Nausicaa of Valley of the Wind Staff Review



Flash Gordon (Anime Corner Staff Writer)


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Nausicaa the Valley of the Wind DVD [2 Disc Set]


  REVIEW (Warning: Spoilers Ahead!)

Nausicaš Of The Valley Of The Wind [Kaze No Tani No Nausicaš] [1984] was the milestone that marked the arrival of director Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. The cinematic achievement germinated from the seeds of Miyazakiís own manga adventure tale of the same name. His epic labor was the result of over 12 years of sporadic writing amassing into 59 chapters. The long-running serial blossomed into what is considered to be his most unforgettable masterpiece. Overflowing with ideas throughout the process of bringing Nausicaš Of The Valley Of The Wind to life, an animating studio was sown dubbed Studio Ghibli and flowered with creativity through Miyazaki and company. ĎGhiblií is Italian for the hot wind that stretches the arid Sahara. Partners Miyazaki and fellow director Isao Takahata were looking to make a statement. Their vision: create films of global appeal. Today, most Studio Ghibli films spread universally like wildfire, or like the self-described winds across that vast desert land. It seems fitting the studio should essentially announce its entrance by referring to Ďthe windí of Miyazakiís first triumphant tour de force.

Studio Ghibliís formation was inevitable. Until that time, Studio Top Craft [The Hobbit, The Last Unicorn] was the animating group intricately involved in producing Nausicaš Of The Valley Of The Wind. Upon completion, the studio closed its
doors. Studio Top Craft President Toru Hara would become Studio Ghibliís first CEO. Out of necessity, the fledgling Studio Ghibli became a priority so the talented animators could move forward on Laputa: Castle In The Sky [1986]. With nowhere to turn, Takahata [who produced both Nausicaš Of The Valley Of The Wind and Laputa: Castle In The Sky] ultimately laid the groundwork to get Studio Ghibli firmly established so together they could influence destiny and make history.

Takahata and Miyazaki collaborated together as far back as Takahataís The Little Norse Prince Valiant [1968] for Toei Studios. Takahata had directed at just 27 years of age and Miyazaki was key animator on the film. Soon to follow was Panda! Go Panda! [1972] directed by Takahata with a screenplay and animation by Miyazaki. Takahata directed the TV series Anne Of Green Gables [1979] with scene design and layout by Miyazaki. Their fates were sealed as their lives were clearly entwined as creators and friends.

Those early formative months for Studio Ghibli started with a phone call from soon-to-be Studio Ghibli president Toshio Suzuki, then editor of Animage magazine, to Miyazaki requesting an interview. Suzuki was 29 years of age when he began work for the magazine in 1978. It was Miyazakiís directorial debut on the TV series Future Boy Conan [1978], in association with Takahata, and more importantly as sole director for the film The Castle Of Cagliostro [1979], which caught Suzukiís attention and lured him to Miyazaki. Legend has it that Miyazaki ignored
Suzuki for the better part of his in-person visit. Suzuki was passionate about Miyazakiís concepts and their bond strengthened as Miyazaki realized Suzukiís aspirations were genuine. Suzuki was the determined producer, a rare breed, Miyazaki needed and quickly appreciated. Simultaneously, for a time, Suzuki was involved in production at the upstart Studio Ghibli while managing his Animage responsibilities. He was largely accountable for the publication and serialization of Miyazakiís long-running manga, Nausicaš Of The Valley Of The Wind, from which the film remains quite faithful. The serial comic debuted in Animage in 1982 and Animage publisher Tokuma also pressed Miyazaki for a theatrical rendition of the manga. Juggling both positions became tricky and Suzuki followed his natural inclination to support the work of Miyazaki and Takahata whom he supported staunchly through the Animage run. He followed his heart into the management world of Studio Ghibli leaving the editorial life at Animage behind. It was Suzuki who fortified the studio vehicle that would become the voice of Miyazaki and Takahataís creations. The culmination of these events led to years of the most colorful and fruitful ideas espoused in animation delighting a planet. The proverbial Ďholy trinityí complete, Takahata producing, Miyazaki directing and Suzuki promoting, Nausicaš Of The Valley Of The Wind was their lovechild and to the world it was born.

Nausicaš Of The Valley Of The Wind is an environmental love letter. It is the fruit of Miyazakiís blood, sweat and toil that began with the manga. It had to be a labor of love to bring his
beloved character to life on the big screen. It is an epic cautionary tale and one of his absolute best [flanked and complimented only by Princess Mononoke] regarding man and nature and the fragility of co-existence. Miyazaki set the stage here regarding his affection for female empowerment and wisdom. His film also marks the arrival of his voice for the voiceless intent on reaching all who shall continue to inherit this Earth. It is a parable of woman and nature told within a highly imaginative science-fiction fantasy. More specifically, it is the story of a young idealist and her special relationship with a unique breed known as the Ohmu and how their power could transform a dying world.

