Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind (1984), or The Beginning After The End

24 11 2009

Hayao Miyazaki is the crowned prince of family-friendly Japanese animation. His works have garnered international attention to the wonderful things going on in hand-drawn animation today, his art has been acknowledged the world over, and by all accounts, he’s the most accomplished person distributed by Disney at the moment. But did you know how long he’s been in the animation game? Try over 30 years!!! He’s been toiling to perfect his craft for longer than most of us have been alive, and he’s gotten so damn good at what he does that it’s hard to believe that his newer work is still hand-animated. But even back when he started making features, Miyazaki was still amazing. Today’s feature, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, is his first feature, and it is head and shoulders above anything else that was happening at the time. It’s a strong, pointed parable about the damage we’re doing to the environment and the consequences it could have later down the road.

1,000 years after the end of the world, humanity lives on in a fractured state. There are pockets of people left who have learned to live in harmony with nature from the mistakes their kind has made in the past. But in between these pockets lies the Sea of Decay, a noxious condition that covers the rest of the known world. It’s very existence is poisonous to humans, and it has hindered humankind from expanding its territories ever since. In this tattered world, we follow Nausicaa, a precocious young woman who is the princess of the Valley of the Wind, a peaceful settlement ruled by her father. She is trying to find a way to rid the world of the Sea of Decay, but her research is hindered one day when the settlement is visited by a crashing airship. The airship contains a prisoner that Nausicaa rescues, and the prisoner tells her that she is the princess of far away the kingdom of Pejite, and that the cargo the ship was carrying must be destroyed. And then she dies. Awwww…. So the cargo the princess was talking about was from the greedy empire of Tolmekia, as was the airship, and what it was carrying happens to be a deadly warrior embryo, a weapon from the war 1,000 years ago that could threaten the very safety of the earth. Things get crazy when Tolmekia invades the Valley for the warrior embryo, but Nausicaa won’t go down without a fight! She will do whatever it takes to save her family and friends and make sure the Tolmekian army doesn’t try to awaken that evil, evil thing in their midst!

I like this one a lot. Nausicaa is a strong, smart female character who makes it very easy to love her. She has a lot of heroic qualities, but she doesn’t lose her childlike essence, which seems to be a theme of Miyazaki’s work. You don’t need to be an adult to be a hero who cares about people in a mature way, and he also feels the importance of keeping that childlike wonder alive. Now that I think of it, he’s also very feminist, as well. I can’t really think of that many male Miyazaki protagonists; they’re there, but not nearly as prevalent as the women. Nausicaa is really a prototype of what we would see in the future from Studio Ghibli; powerful family-oriented fantasies about the importance of life above power and greed.

The animation is that of a bygone age. You won’t likely see this unique style of drawing nowadays. Anime, like American animation, goes through cycles, and the 80s was a time of incredibly thin, almost gaunt women, a non-descript male anatomy, and doe-eyed little girls with constant triangle-shaped open mouths. There isn’t as much detail here as in newer animation, but there are touches here that are epochal but beautiful nonetheless; some of my favorites are the look of objects either dirty or scored by fire, which use an unmistakable line effect needing an artist’s steady, careful attention. Nausicaa is full of attention; from the exquisitely designed post-apocalyptic Sea of Decay to the pristine Valley of the Wind, from the most insignificant passerby to Nausicaa herself there is so much care given to this film and its look. It’s just so well done.

The American voice acting is a mixed bag. I wish I could’ve been in the booth when Patrick Stewart delivered his performance as Nausicaa’s father. What a voice acting champ! I almost begrudge how he doesn’t really have to steer out of his normal range, but his voice is so damn robust that you can’t really stand against it. It’s a force of nature, and when you consider that his character’s the leader of the tribe tied to nature, it only seems more fitting that his strong, commanding voice make a splash. Alison Lohman’s Nausicaa is a little flat. I’m not sure how old she was when she recorded this, and I don’t want to bash a child, but I will say that there’s not really enough character in her voice to carry such a larger-than-life heroine. Oh, well, she eventually redeemed herself in Drag Me To Hell many years later, so all is forgiven. Uma Thurman is Lady Kushana, leader of the Tolmekian army and a real firecracker. THIS is what I mean when I say you have to have some character. She’s not too hammy, but she really lets loose and has fun being a villain. Kushana is a real bitch and Thurman obliges that aspect of her, so hearing her get into villain mode really put a smile on my face.

Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind is, like all Miyazaki films, a unique experience. You’ll never see something quite like it. There’s something for everyone in the family, and even something for jaded film snobs like me. It still has a lot to say to the people of 2009, even from 25 years in the past, and with a magnificent score by Joe Hisaishi and a burgeoning American voice acting crew, I would be inclined to listen. Even if you don’t normally like Miyazaki, check this one out; it’s pre-Studio Ghibli, so you might find it to be a refreshing break from his upbeat rigamarole. This IS a post-apocalyptic film after all. I give Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind 8 1/2 smooth Patrick Stewart line reads out of 10!

Check me out next time, when I dive into THX 1138! Until then!!!