REVIEW: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

VERIFICATION: Wind Valley Nausicaa (1984)

Anime

When I saw Ervig and the Witch again last week, it reminded me of Studio Ghibli as a whole. It was their first film in six years (seven for us here in the US) and it disappointed most fans, to say the least. However, it should be noted that a bad (or even mediocre) Studio Ghibli film is a big deal. Most studios make bad movies as often as good ones, if not most of the time. Even Pixar, which was at the top of western animation studios for over a decade, is now in vogue. Studio Ghibli has made several films that have not been well received; we think of Tales from Earthsea, also directed by Goro Miyazaki. I’ve seen some of the studio’s films over the years and for the most part I’m a fan. I don’t think his entire catalog is as good as others, but some of his films are among my favorites. I want to go through Studio Ghibli’s feature films in order and discuss a few of my favorites to catch up. The studio’s first feature film was released in 1984 in the form of Hayao Miyazaki’s manga of the same name, Naushikai of the Valley of the Wind. This is Miyazaki’s second feature film after Cagliostro’s Castle in 1979, although he also worked in publishing and television between his films. The story is based on the princess Nausicaa from Homer’s Odyssey, but also on a Japanese folktale called The Princess Who Loved Bugs.

The Nausikaa Wind Valley is 1000 years after a nuclear war destroyed modern civilization as we know it. In the film, our seated hero (Alison Loman) explores an abandoned Enclosure – giant insect-like beasts that roam the earth and terrorize people when they’re angry. Her search is interrupted when she hears a cry for help from Lord Yupa (Patrick Stewart), a close friend who is being chased by a living Om. Nausicaä uses a mixture of cunning and sympathy for Ohm to calm him down and bring him home. Lord Yupa is surprised and impressed by Nausicaa, who we learn is the Princess of the Wind Valley. He gives Nausicaa the fox runner he saved from Om, and she names him Teto. They return home, and Lord Yupa informs Nausicaa’s father, the king (Mark Silverman), that all the villages he has found have been destroyed by the toxic jungle created by wars and mankind’s pollution. The Wind Valley is the only area sheltered from the jungle, protected by a sacred forest of trees with special properties. The safety and way of life of the people of Nausikaa are threatened when Kushana (Uma Thurman) and Kurotova (Chris Sarandon) of Tolmecia invade with an army, kill the king and occupy the valley. Kushana even gets the princess to accompany him on a dangerous mission to destroy Om and the poisonous jungle itself. The young idealistic princess must save Oma, the jungle and the inhabitants of the valley, and chase away the invading Tolmecs.

Once, when I was in high school, I saw Nausicaa from Wind Valley. I don’t remember much about it except that I liked it and found it similar to Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, which was later shot and easily qualifies as my favorite Studio Ghibli film. However, I found these superficial associations when I saw Nausicaä from the Wind Valley again. Both films are about the destruction and protection of the environment and the cruel and senseless evil that is war. Miyazaki, however, will return to such ideas in his lighter and more optimistic films. He was born in 1941 and grew up in post-war Japan. The bombing of Utsunomiya, where he lived at the time, left an indelible impression that colored much of his work. I think his films appeal to so many people because they are universal themes that we can all understand, even if we haven’t seen them ourselves (thankfully). Equally important, Miyazaki’s films are not nihilistic or unnecessarily dark. His characters endure violence and loss, but there is always hope for a better future, and that is usually what they are looking for. You can also appreciate his penchant for fantastic sets and the fairytale sense of wonder and magic inherent in movies. At the end of Princess Mononoke, despite the death of the spirit of the forest, there is still hope for the best. But Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind goes further; Nausicaa herself fulfils the old prophecy and frees her people from the power of the Tolmecs.

Nausicaä is also a nicer, if not more complex protagonist than Princess Mononoke. She is a pacifist with a clear mind, full of love for people and animals. Kushana is also very different from Lady Eboshi of Princess Mononoke. He was a villain to the Mononoke and the animals and spirits of the forest, but he worked to protect and care for his own people. She was the only one who wanted to be kind to lepers and prostitutes and do the work herself. Kushana is a princess of Tolmecia and has no respect for the people of the valley or their customs. Kushana has the audacity to kill Nausicaa’s father and then berate her for defending herself, saying she’s only here to talk. The film doesn’t explain why Kushana is the way she is, although the part about the missing hand and something else that only her future husband will see is interesting. I really liked Lord Yupa and his relationship with Nausicaa. He became a second father to her. They both care deeply about each other, as evidenced by the distance one of them goes when the other is in danger. Lord Yupa’s assistant, Mito (Edward James Olmos), is funny and his loyalty to Yupa and the princess is endearing. There’s another fantastic cast with Shia LaBeouf, Jody Benson, Mark Hamill and Tress McNeill. The opening film is voiced by Tony J, who also voiced the book in Treasure Planet and played Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Monsieur D’Arc in Beauty and the Beast.

The visuals in this film are to die for, especially considering it was the studio’s very first film and only Miyazaki’s second. The original music by Joe Hisaishi is very good, though not as impressive as the later release. It’s a matter of personal taste, just like some movie music that resembles video game music, which is not a good thing. Next door: I love my pet Nausikaa Teto. There’s not much plot, but it’s very sweet and I love the bond they develop over the course of the film.

Conclusion: On the sunny side

Nausicaä in the Valley of the Winds is very entertaining and explores unique environments and interesting themes. The characters are nice, though a bit flat compared to later efforts. The movie is worth waiting for the replay.

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