Enter the story that introduced one of animeís most beloved characters: Nausicaš Of The Valley Of The Wind. Welcome to future Earth where it has been ravaged by pollution. This is not the
planet we know. It looks foreign and feels alien. Miyazaki paints a portrait of warning. Civilization is infected. One thousand years have passed since The Seven Days Of Fire incinerated the planet. As a result, the proliferation of a sprawling toxic jungle [referred to as The Sea Of Corruption] threatens to spread and destroy the remaining human factions. It may arguably be Miyazakiís darkest hour [next to unnerving Academy Award winner Spirited Away or the violent Princess Mononoke].

The first images we see and sounds we hear are not the clean, life-affirming winds of the valley, but the gusting whirr of toxicity twisting echoes of desolation. Skeletal remains and a lifeless, desperate world are complemented by the calm, soothing voice of Lord Yupa [eloquently spoken by Patrick Stewart]. ďYet another village is
deadÖ soon this place too will be consumed by the toxic jungleĒ concedes Yupa cloaked inside vital, breathing apparatus. The establishing shots signal an epic tale of fantastic, apocalyptic survival, but the encroachment of grim reality and despair. The mood is very unlike the handful of Miyazaki films that would follow. Yet, Miyazaki sets the tone for future films by introducing his often central, courageous female lead. Miyazaki has freely expressed his love for the female heroine coupled with his sociological and environmental agenda over the years and Nausicaš is one of his shining, defining character profiles.

The groundwork for Nausicaš is the result of character inspiration taken from a Phaeacian Princess in Homerís The Odyssey coupled with elements of an insect-charming princess from Japanís
Heian Period [AD 794-1185]. Together combined with Miyazakiís vision the template for Nausicaš was cast. Following the brief introduction to the wizened Lord Yupa, we are graced by the contrasting innocence of Princess Nausicaš who sees the creatures of the toxic jungle through different eyes. When we meet her she lays in a field of toxic spores as she gazes skyward into light, willowy poison flakes. It falls white like snow and despite its lethality she finds beauty in it [Kikiís Delivery Service [1989] paid homage to Nausicaš with Kikiís own bright-eyed opening as she lays back to dream in the healthy vibrancy of a grassy country field reflecting Miyazakiís alternate artistic mood five years later]. Nausicaš is tender, selfless, brave, deceivingly mighty and skilled, a truly heroic warrior princess. She lives with her people on a stretch of land upwind from the infestation of the toxic jungle dubbed The Valley Of The Wind. A plethora of large windmills dart the picturesque countryside. It is a naturally shielded location, prosperous and fertile, protected from the deadly spores that permeate other lands.

A vast and dusty wasteland and dead seas separate the valley from the toxic forests where roam mutant insects of all shapes and sizes. There is no shortage of them, in particular, the
massive, caterpillar-like crawlers called Ohmu often swarming in herds with a predisposition for stampeding. The Ohmu are prone to fits of rage when molested by humans they view as invaders. Nausicaš empathizes and connects with the creaturesí plight. She knows their pain is misunderstood and utilizes her special power as a kind of bug whisperer to bridge the communication gap between their world and ours. When enraged the herds wreak havoc and devastation, indicated by a change in eye color from blue to red. The ďinsect charmer,Ē as Lord Yupa refers to Nausicaš, has a special way with all animals illustrated by her calming influence on a feisty fox squirrel that sharply bites her. She dissipates itsí fear and befriends what becomes her faithful companion. As for Lord Yupa, he is a legendary sword master revered across the land as an expert warrior who also acts as Nausicašís confidant and mentor. Yupaís quest is to discover a solution to the toxic jungle. The film is filled with rich secondary characters as weíve come to expect in all Miyazaki pictures, as we quickly learn Nausicaš and her people are not alone.

