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Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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A thousand years after a global war, a seaside kingdom known as the Valley of the Wind remains one of the few places still populated. Led by the courageous Princess Nausicaä, the people of the Valley are engaged in a constant struggle with powerful insects called Ohmu, who guard a poisonous jungle that is spreading across the Earth. Nausicaä and her brave companions, together with the people of the Valley, strive to restore the bond between humanity and the Earth.

Known as the inaugural picture for Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind offers an extremely rich and complex tale concerning the duality shared between humanity and nature, the commanding role of women, and the destructive ramifications of violence. Culminating in a variety of themes that would later be elaborated upon in future Miyazaki pieces, the film removes itself from being too conventional in its treatment by establishing some very important and critical distinctions that separate it from many other films at that time. The most important of these distinctions is that of title character and female heroine Nausicaa, the main protagonist who encapsulates the entirety of the film’s themes and messages. As an empowering female character, we see her subtle understanding of nature and ferocious dedication towards peace as traits that are both enlightening and encouraging. Yet she still remains, as we also view within other characters in the film, fallible in nature and susceptible to cruel actions if overcome with sudden emotion. It’s this complexity in character that presents an image of a heroine with humanistic faults, which is unlike many of the righteously superior protagonists viewed in other films.

This element is expressed throughout the film as well, which certainly brings about a sense of realism amidst the backdrop of a world brimming with elements of fantasy. The characters we view are not simply dictated as right versus wrong, but are offered up as a mixture of ideologies that conflict with one another in the pursuit of their own proposed peace. With each faction blinded by selfishly implementing their own resolution to restore the environment, they steadily lose sight of the delicate balance already established between humanity and nature, in which the film profusely acknowledges. Thematically mature in this regard, the film doesn’t busy itself with choosing one side of the dichotomy in order to appear morally correct, rather it maturely handles its subject material with an astute quality that has become a trademark of Miyazaki. Through the use of animation, Miyazaki has expertly offered immense topics up for debate throughout his films, with this one being no different. This in itself greatly empowers the film as a work not simply succumbing to the formalities of what animation has been ascribed with, but for exploring the opinionated views that surround its rather difficult subject material. As stated before, these themes would be better realized in later films by Miyazaki, but they do work relatively well here given its encompassing plot dynamics.

But while the film encompasses these various themes, one can begin to see that the narrative structure somewhat suffers during it latter half. Due to the shear amount of conflicting factions at hand, as well as the plot’s unexpected messianic conclusion, it becomes fairly congested in terms of cohesively wrapping up its incredibly expansive plot. The conclusion, while resolute in almost every aspect, seems to lose much of its allegorical strength and sense of realism explored in the first half as the insertion of the supernatural takes precedence. With the film entering this realm of the supernatural, the plausible nature of the plot is lessened as the reconciliatory efforts shared between humankind and nature are awkwardly resolved, which just seems rather improbable given the drastic circumstances. This is certainly not to say that the ending becomes diluted because of these directorial choices, but it definitely showcases Miyazaki feeling his way through the process as a director. With so much going on within the film, a more cohesive structuring during this process would’ve benefitted the film greatly and most certainly allowed it to focus on its more ample strengths.

The result of these decisions doesn’t necessarily diminish the quality of the film though, as its considerable attention towards its action and adventure segments do much to advance its plot in a highly creative fashion. From its graceful aerial flight sequences, introspective moments of calm on part of Nausicca and nature, and the eventual showcasing of utter destruction through warring, the majority of the film excellently balances between these segments in a successful attempt in avoiding becoming too lethargic. The accessible nature of the film’s setting—which is a creative combination of medieval and middle-eastern qualities—establishes the fantasy element most often heeded within other Ghibli works, crossing the line from being distinctively an anime film to that of entirely new creation unto itself. This stylistic approach extends itself to the actual environments showcased throughout the film as well. With a devastated world ruined by pollution, we see a diverse range of settings that really bring to life the world in which Miyazaki has envisioned. From the miles upon miles of toxic forests, where magnificent spores, mushrooms, and giant insects dwell, to that of Nausicca’s home land within the Valley of the Wind, with its lush greenery and beautifully rolling hills, the exterior look of the film is certainly its strong point. With such painstaking visual detail expressed throughout the film, it easily becomes an astonishing element to consider given the film’s use of traditional animation techniques, which provides a visual quality that can be appreciated even today.

Overall, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a film that represents many things; an ecological allegory on humankind and their relationship with nature; an examination of humanity’s ignorance in resolving disputes through destructive means; or simply an adventurous tale filled with harrowing rescues, dashing battles, and gigantic monsters—the thematic quality that Miyazaki offers here is very rich. It’s quite fitting to see Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind encompass so many visual and thematic traits that would later be viewed in other Ghibli films, mainly because it stands as a fantastic introduction to Miyazaki’s exceptional talent as both a director and animator. The true complexity of the film lies within its ability to convey a multitude of elements rather successfully, which is an attribute that not many films can accomplish. Putting all these elements aside though, the film most represents both Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki’s entrance into the world of animation, a relationship which would later produce some of the most popular animated films of not only Japan, but throughout the world. The impressive nature and scope of the film is what makes Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind truly an engaging experience, in turn making it one of Miyazaki’s finest and inspirational creations of his career.

You may read Jon Turner’s review of the English dub version of the film here

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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Comments

  • http://animeenglishdubreviews.blogspot.com/ Jon Turner

    I was wondering who would be taking this title to review. I guess I’ll have to submit my article on the dub for the film in the near future. (Sorry I haven’t been posting much lately.)

  • Esosa Osamwonyi

    This is actually what i consider one of if not Miyazki’s best work. Good review.

  • Miguel Douglas

    Thanks for the comments Jon and Esosa.