears prominently in late scenes, was some of the earliest animation work by a young Hideaki Anno, who by all accounts so mightily impressed Miyazaki with his talent that he was given such an important job despite his lack of experience.
The score, which like all Miyazaki films is done by Joe Hisaishi, is a bit more eclectic than later Miyazaki work. Although much of it is composed of musical themes not dissimilar from those later heard in Princess Mononoke, some places in the film use music which sounds straight out of the early '80s. The best animated movies have timeless soundtracks, so the dated period music is a little distracting when in comes up. The parts where a young girl's voice is singing, which usually highlight dreamlike sequences, are the highlights of the scoring.
The English dub cast is composed primarily of “name” Hollywood stars, all of whom clearly get into their performances and thus do a fine job overall. Key cast members include Patrick Stewart (Lord Yupa), Uma Thurman (Kushana), Edward James Olmos (Mito), and Alison Lohman (best-known for performances in White Oleander and Matchstick Men) in the title role—and listen for Mark Hamill in a small role, although you probably won't recognize his voice. The highlight performance is turned in by Chris Sarandon, who perfectly captures the sardonic tone of Kurotawa.
Though the original writing for Nausicaä is great, it has sometimes been criticized for writing itself into a corner, such that only a contrived plot manipulation (deus ex machina, for all you more literary types out there) allows it to come to a reasonable resolution. This criticism is, unfortunately, warranted. Though clearly presaged by events earlier in the movie, the ending seems forced compared to the more graceful flow of the rest of the work. The English script follows the meaning of the original script closely, though it can stray quite a bit in exact wording. The most significant change is that the fungal forest, which is called the Sea of Decay in the subtitles, becomes “toxic jungle” in the dub script—but that's a very apt and possibly more accurate name for it.
Typical extras include trailers for other Miyazaki films released by Disney and original Japanese trailers and TV spots. Most interesting is a dubbed special called “The Birth of Studio Ghibli,” which is a light-hearted but insightful look at the history of the studio up through Princess Mononoke's release using still photos and actors. A shorter second featurette, called “Behind the Microphone,” provides the behind-the-scenes look into the dub production that has become standard on Disney releases of Studio Ghibli films. A second included DVD provides an alternate look at the movie via its storyboards. Subtitling and languages options are separate for the main movie, which is always a welcome feature, and the option to have the dub literally subtitled in “hearing impaired” mode is also included.
Nausicaä isn't the best of Miyazaki's movies, but that's like saying that Godfather III isn't the best of the Godfather trilogy. It still deserves a place on any short list of all-time classic anime movies.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B
+ one of the all-time-great anime heroines
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