In a version of Earth increasingly factionalized and segregated [is this really fiction?], there is a warring; imperialist tribe in the form of the Tolmekian Empire misguided by the stubborn
arrogance and hubris of one Princess Kushana. The Tolmekians are rapidly asserting their authority across the surviving lands with a dictatorial plan of destroying the toxic jungle by implementation of scorched earth despite potentially catastrophic consequences. The people of The Valley Of The Wind are inextricably absorbed into their plans when a Tolmekian ship crashes inside the valley. Amidst a fiery blaze, Nausicaš heroically saves Princess Lastelle [in chains], a prisoner of the Tolmekians abducted from her Pejite homeland. After being extracted from the flames, Lastelle warns Nausicaš the cargo must be burned before taking her last living breath. The downed, contaminated Tolmekian craft has made matters worse by infecting the valley with spores airlifted into the valley on its hull. They begin infecting the trees and the water.

Exacerbating the conflict, Princess Kushana has unveiled an embryonic sack confiscated from Pejite for her own devices. Inside the giant, throbbing cocoon is one of the last remaining
ancient and powerful warrior gods. These powerful beings once annihilated the planet then turned to stone. Lord Yupa heard rumor of the unearthing of an ancient warrior of the old world from Pejite. Itís no longer speculation. It lives, it thrives and it has been brought inside the unsuspecting valley. The Tolmekians will stop at nothing to nurture the monster in their suicidal thirst for domination whilst waging a campaign to eradicate the poison jungle through warfare as seen fit by Kushana.

The king, Nausicašís father, is overrun by Tolmekians. Nausicaš is overcome with fury at the site of her fatherís murder by the invaders. She ferociously thrusts upon them lashing out, like a
feral animal, blinded by rabid vengeance. Her irrational reaction, out of step with her character, is an understandably pure, basic, gut reaction and one which mirrors the response of the Ohmu when threatened; creatures with whom she shares a natural empathy and connection. We easily submit to the emotional response and motivations of Nausicaš and the Ohmu based on the fundamentals of animal behavior. At last, Lord Yupa intervenes and Nausicaš calms her blood thirst. Nausicaš, like the Ohmu, regains her composure and implores her people to lay down their arms. She pleads wishing no more death or bloodshed upon her people. Nausicaš knows war is not the answer. The Tolmekians urge the valley peoples to join them in resurrecting the warrior god as they relent. Princess Kushana makes clear her intention to use the creature to cleanse the Earth of the toxic jungle. The village elder warns such foolhardy actions will only end in destruction for all. Soon, the Tolmekians begin subjugating the people of the valley, removing their arms and enslaving them, but never breaking their will.

Later, Lord Yupa finds Nausicaš has absconded to a secret place, a garden greenhouse deep underground through a concealed passageway inside the castle walls. He is startled to find
her shrine of plants [those found in the toxic jungle] are alive and well, healthy and unaffected by the same toxins that plague the jungle. He inhales breathable air and is witness to her refuge. Nausicaš has discovered the truth and shares her knowledge. Her place is irrigated with fresh soil and clean running water. Outside of the valley, it is the soil that is poisoned. The flora is not the source of the devastation.

Back above, Nausicaš agrees to leave with some of the Tolmekians for Pejite. Whilst among the pillow-like cumulous clouds, the airship is attacked by a Pejite gunship. Engulfed in flames, she
boards her own gunship inside the Tolmekian craftís bay and escapes with Mito and Princess Kushana. Distracted by the sudden site of Princess Nausicaš, the Pejite pilot is shot down into the Sea Of Corruption. Nausicaš and company land in the waters below kept afloat by the buoyant aircraft. The Ohmu greet Nausicaš, but will not harm her. An intriguing flashback sequence from her childhood reveals clues to her special connection with the Ohmu. The creatures inform Nausicaš the Pejite pilot is alive and she quickly exits upon her personal glider housed within her gunship and flees the hostile Kushana. Kushana is brought back to the valley by Mito.

Nausicaš rescues Asbel, the Pejite pilot, from certain death at the hands of the jungleís creeping critters. He is the brother of Princess Lastelle. Nausicaš and Asbel fall deep beneath the toxic forest into a kind of pristine cavity where they discover life has renewed and the air and waters run pure. The sea has evolved and the trees are now filtering the poisons left by the ills of mankind. Asbel and Nausicaš repair the downed glider and return to Pejite. Pejite is littered with the dead. Mangled bodies and bug corpses blanket the burning land. His people inform Asbel they plan to re-take the giant warrior using whatever means necessary including wiping out The Valley Of The Wind. By luring the insects to the valley everyone will die. Incensed, Asbel holds his people at gunpoint and tells Nausicaš to escape and warn her people, but Asbel is knocked unconscious. Nausicaš attempts to enlighten the Pejite with the good news surrounding the jungleís evolution. She pleads with them proclaiming the trees have purified the water, while the Ohmu are merely acting as sentinels to the land. She urges calm, but cooler heads do not prevail and she is taken captive as the Pejite take flight toward the valley. Miyazaki implements Princess Lastelleís mother as the life-affirming force of reason that frees Nausicaš so she may escape into the skies upon her glider in the hopes of saving her people.

