Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) Retro Review

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is Hayao Miyazaki’s second film and it is an unquestionable beauty. To think Studio Ghibli was making this kind of movie in 1984 while Disney was still animating talking dogs and pouting princesses is saying something, but the fact that Disney distributes Ghibli’s films in the U.S. says that they’re well aware of what that is. I think it will be near impossible to describe the tremendous impact Nausicaä leaves, especially as it flows like a cool wind, painting pictures of softness that couch a fearsome passion.

One thousand years after the fall of the industrialized world humanity has retreated into pockets of civilization. Sustained by a mix of medieval agriculture and the surviving technology of the past, humans live alongside the encroaching Sea of Decay, a land of toxic spores and enormous insects. Some societies, such as the Valley of the Wind, revere the insects as holy. Others such as neighboring Pejite and Tolmekia would rather burn the creatures off the face of the ruined planet. One night a massive airship from Tolmekia crashes in the Valley, bearing in its hold a curse from the ancient past. Nausicaä, the princess of the Valley, is soon swept up into a war that will decide whether man or insect shall inherit the Earth.

The art direction in this film is excellent. Its fluid animation was a triumph for its time and still holds up well today. Its combination of future and past technologies is not quite steam or diesel punk (maybe best described as vegetabilis punk?) and Miyazaki made a shrewd decision in making his creature designs grotesque. The giant insects in this film are not cute and cuddly, therefore the Valley’s veneration of them must be understood for what it is – not because an Ohmu would make a darling kewpie doll.

Translated by the author from his original manga, the movie has a soul. Nausicaä is two hours long, which is half an hour more than most major animated films. In that time it manages to tell a story that is nothing short of epic. It is an adventure through an alien Earth featuring a princess that is compassionate, bold, and astonishingly competent. I say astonishing only because I’m an American boy raised on Disney fare. Princesses like Ariel were very good at getting into trouble but not so slick at getting out. Nausicaä, the princess of the Valley of the Wind, carries the weight of this film the way a feudal princess would have to. Unlike Merida from Pixar’s underdeveloped Brave, there is no lip service paid to independence here. Nausicaä is not only strong, she is also a standard to which her people rally. Her valley believes in her because she is a capable ruler; she understands her world and seeks to change her enemies, not destroy them. She is not, however, willing to countenance injustice. She is a fighter and a fearsome one.

Nausicaä’s tale of war and planetary decay is the kind of children’s story we need much more of. There is death in this world. As the various tribes are introduced we learn that none of them are evil; each of them simply wants to do what is best for their people; each of them wants to save the Earth. All of the deaths that happen in this film are a result of incompatible ideas, of people refusing to speak to each other, understand each other. The deaths are not gratuitously depicted but they happen as a result of war, just as in the real world. The greater lesson is that violence begets violence and the sacrifice of children is not worth victory.

It is an animated film that can be enjoyed by all ages, one I cannot praise enough.* It is a work of art executed with grace and sustained by love. See this movie and share it with the next generation.

Based on the manga Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Toei Company
116 Minutes

*Please note that this review refers to the subtitled version of the film. In general I do not care for English dubs, which is not to say that Nausicaä’s dub is poor; I simply have not heard it. I find that Japanese voice actors are overall better and more subtle at evoking emotion, a skill not usually required of their American counterparts (who work predominantly in cartoons).

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