Thursday, July 14, 2011

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Title: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Director: Hiyao Miyazaki


Thanks to Walt Disney Pictures acquiring the distribution rights to Studio Ghibli films, the Japanese animation studio has gone on to become a house hold name in the Western world. Not that it wasn’t already a house hold name in Japan , but now, it’s films are more accessible to the rest of the world. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is a film that is commonly thought of as the first Studio Ghibli film, yet it really isn’t. You see, when Nausicaa was made, Studio Ghibli had not been officially formed yet. Technically speaking, that wouldn’t officially happen until Miyazaki and crew got together and made Laputa Castle in the Sky (1986). Still, the team behind Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was the team that would go on to form Studio Ghibli, so many consider it the first true blue Studio Ghibli film. In actuality, Miyazaki ’s first full length animated feature was The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), and he followed that one with his second animated feature Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. It’s amazing how Miyazaki and crew started making quality films right from the very beginning! Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is a true achievement of Japanese Animation.

Nausicaa explores the Toxic Jungle

The film tells the story of a post apocalyptic world striving to survive. After a nuclear war which is referred to as the “Seven Days of Fire”, the world was suddenly overrun by a deadly Toxic Jungle. This jungle is filled with mutations, deadly plants, fungus, and giant insects. It is also inhabited by gigantic caterpillars known as Ohmu’s. Some humans have learned to co-exist with the jungle, while others fear it and want to destroy it. Humanity managed to survive the apocalypse and is now separated into a group of Kingdoms. Nausicaa is an adventurous young girl who rules over the peace loving people of a land called The Valley of the Wind. Unfortunately, their peace is interrupted when a huge war ship from the land of Tolmikia crash lands in their valley. Tolmikian’s have a war like mentality and seek to take over every village they come across. To make matters worse, they carry within their ship the embryo of a giant warrior creature that has huge destructive capabilities, which they have just stolen from the people of the Kingdom of Pejite . The Tolmikian’s intend to use this giant warrior to lay waste to the Toxic Jungle, which they see as a threat. Can Nausicaa teach the Tolmikian’s to co-exist with nature? Will the Tolmikians achieve their goal of destroying The Toxic Jungle?

As you can probably tell from the synopsis, this is an environmentalist film through and through. Nausicaa is what some would call a “tree hugger”. She loves nature and life and is willing to die in order to protect all living things. She is portrayed as having a very curious mind towards all living things, like a scientist of sorts. She purposely walks into the Toxic Jungle, to study it, to understand it, she does not fear it like the Tolmikians do. She is also a just ruler; the people of The Valley of the Wind love her and respect her, because she is fair with her people. In this way the film sets an example for the kind of rulers that we’d all love to have in the world, but seldom ever see. In contrast to Nausicaa’s peace loving ways, the Tolmikians use their tanks, soldiers and guns to spread their way of life across the land. When they see The Valley of the Wind, their first thought is to conquer it and so they muscle in on the territory with their army. The films anti-war message is channeled through the character of Nausicaa as well, Nausicaa is a character who prefers talking things out before shooting guns.

The Tolmikians have the embryo of a ‘giant warrior’ in their power and they intend to use it to destroy the Toxic Jungle with it, and again, as in many Japanese films we see the theme of Weapons of Mass Destruction addressed. This is something totally understandable when we take in consideration Japanese’s history with nuclear weapons. The death of so many Japanese in the nuclear blasts on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is the trigger for the constant resurgence of this theme in Japanese cinema. Interestingly enough, this isn’t the only time that a Studio Ghibli film addressed the dangers of nuclear warfare. Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies (1988) explored these themes more deeply. It is a tale about a brother and his little sister trying to survive in Japan after the nuclear blasts have already taken place. Grave of the Fireflies is a truly heart wrenching film; highly recommend you check it out if you haven’t done so yet. On Nausicaa, it’s the giant warrior that represents these fears of a weapon so powerful that it could potentially destroy all life on the planet. And of course, it’s the war loving Tolmikian’s who want to use it against nature, which brings us to another one of the films themes: Man vs. Nature.

Like many Hayao Miyazaki films, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind stars a young girl as the main character. This would be something that would go on to distinguish Miyazaki ’s films, the use of a female as the lead character. Princess Mononoke (1997), My neighbor Totoro (1993), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Castle in the Sky (1986) all have females in the lead role. Miyazaki ’s respect towards women is something I’ve always admired about him, he is very sensible towards women. I was just watching Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) the other day and that film begins with Howl protecting a young lady from a pair of rude soldiers that were crudely hitting on her. In Miyazaki ’s films, women are usually portrayed as very strong willed, brave beings who know what they want in life, and if not, they are on their way towards discovering it. He rarely portrays them as damsels in distress.

