Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind [風の谷のナウシカ] (1984)

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Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a film whose heart has not been replaced by kitsch over time. Although it was produced before the inception of legendary Japanese animation house, Studio Ghibli, it is considered the company’s first movie.

The Valley of the Wind is a deceptively peaceful community, shielded from the horrors of the Toxic Jungle and its insect inhabitants, the Ohm. The film is set one thousand years after the Seven Days of Fire – the war to end all wars, irreversibly changing the face of civilisation. Remnants of humanity now live in separated communities across a vast, alien landscape – some more peaceful than others. Nausicaä is the princess of the Valley of the Wind. Despite a millennia of humans warring against the Ohm, Nausicaä harbors a respect and patience for these creatures – a trait that may just save the humans.

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the Toxic Jungle is deadly yet beautiful

After a Tolmekian aircraft crashes in the Valley carrying a dormant bioweapon known as the Giant Warrior, all hell breaks loose. For the Tolmekians are a military kingdom, who have made enemies of the Pejites. The Tolmekians seize the Valley, killing Princess Nausicaä’s father in the process, and plan to destroy the nearby Toxic Jungle with the Giant Warrior. Princess Kushana, the leader of the Tolmekians, takes Nausicaä and other residents of the Valley hostage to return to Tolmekia. However, their aircrafts are attacked by the Prince of Pejite, Asbel. The aircraft passengers descend into the Toxic Jungle below, where Nausicaä risks her life to save the Tolmekians from a horde of angry Ohm. She then stays in the Jungle to find Asbel. Eventually they find that beneath the Jungle are caverns with clean air and water.

When Nausicaä returns to the surface, the Pejites planning to lure a herd of angry Ohm to the Valley, to eliminate the Tolmekians. What only Nausicaä seems to realise, is that this is essentially mutually assured destruction. If either side eradicate the Toxic Jungle, they also will destroy their only source of clean water. Will the human race ever learn to live in harmony with nature? The fate of this question is left in the hands of Nausicaä.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is an ambitious film for any studio to take on. In his sophomore feature film, Hayao Miyazaki weaves themes of environmentalism, pacifism and feminism into an anime, suited for all ages. This would set the stage for the rest of Miyazaki’s career. Like his other films Miyazaki packs a lot of heart into Nausicaä, which is based on his manga of the same name. Nausicaä bears the markings of an animation its age, but all of that goes to show just how much care was put into this film. Perhaps it is this brand of heavy handedness that makes me unable to truly love Nausicaä the film, as opposed to Nausicaä the character.

And Nausicaä is a character like no other. She is a shining prototype of the type of female characters Miyazaki writes. In fact, she is probably the most accomplished and independent one of all. Let me lay it out for you. Nausicaä is a leader to her people and a helper of animals. She spends her time exploring the Toxic Jungle in order to better understand the world and to find a cures to toxic gas exposure. On top of this, she is an talented flier, is extremely brave all without sacrificing her vulnerability. (We also see Princess Kushana, the main antagonist, who plays a similar role to that of Lady Eboshi in Princess Mononoke.) Nausicaä is all these things, but she is still kind hearted, feisty and incredibly empathetic. It was only until this second viewing that I appreciated the wide range of emotion the artists managed to express on Nausicaä’s face – an important part of humanising characters that sometimes are so strong they can become false. 

Perhaps more importantly, Nausicaä is respected by all, including men who are far older than her. It is an important sentiment to communicate to young girls – that their opinions do matter. If ever there was a beginning of an era, Nausicaä is the one heralding it in.

Another part of what makes Nausicaä so important is its environmentalism. This epic film does well to explore the relationship between man and nature. Not only does the plot fuel this, but the animation goes above and beyond to demonstrate this complicated bond. The wide, sweeping shots of the landscape are stark and formidable, filled with beautiful terrain, each design different from the next. We truly get a sense of how empty the world has become as a result of human conflict and selfishness.

The Ohmes seem eerie and terrifying, but in retrospect, we are shown them exactly as they are. The great bugs loom, silent and ominous until provoked into an intense rage, which becomes a metaphor for the way humans can be controlled by emotion. It is only then that they swarm and engulf the screen. Joe Hisaishi does well to insinuate chaos and fear, without sacrificing the ‘humanity’ of the Ohmes.

The final theme, present in nearly all of Miyazaki’s films, is pacifism. What Miyazaki does so well, is challenges his character’s stance on violence and war (another example being Howl’s Moving Castle). Nausicaä is uncompromising in the face of brutality. She also comes to recognise how hatred poisons our actions, and because of that, maybe has an especially personal connection with the Ohm. Miyazaki may let his personal beliefs seep into his work, but he by no means idealises them.

Perhaps the Great aspects of Nausicaä, are the reasons why I can’t love it. Don’t get me wrong. This is a very good movie, but in both viewings I found it almost difficult to watch. Usually Ghibli films draw me into their world, but I just didn’t feel that same magic with Nausicaä. Maybe it’s because I’m infatuated with fantastical worlds and magic, rather than the fall of them? In addition to this, I found it hard to engage in Nausicaä’s world because she is a bit of a loner. Because of this, every minor character felt like a minor character. Ghibli films go on to do this very well – filling out each character as best they can. But in saying that this is Nausicaä’s film, and she deserves the spotlight.

Having said that, this is a gorgeous film. I mentioned the art earlier in the review, but seriously – just look at it. Every landscape is so imaginative. Even Nausicaä and Kushana’s costumes were futuristic, yet reflective of their post-apocalyptic society in a utilitarian way. The soundtrack, composed as always by Joe Hisaishi, is one of my personal favourites. It is flashy, loud and even a little psychedelic. Very 80s. Hisaishi’s score stops Nausicaä from getting bogged down in its heavy subject matter. Another admirable feat was the great task that Miyazaki took on in creating an action movie. The fight scenes are vivid and spare no realism for children in the audience. If someone is hit they bleed, if Nausicaä is hurt she screams in pain. It isn’t gory by any means, but Miyazaki makes it clear that there is a consequence for every action.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind brings an inspired start to Studio Ghibli’s dynasty of well-made, child-friendly animes. It is one of those films I feel guilty for not liking more. Nausicaä is a larger than life epic that brings real heart to the big screen. Unfortunately, it failed to capture mine.

This is the first in what I hope will be a chronological series of Studio Ghibli reviews.  Join me, as I destroy the magic of these films by attempting to pick them apart.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984): 8/10

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look at this next time you feel sad and know that it is going to be okay

 

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