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Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

February 23, 2011

9/10 Bug Charmers

Rivals the best live-action adventure movies out there.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where Earth is divided between civilized man and the monstrous insects protecting the Toxic Jungle whose poisonous spores are slowly wiping out one colony after another. Bridging the gap is a warrior princess who works to maintain a peaceful relationship with the Toxic Jungle by communicating with its inhabitants, but all her efforts start going right to Hell when a tyrannical nation invades her own and fires up a crusade to destroy the forest once and for all. And so begins her quest to prevent another doomsday before the power hungry, ignorant humans or the royally pissed-off insects beat her to punch.

So this here is the sophomore effort by the Japanese deity of all things animated, Hayao Miyazaki, but for all intents and purposes, this is the first movie where he really started letting loose. Nothing against his debut effort, Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro, ’cause I freakin’ love that movie, but that really didn’t have the same kind of imagination or message that have become staples of Miyazaki movies. This, on the other hand, has both in spades and has the guy’s trademarks written all over it. Again, not trying to discount Cagliostro, just saying that the difference is hard to miss.

But for anyone out there who’s seen Princess Mononoke, that synopsis up there should sound awfully familiar. In a nutshell, there are a whole lot of times where the two movies feel like carbon copies of one another. The eco-harmonious story, the hardcore protagonist whose eyes are the only ones unclouded by hate, and the plot in general are just three things that were giving me a serious case of déjà vu within the first 15 minutes and kept on right ’til the end. It’s surprising in the sense that you don’t expect to walk into a Miyazaki movie and go “Oh, this is kind of like so-and-so’s movie,” let alone like another Miyazaki movie, then again, it’s a stupid non-complaint to be making just because I happened to watch Mononoke first even though it was made 13 years after this.

In hindsight, Mononoke is more like Nausicaä: Version 2.0 than anything else as it ultimately gives greater attention and focus to certain aspects that this script occasionally skimps out on, but either way, you’re on the right track if anyone’s comparing your movie to Princess Mononoke. But for those of you haven’t seen Princess Mononoke, forget you even read that last paragraph. See it after you see this and you’ll get the gist.

Animated or otherwise, this movie is as flat-out epic as they come. If Disney didn’t have such a stranglehold on the animation biz back in the ’80s (not that they weren’t putting out great stuff or anything), I think this movie would have been huge, this could have been what Spirited Away was for anime in ’01. It’s a movie and a story that’s impossible not to get swept up in because its scope, its visuals and its story only improve as it goes on and it’s simply operating at a level that most audiences and film makers are nowhere close to. It won’t take long for you to get connected to Nausicaä in terms of what she stands for and what she does, it won’t take long for you to get lost in this world that’s at once strangely familiar and breathtakingly new, and for a movie with a message, it’s wonderfully powerful without being heavy-handed. It’s a thrill ride and a morality play rolled into one, and that’s not an easy medium to find without falling too far on either end.

The biggest obstacle I’ve always found with action/adventure movies is finding a way to develop the story while upping the wow factor without having to throw in some painfully noticeable downtime to do so. Don’t ask me how Miyazaki did it, I don’t have the answers, but this is the first movie I’ve seen in a long time that pulls this feat off with ease and only gets more awesome with each new scene. From Nausicaä flying her badass jet-powered glider through dogfights and swarms of insects the size of Rhode Island to Nausicaä just being her usual badass self and kicking ass with her uber-samurai uncle, it’s something to behold and it’ll make you wish that more directors who have actually made a career out of action movies knew how to reach this plateau of epicness.

And as if the script wasn’t enough, it’s effing gorgeous, too. My one gripe is that the characters look more like extras from Cagliostro than anything else, but when it comes to the insects, the machinery and the landscapes, it’s a stunner the likes of which you’ve never seen before and would almost be worth nuking the planet over just to see it for yourself. And I like that the character models are so simple in comparison to everything else, it doesn’t seem lazy, it seems more like a stylistic choice that ends up achieving a lot with a little.

But like I said, there are some aspects of the scripts that I wish had been fleshed out further. I wish the main antagonist who comes in the form of a hardened military princess hadn’t been such a cut-and-dry, unflinchingly hateful gal from the moment we’re introduced to her to the last time we see her around, the romantic subplot between Nausicaä and a fighter pilot from a neighboring nation is hinted at but never really blossoms into anything worth getting invested over, and it also ends a little bit too abruptly. But in light of everything else that’s just outstanding about Miyazaki as a storyteller and keeps you glued to the screen, these complaints are minor and are only improved upon in Mononoke.

Also pretty impressed by the names who came out to lend their voices here. Not sure when the dubbing was actually done since this was probably straight subtitles when it was first released, but you’ve got Alison Lohman as Nausicaä with Edward James Olmos, Mark Hamill, Patrick Stewart, Shia LaBeoufa and Uma Thurman all backing her up in their respective roles. I like to think that they all got involved because they realized that this movie is so much more than just an easy paycheck, but either way, I dig their involvement.

Now, just to make myself clear, whether you’ve seen Princess Mononoke or not, it’ll have zero effect on the lasting impression that Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind will leave. Don’t be fooled by the unfortunate title or unfortunate eye-rolls that come with suggesting an anime movie, this is Indiana Jones stuff, this is Lord of the Rings stuff, this is jaw-dropping entertainment with adventure to spare and a brain to boot. Kicking myself that it took me so long to finally get around to this movie and that I saw it completely out of order, but whatever, yet another reason why Miyazaki is truly one of the greats.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. HermioneO permalink
    February 23, 2011 4:28 pm

    I really should get more anime in my diet.

  2. February 23, 2011 5:26 pm

    For some reason, I didn’t care for this movie but after reading your post I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. I certainly liked the world a lot and I think he struck a good ballance between exposition and action, but I don’t think I actually cared for it by the end.

    Might be time for a rewatch.

    Then again, I liked Princess Mononoke a lot more.

    Also, you know this film is coming out in bluray in like two weeks. I hope this means all of Miyazak’s films on bluray.

  3. February 23, 2011 6:20 pm

    I’ve seen most of Miyazaki’s films, but haven’t seen Nausicaä yet. After your praise of it, I better check it out.

  4. February 28, 2011 8:27 am

    I love your review! I haven’t seen this movie again in a long time. I better do another re-watch anytime soon

    • February 28, 2011 1:57 pm

      Thanks! Yeah, it was totally awesome. Definitely worthy of a re-watch!

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