NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (1984) review

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For those of you not in the know, I’m generally not an anime fan. Not because I have something against the artform or anything, but rather it was just something I wasn’t quite into as a kid. Sure, I enjoyed me some DRAGONBALL Z (1996 – 2003), ROROUNI KENSHIN (1996 – 1998), Pokemon (1997 – ongoing), a little bit of YU YU KAKUSHO (1992 – 1995), but very little beyond them. So with this in mind, it’s a safe bet to assume that I’m not the biggest Studio Ghibli fan. In fact, the only one I’ve ever seen was MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (1988). Nope, I’ve never seen PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997), or SPIRITED AWAY (2001), none of them. But ever since watching Youtube’s Nostalgia Critic dedicating a month of expressing his opinions of Ghibli’s work, I’ve been more than interested in hopping onto the band wagon, if only because their films are so celebrated among the animation-junkie community.

As for this current film, it seems like this is somewhat a slightly debated film over whether or not it’s truly a Ghibli film. Why? As I understand it, Ghibli was established in 1985, but NAUSICAÄ came out in ‘84. But if I had a guess, this film still had the same artists attached, specifically Hayao Miyazaki, considered to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest anime artists of all time, so even if it’s not technically a Ghibli film, it’s still considered one.

The story of NAUSICAÄ looks like it’s about this young girl in the middle of a war between humans and giant insects vying for control over the last of this post-apocalyptic world’s last remaining natural resources and she’s trying to put a stop to the carnage. If I were to hazard a guess, it’s a take on the whole “appearances can be deceiving” type of story, making the insects look like monsters, but learning that they’re just beings trying to making their own way in the world, and the humans are the real enemies. Or because of this being a Ghibli production, maybe there won’t be specific villains. I don’t know, but it looks like it could be pretty good.

Directing and writing the film is the legendary champion of animation himself, Hayao Miyazaki, also known for THE WIND RISES (2013), PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997), and THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO (1979).

Overall, bring it on. Show me something great, y’all. I’m ready!

This is my honest opinion of: NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (1984)

(SUMMARY)

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, 1,000 in the future, covered in the wasteland known as the Sea of Decay. Nausicaä (voiced by Sumi Shimamoto) is the young Princess of the Valley of the Wind, a small, but peaceful land of farmers just trying to get by in their world. But the peace doesn’t last long when a Tolmekian aircraft, a neighboring militaristic land, crashes, holding the fleshy pod of a developing Giant Warrior, a long dead ancient race believed to be one of the major causes of the end of the world. But the Tolmekian Princess Kushana (voiced by Yoshiko Sakakibara) and her army invades the Valley of the Wind for control of the Giant Warrior and intend to use its great power to wipe out the giant insects that live in the Sea of Decay and restore life to it’s former beauty.

(REVIEW)

This was an impressive film and I really liked it. I can’t say that I love it, but I am so happy I got to see this.

Already, this movie had me at hello. I’m a general sucker for post-apocalyptic stories. Even though this is a pretty… pretty apocalypse… weird, but whatever. If I give this movie any credit is that its beauty is worth the price of admission alone. The movie’s animation is stunning, particularly the scenes when Nausicaä is flying on her glider, those are particularly breath-taking and fun to watch. It’s kind of like watching the precursor to HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON’s flying scenes. You just feel the speed and your heart drops like the sheer velocity is pressing into your chest, it’s fantastic. Although, I might argue that this is more impressive because it’s still hand-drawn animation rather than computers. Major credit for animation department.

But if there’s anything that truly blew me away was the titular character herself, Nausicaä, herself. This is how you write a great character. She’s interesting, she’s sympathetic, and she’s bad-ass. To top it all off, she’s a princess. Why does that matter? Far too often, I see princesses hold the title, but do very little with it, making the title utterly pointless. But Nausicaä, she’s active like it’s nobody’s business. Her opening sequence, when you really think about it, gives you a wonderful sense of her bravery right there and then. She’s venturing into the Sea of Decay, collecting plant samples. By the way, I totally see it now, Rey’s introduction in STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) was totally inspired by Nausicaä’s intro here. Masked, alone, venturing in a dangerous environment in the name of survival, though I think I prefer Rey’s intro much better. Either way, that doesn’t mean Nausicaä’s is bad.

But back on track, she also collects pieces of Ohm shells for her village to use, and then almost immediately gets sucked into an action scene. An Ohm is chasing a wandering man and she’s doesn’t try to kill the Ohm. Rather, she tries to calm it down and give it incentive to go back to its forest and succeeds. While I can see some argue that she’s a little too perfect because she loves everything, I think that’s one of her most endearing aspects and what makes her journey all the more engaging and even heart-breaking. And when I say she loves everything, I mean everything. People, plants, animals, she loves and cherishes all of them, no matter how grotesque and monstrous they look, and yeah, these Ohms and other insects are freaky as all hell. Personally, I’d have killed them with violence without batting an eyelash, but that’s why I’m not the star of a movie, or a particularly interesting character.

Having said how much she values all life, she’s not an annoying pacifist either. Early on, Tolmekian soldiers invade her family castle and kill her father, the king, and she naturally goes into a rage and fights quite a few soldiers in her way. And she isn’t really bested in combat either. They take their swings, but Nausicaä proves that she’s a capable warrior herself. The only reason she stops is because her dear family friend Lord Yupa (voiced by Gorô Naya) stops the opposing sides from fighting, and later on, we learn how Nausicaä regrets fighting back, having let her rage get the better of her. And she never loses her determination or integrity as the story progresses. Even when Kushana forces Nausicaä and a handful of her people to be hostages… not quite sure I understood this subplot much… come under attack by an enemy gunship and their aircraft is going down in flames, Nausicaä refuses to let Kushana die and saves her life, even if it’s against her better judgment.