But aside from all Nausicaa’s themes and characters, there’s the animation and the fantasy element which is so well achieved. Miyazaki has always been synonymous with quality animation; from the very beginning he has delivered exquisitely well animated films. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is a film that has equal elements of fantasy, science fiction and adventure. It displays many of the elements that would become common place in a Miyazaki film: strong female characters, sensible characters that display emotions, and planes! Like many of Miyazaki ’s films, a lot of the action in Nausicaa takes place aboard these giant flying ships, Nausicaa herself is always flying on a glider which is pretty cool. When I was a kid, I always wanted to have that glider! Speaking of which, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was one of the first films I saw as a kid that showed me that animation could go well beyond what I was seeing in Saturday Morning Cartoons at the time. I didnt know what the hell Japanese Animation was when I was a kid, but I new I liked it! Other Japanese Animation had the same impact on me like Lenseman: Power of the Lense (1988), an excellent Japanese Animated film that has yet to be released on dvd or Blue Ray. The version of Nausicaa that I saw back then when I was a kid was called Warriors of the Wind (1986), released by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, Warriors of the Wind was a horribly butchered and heavily edited version of Miyazaki’s film which took out elements that were considered boring, which amounted to about 20 minutes of film. Miyazaki suggests you totally avoid that version; in fact he goes as far as suggesting we “take it out of our minds”. Cant say I blame him, the poster for this American release totally distorts what the film is about, even going as far as showing characters on the poster that were never even on the film!

Their are no winged horses on Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind! 

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is a beautiful film to watch, it is filled with characters that feel and love and care. It has many similarities with Miyazaki’s own Princess Mononoke, so if you liked that one, do yourself a favor and check out Nausicaa, a film that was the embryo of what would go on to become the illustrious Studio Ghibli. It is one of Miyazaki ’s finest animated features. Don’t miss it.

Rating: 5 out of 5


A hero never dies said...

It's one of the best of Miyazaki's works, the blu ray is stunning! Great review.

Franco Macabro said...

I havent seen it on Blue Ray, but the dvd was jam packed with extras. I especially enjoyed seeing a short feature on the origins of Studio Ghibli and how this and many other of their films came to be.

The guys at Disney were really looking forward to getting Miyazaki's name out in the world.

LLJ said...

In many ways, Princess Mononoke was basically a remake of Nausicaa. I think Mononoke's probably a more polished and focused film, but Nausicaa feels more lively and fresh.

Franco Macabro said...

Agree LLJ, also, Princess Mononoke is a more serious film with almost no "funny" characters and no comedy relief, while Nausicaa is a bit more lighthearted sometimes.

Thanks for commenting!

Neil Fulwood said...

Agreed: 'Nausicaa' has those little comedic touches that 'Mononoke' so badly lacks. 'Mononoke' is a great film in many ways, but probably my least favourite of Miyazaki's ouevre based on how po-faced and grimly humourless it is.

To say 'Nausicaa' isn't a Ghibli production proper, it certainly establishes a template for Miyazaki's subsequent Ghibli films. All of his preconceptions are here: a strong female protagonist, environmentalism, the work ethic, the love of flying.

Great review, Franco.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I love all of Miyazaki's movies and this one is one of my faves.

Say what you like about Disney, they did do right by use all to give us Studio Ghibli movies as they were meant to be, and not like "The Warriors of the Wind" (shudder).

Franco Macabro said...

Neil: Agree about Mononoke, though its got excellent animation and a good story, it's my least favorite as well because its such a somber afair. Still a great movie though!

Thanks for commenting Neil!

Tim: So true, Miyazaki's films deserve the royal treatment, and thats what they got from Disney. The same cannot be said about Corman's cheap-o, sleaze ball move called Warriors of the Wind.

SFF said...

This is my third try and my comments keep disappearing after I hit the Publish button.

I knew you had written about this some time ago. Actually one year ago my friend.

We are on the same page to be sure.

I considered this one for our Films Of The Apocalypse. Take care my friend... sff

Franco Macabro said...

SFF: Yeah, this was a good one for Films of the Apocalypse, the world of Nausicaa is one that was ravaged by war, I always saw that giant creature they resurrect as a symbolism for nuclear weapons; a theme that the Japanese always adress because of their nuclear past. Love the film, love the world, the creatures and love the characters. Nausicaa is a leader, a strong willed woman, who is in contact with the world she lives in, and nature. Loved the envirnomentalist message in the film as well.


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