In The Valley Of The Wind, Nausicašís people initiate an uprising, commandeer a tank and weapons and begin fighting back against the warmongering Tolmekians. The battle ends in a stalemate as the valley peoples hold up inside an old, impregnable, metallic shipwreck along the seashore utilizing it as a makeshift fortress.

Nausicaš races against time in the hopes of staving off certain disaster between the Tolmekians and her people in a deteriorating standoff. Her peaceful people battered proclaim with dignity, ďWe prefer the ways of the water and the windĒ [the clear voice of Miyazaki]. As Nausicaš fast approaches she spots a stampeding Ohmu herd and is horrified by what incites their wrath. The Pejite have harpooned and brutally bloodied a baby Ohmu dangling it before the storming Ohmu mass as bait to fuel their fury and drive them toward the valley. Mito arrives on the battlefield to warn everyone that Nausicaš, the proverbial herald, is coming to halt the impending onslaught. Despite the warning, Kushana awakens the giant
warrior prematurely unleashing the malformed behemoth. Dressed in a red Pejite dress, Nausicaš startles the Pejite pilots and brings the Ohmu baby down. Nausicaš is shot and wounded in the process. She weeps over the baby Ohmu riddled with shrapnel. She is pained by its suffering and heartless treatment discarding her own injuries. The baby motions to crawl into the toxic waters, but Nausicaš braces herself between the creature and the sea while acid singes her feet. Digging into the sand she pushes it back to safety. The Ohmu baby ceases its drive and connects with Nausicašís love. The undaunted Nausicaš stands steadfast in her charge to bring peace and prevent the mass slaughter of her people and the Ohmu. Still, the Ohmu throng presses onward through Nausicaš and the baby with bloodlust.

On the hilltop the warrior giant emerges dripping with deformity. Despite its weakened condition it projects a lethal beam of oral firepower laying waste to the incoming Ohmu. Inevitably its shape dissolves into a soupy, primordial puddle. Nausicaš miraculously calms the Ohmu pursuit, which has surrounded the baby. Bright red eyes subside and give way to the serenity of tranquil blue. The horde of Ohmu lifts a lifeless Nausicaš toward the heavens with their tentacle-like feelers. The creatures pay an almost religious tribute to their beloved savior who stood before them willing to die. Revived, her multi-legged friends restore life. Her dress alters from red to blue [actually saturated with the baby Ohmuís blood] accenting the changing emotional tide.

The ancient writings foretold of a male hero who would come forth and renew life, but the answer to the prophecy was instead a young woman named Nausicaš Of The Valley Of The Wind. She
is symbolic of Miyazakiís female ideal and would represent the gold standard for films to come. She is a selfless herald, the culmination of nurture and nature. Miyazaki illustrates this with a final shot of her blue cap beside a green seedling sprouting from the barren sands. Only through the nurturing touch of a woman combined with natureís resilience will the planet survive. And so Miyazakiís tale comes full circle, ending on a note of hope embodied by two key images that contrast to the filmís opening shots of skeletonized death.

Nausicaš Of The Valley Of The Wind is a brilliant action adventure that is filled with the kind of heart and eco-friendly social conscience only Miyazaki could pen. So what the hell were US distributors thinking in 1995? It was originally released in the US as Warriors Of The Wind [1995], disgracefully and heavily edited, de-Miyazaki-d if you will. The director and company were justifiably mortified and ensured that a Ďno edití clause was amended to all future licensing deals. This measure secured the proper treatment of all Studio Ghibli releases since, via Disney Buena Vista. All studio productions are issued unedited in their entirety as the creators intended them to be experienced. Nausicaš Of The Valley Of The Wind rightfully received the grand treatment and a second chance.