And to cap off my gushing over her, Nausicaä is so quick thinking that no matter what situation she’s in, she finds a way to either escape, or diffuse the danger. A couple times in the beginning, she manages to calm down several insects from attacking and creating a situation worse for everyone. But later on, her ability to survive several perilous situations is always awesome to watch. Several aircrafts go down with her on them and she barely gets hurt ever. Or, she’s directing people to find shelter, never giving herself a second to figure out what’s going on, she just commands people to go to safety and heads straight into danger. She’s sure reckless, but it works for her character and it’s hard to argue results when she comes out alive. Nausicaä might just be my favorite princess of all time. Hey, since Disney re-released Miyazaki’s films with English dubs, does that make her a Disney princess? Because then I’m calling her my favorite Disney princess! I love her iron-will, her connection to everything and everyone around her, and I love her heart.

And the structure of the story, by God, this was beyond refreshing. Leave it to foreign cinema to school American storytelling in how to make a story that you can’t predict. I mean, usually when I watch a movie, the story can be good enough to distract me from acting like a prophet and predicting how the scenes will go, even if it may be obvious if you took a few seconds to think about it. But this movie… I really had no idea what was going to happen. Who was going to die, what the world would reveal, what the characters were going to choose, this movie is beyond wow in that regard.

One of my favorite subtle things that I noticed was how many of the airships in the movie look like the flying insects of the world. I guess that makes sense since you don’t see any birds in the movie, but… I gotta ask, why aren’t they modeled after birds? They tend to be an insect’s natural predator and they do reference birds in passing conversation, so… question mark, but whatever, still liked it. And speaking of designs, I kind of enjoyed the costumes the people wore. They seemed pretty reminiscent of medieval garbs and cloaks. I guess that makes sense. Princesses, kings, castles, I probably shouldn’t be surprised.

Oh, and I want a fox-squirrel for a pet. If we can clone a sheep, we can splice the genes of a fox and a squirrel. Get on it, science! I has demands that must be met!

But as much as I can gush about this film, there are unfortunately some issues I take with it. Many consider this this one of the anime films you show someone who thinks that anime is just another cartoon for kids. And while I mostly agree with that, this movie is mature, dark, and intense, there are sadly a couple elements that work against that statement. It’s probably not a good thing to dwell on them, but they stick out like a sore thumb to me: there’s some obvious over-explainy dialog in the beginning and end of the film. In the beginning, when Nausicaä is in that cave with the Ohm shell, collecting the plant samples, and ripping out that eye socket thing, she has a line when she’s talking to herself that goes something like, “The pollen is poisonous; would kill anyone in seconds without a mask.” Um… I know she’s just talking to herself, but it’s not her first venture out into the Sea, so there’s no reason to say that to herself. It’s meant for the audience, yeah I know, but she’s not talking to the audience, she talking to no one. And besides, the mask sort of gives the impression that anything in the Sea is deadly, including the pollen. So… not necessary to narrate out loud. I’ll get to the ending bit that bugged me in the spoiler section.

And gunships are way overpowered in this world. I mean seriously, one tiny gunship manages to take down a huge airship, peppering it with very little ammo, jeez. I mean, sure, I give a single X-Wing fighter can take down the Death Star a huge pass, but then again, the Death Star had a weakness. A lame weakness, but a weakness. These airships don’t.

***SPOILERS***

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And in the end, when Nausicaä is brought back to life by the Ohm, and Obaba (voice by Hisako Kyôda) watching it happen, she says something like, “The friendship, the connection they share, oh it’s so beautiful.” Ugh, come on! My eyes work, yo! I can see the beauty of her actions and what they meant to the Ohm. I didn’t need that spelled out!

Oh, and that damned Giant Warrior. For such a huge build up for its awesome power, probably one of the major reasons why the world ended, and everyone’s actions revolving around releasing it upon the Sea or leaving it dormant in its pod, this is probably the biggest letdown of the film. When Kushana unleashes it on the stampeding Ohms, the Giant fires two death blasts and then melts away. It probably has a grand total of five minutes worth of screen time. You could literally cut this out from the entire movie and it would have flowed much better. Leave it as some ambiguous part of the world’s mythos, or save it for a sequel. The angry Ohms, the Tolmekian brutality, the film’s enemies seem pretty well-defined without the use of a giant monster that ultimately serves no purpose.

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***END SPOILERS***

Overall, this was a fantastic film. For Miyazaki’s second film, this was ambitious and it pays off huge. Consider me a fan because I would love to see more of his work in the future. Fathom Events, don’t fail me now. I want more. There’s a few problems that I have with this movie here and there, but they don’t cripple it too badly. I think if you’ve been averted from seeing anime films, give this a watch. Maybe it’ll change your mind, maybe it won’t, but it’ll leave you with the impression that there’s more to anime than stuff like Pokemon and Hello Kitty. It sure is a wonder to behold. Beautiful animation, a great protagonist, its giant scale, it’s one for the ages and I couldn’t recommend it more.

My honest rating for NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (1984): a strong 4/5

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