Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki
Producer: Isao Takahata
Starring: Sumi Shimamoto/Alison Lohman, Goro Naya/Patrick Stewart, Yoshiko Sakakibara/Uma Thurman, Iemasa Kayumi/Chris Sarandon
BBFC Certification: PG
Duration: 116 min
Back in 1984, the animation powerhouse, Studio Ghibli was unheard of. It was not until two talented Japanese filmmakers with great potential, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata collaborated on their first major cinematic production, that the pair caused a stir in the animated film community. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (based on a manga serialisation by Hayao Miyazaki) gained critical success and led to the establishment of one of the most respected and consistently well received animation studios worldwide.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is set in a post apocalyptic, dystopian world following the effects of ‘The Seven Days of Fire’, a war which ultimately led to the downfall of civilization and the destruction of the planet’s eco-system. All that remains is a scattering of human settlements, with the inhabitants living in constant fear of the deadly ‘Sea of Decay’, an ever expanding forest of toxic Plants, Spores and Giant insects and various other arthropods.
The Story follows Nausicaä (voiced by Sumi Shimamoto/Alison Lohman), a strong-headed yet peaceful, compassionate, intelligent princess of ‘The Valley of the Wind’, a pacifistic and harmonious tribe of humans who live in hope of a hero of legend returning the land to its former state . However, it is believed that the remaining humans and the Toxic Jungle cannot possibly coexist and the remaining settlements of humans expect to be engulfed by the ever-growing toxic forest. Unlike the majority of the humans, however, Nausicaä is determined to explore and fully understand the true nature of the Toxic Jungle, rather than destroy it, and it is in doing this that leads Nausicaä to make a startling discovery.
Throughout the film Nausicaä must battle to keep those she cares about safe, whilst trying to preserve what is left of the world around her. She is constantly engaged in attempting to keep the volatile and easily angered nature of the Toxic Jungle’s hosts at ease, whilst trying to prevent the careless actions of the humans around her who have repeatedly provoked the creatures of the jungle into fits of rage. Nausicaä’s job of protecting what is left of civilisation is far from easy as she must deal with hatred, greed and ignorance as she comes to find that the biggest threat to the survival of the human race is not the Toxic forest and its giant inhabitants, but the humans themselves, as they struggle to face the realisation that living alongside the creatures in the world around them is the best and most peaceful solution to the problem that persists.
Miyazaki is a director who puts great morals into his films and uses the medium not only to entertain, but also to spread a message and inspire others, and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is no exception to that. In the film, Miyazaki uses Nausicaä as an embodiment of what he sees as an idealistic attitude towards the world around us. The film was well ahead of its time for taking a firm stance on environmental issues and bringing the topic of environmental care to the attention of others. Despite the films ethereal, dream-like world, the dangers highlighted are bold and striking and extremely plausible. At no point in the film does the plot seem fantastical or far-fetched, and it is this that helps to not only make the film a fascinating and strongly enjoyable watch, but also a stark eye-opener to the realities of life. Unlike many films featuring themes of heroism, Miyazaki chose to make his protagonist a strong-willed and powerful female, a characteristic which he has adopted in his movies to this day. As a filmmaker, Miyazaki does not fall foul to using clichés or ‘glamorising’ up his films to suit the more standard and superficial Hollywood system. His films show great depth and meaning and Miyazaki uses his characters to show that strengths and weaknesses lie within, and are not determined by factors such as gender or age.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind’s sub-plots intertwine and collaborate to form one large and powerful storyline and at no point does the film lose focus or clarity in the tale it is telling. In the midst of the toils of the humans and the toxic jungle we see internal conflicts erupt between the different settlements of humans as greed and selfishness emanate, and the self indulgence in their fighting prevents them from seeing their common goals.
The animation is still dazzling and radiant to this day and with the film being over 25 years old now, just goes to show the quality and work that went into the film. Miyazaki has always been a perfectionist when it comes to animation and doesn’t settle for anything but the best and this really shows. The characters move in a lifelike manner and the environments look incredibly realistic and rich and when one considers the painstakingly slow frame-by-frame method in which films like this were animated, you cannot help but be overawed by the dedication and sublime effort that went into making the film. The recent release of the film on Blu-Ray further emphasises just how visually impressive this film still is.
The films score was written and composed by Joe Hisaishi, and although at times the music can show signs of its age, overall it is a perfect accompaniment to the film. The music ranges from the minimalistic stillness of the forest, to the aggressive electro-rock of the stampeding Ohmu (giant caterpillar-like insects). It is not hard to understand why Miyazaki chose to use Hisaishi for every film he directed following on from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is not merely a film, it is a work of art and evokes both the senses and emotions in a way that is incredibly rare. The film oozes with sentiment and when watching the film, you feel the essence and characteristics of Miyazaki as an individual throughout. Nausicaä leaves you thinking about the contained themes long after you’ve watched it. That being said, the film is by no means a sombre watch. Miyazaki perfectly balances the serious underlying message of the film with more light-hearted aspects that leave you in a comfortable frame of mind. A lot of the more uplifting scenes owe thanks to certain characters within the film and you often find yourself smiling at the more typical characters one would expect to find in an animated film, whether it be the foolish old villagers of ‘the Valley of the Wind’ or the pantomimesque characteristics of the baddies.
The characters are varied and complex and this contributes to the films convincing and solid plotline. Whether it be the characters who are out to do good such as Nausicaä or Lord Yupa (voiced by Goro Naya/Patrick Stewart), a wise and travelled warrior from the Valley of the Wind, or the evil, cunning members of the Tolmekian tribe such as the sly and deceitful Kurotowa (voiced by Iemasa Kayumi/Chris Sarandon), all the characters have their own backgrounds, and motives for their actions.
Whether the viewer chooses to watch the original Japanese or the dubbed English version, the film has a strong and credible cast of voice artists who only help to add to the plausibility of the story.
Overall Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a captivating watch and it set a new benchmark for animated cinema. Unlike many animated films, it is not simply aimed at a young audience, but is a film that will appeal largely to a more mature audience and does not lack depth or quality and although the film is deep and thought-provoking, it remains an enjoyable watch. Any minor faults in the film are understandable given that this is the first major film directed by Miyazaki, however finding any is not a simple task. The film is almost flawless and one can see how the film led to the establishment of Studio Ghibli and its continually high standard of film releases. Due to the success of the Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Miyazaki not only made a name for himself in Japanese cinema, but cinema worldwide. The film marked the start of what would prove to be a series of animated films unsurpassed in excellence to this very day.
With the abundance of animated films on todays market, it can be easy to overlook a 25 year old hand-drawn film, especially with the constant availability to watch a CG film at the cinema (often in 3D), however Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and the films of Studio Ghibli are shining examples that newer certainly doesn’t mean better, and whether you consider yourself a fan of animated films or not, this is certainly not one to miss.
Review by Thomas Jones