As a result of Studio Ghibliís unofficial formation talent soon followed. The animation is a marvel to behold even more astonishing when considering how old the film is. It has its shortcomings and from time to time frames do lose detail or backdrops get simplified, while some scenes are fantastic in their minutiae. For example, Nausicašís underground greenhouse is a breathtaking sequence. The scene is more arresting than a good portion of anime produced today. Character designs are exquisite, Nausicaš in particular. Her stylish blue uniform is striking and still holds its own decades later. Her blue skirt and kinky boots stand the test of time. I mean, those boots are made for walking. As fans of the manga might have hoped, watching the screen is like witnessing the heart and soul of Hayao Miyazaki come to life. Mechanical designs are simple but inventively retro from Nausicašís personal glider and flying gunship to the hulking, early steampunk-styled, metallic warships. Creature designs are astounding. Nausicašís feisty fox squirrel companion is a clever
critter design. The mighty herds of caterpillar-like Ohmu with giant saucer-shaped red and blue eyes are unforgettable. Finally, the brief appearance of the fearsome warrior god is a classic. In fact itís not surprising, the giant warrior designs, explosions and deeply imaginative heavy tank mecha came compliments of fledgling animator/ designer Hideaki Anno as a key animator. Yes, the future genius behind Neon Genesis Evangelion. Anno does with a disintegrating monster in the filmís conclusion what some could only hope to achieve with their design work over the course of an entire production series. Weaponry is ultra retro chic including Nausicašís modernized rifle complete with gunpowder to the Tolmekiansí medieval-like battle armor. Mattes provided for the toxic jungle are soft in blue and grey coloration emphasizing an environment ravaged by the pollution and poisoning of mankind. The subdued colors enhance and illustrate Miyazakiís message of a dying world. The classic look of the spore-infested jungle is suggestive of cover art from a 1970s fantasy novel. On the whole, cel animation is colorful and awe-inspiring where life is thriving. Additionally, other techniques were utilized including Ďcut paperí methods for presenting the large Ohmu herds. This was part of the improvisational aspect of animation in the day without access to computer technology and CGI enhancements so readily available today. Due to lower cel counts, at times, it lacks the fluidity of later Studio Ghibli works, but for a picture circa 1984 it is remarkably painstaking in its artistry. Finer details are evident in later studio productions, but this film is raw and heartfelt in its loving execution. Miyazaki is a master of mise en scŤne creating those distinct worlds in all of his pictures. The art of Nausicaš Of The Valley Of The Wind established the studioís reputation and the bar has been raised ever since.

Composer Joe Hisaishi provides the score. The sweeping, beautiful opening music is trademark Hisaishi that Miyazaki would come to rely upon for years to come. Despite highlights, some of the compositions have not fared well over the years, unlike his later soundtrack work. Time has not been kind to this production thanks to a slight over reliance on vintage early-80s era synthesizers. Those dated electronic bpms [beats per minute] have a tendency to date the material. Some numbers lack the sophistication of his orchestral, string-driven suites that would flourish in his repertoire later. A few cheesy keyboard moments aside, the songs are good, just flawed in comparison to later Hisaishi/ Miyazaki collaborations.

Buena Vista, the distribution arm of Walt Disney, provides yet another sterling Studio Ghibli remastering. Walt Disney has even enlisted a stellar cast of voice talent for the creation of the English dub in Alison Lohman, Uma Thurman, Mark Hamill, Edward James Olmos and the always, brilliant vocal presence of the commanding Patrick Stewart. His dignified delivery is ideal for Lord Yupa as he easily lip syncs behind a wavering moustache and facial bush. The DVDís Behind The Microphone segment is delightful as always. Itís a regular feature, albeit brief, on the dubbing process for these Studio Ghibli releases and they are a joy to watch.

Studio Ghibli was official in 1985. Laputa: Castle In The Sky [1986] would follow and was the first official release by the upstart company as a studio. Still it was Nausicaš Of The Valley Of The Wind that became the inspiration for the legacy of Studio Ghibli. There is clearly an elegiac and mournful tone to Miyazakiís message represented by the emotional pain and struggle of its characters here, but it concludes in a climactic styled crescendo. The pace eases closing on a hopeful note regarding the harmony of man with nature even beyond apocalypse. It is one of two epic environmental powerhouse films from the mind of Miyazaki urging harmony as essential to survival [kindred spirit Ashitaka is the spiritual brother to Nausicaš in the equally astounding Princess Mononoke]. Miyazakiís desire to salvage the natural world is embodied through Nausicaš in her fight for the Ohmu. Nausicaš is a traditionally heroic female leader and one Miyazaki has reincarnated for decades. She, like so many of his characters, is fiercely independent, maturing, seeking enlightenment and deeply sympathetic, a mold cast by Miyazaki for years to come. Nausicaš Of The Valley Of The Wind is a rare, definitively original science-fiction/ fantasy. This defining, sweeping cinema would fortify the relationships of three wise, visionary men [Miyazaki/ Takahata/ Suzuki] for generations, elevating anime and animation to new heights, undiscovered frontiers and giving life to characters like none the world has ever seen. Come and reap the wild wind of Miyazaki and company.



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