Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

A thousand years after a global catastrophe known as the Seven Days of Fire ravaged the surface of the earth, the remaining members of the human race cling to life on the fringes of an enormous toxic forest that releases a miasma of deadly spores into the air. Princess Nausicaä is the heir to a tiny kingdom that lies between the forest and the sea, protected by the constant onshore winds. The peace of the Valley is shattered when an airship from the neighbouring kingdom of Tolmekia crashes and the Tolmekian army invade the Valley of the Wind to retrieve its mysterious cargo. Nausicaä then embarks on a mission to save her people from both the Tolmekians and their attempts to destroy the toxic forest.

Adapted from a manga that was at the time incomplete, the complex politics and the struggle for survival in a bleak, post-apocalyptic world were simplified in order to make a coherent screenplay that would work as a two hour stand-alone film. What results is a feature that is often compared with Miyazaki’s 1997 film Princess Mononoke: while both films feature human conflict, a strong-willed female lead character and powerful ecological message, Nausicaä differs in many other respects and a comparison to both this and the epic manga is a little unfair considering that it was made over twenty years ago with more time, budget and technological restrictions. The animation and backgrounds look a little dated next to his more recent work but are breathtaking for their age; the bizarre flora and giant insects of the toxic jungle are beautiful in their own way and Joe Hisaishi’s soundtrack is superb with a few segments of synthesised score being the only faults.

The film bears all of the other hallmarks of a classic Miyazaki feature: well paced storytelling, characters with emotional depth and their own reasons for the decisions they make, and above all an overwhelming sense of hope that love and harmony will eventually win out in the end. Nausicaä herself is a courageous, beautiful and selfless heroine who strives to solve the problems she faces through understanding nature without fighting it; the mighty ohmu, giant insects that guard the toxic jungle and initially seem brutal and savage, are in fact majestic and intelligent creatures who nevertheless show the same blind rage that Nausicaä feels for her own people when their loved ones are threatened.

The only criticism of the film is that of the deus ex machine-style ending, which has a powerful emotional impact but seems clumsy and rushed. This aside, the rest of the film is full of imaginative ideas that have stood the test of time surprisingly well. Those who prefer the English language dub (the original is available with subs) will be pleased to know that Disney have done themselves proud for most of the voices, even though they have once again decided on employing big-name talent. Alison Lohman is competent if not confidant in the lead role, and Patrick Stewart makes an excellent job as the old swordsman/adventurer, Master Yupa. The supporting cast, who include Uma Thurman, Edward James Olmos and Mark Hamill do a decent job. The DVD extra “Behind the Microphone’ gives an insight into their work on the new dub, but it’s the “Birth of Studio Ghibli’ documentary that is especially fascinating and will hopefully make it onto the region 2 release if and when it arrives.

In Summary

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind can best be described as a flawed masterpiece. Although it lacks the confidence and polish of Miyazaki’s later films and falls down somewhat in the final moments, it has a magical, compelling quality that makes it stand out as one of Miyazaki’s finest films and as far as the region 1 release is concerned Buena Vista have done it justice, both with the visuals and the dub.

8 / 10