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The Dub Reviewer: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

by Jon Turner

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Once upon a time, when the Anime industry was still non-existant and the only way fans of this new form of art could have any access to it was through importing fan-subtitled videotapes, it was a common, although very controversial, practice for American companies to take Japanese produced movies, or series, and cobble the “footage” into something “marketable” for mainstream audiences.  Needless to say, this was a practice that many fans didn’t take very kindly to, least of all one particular director named Hayao Miyazaki.  Around this era of cut-and-paste compilations, Miyazaki’s 1984 animated epic, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, despite achieving cult status with both the Japanese public and overseas fans, suffered from a heavily edited American release.  Chopped down from its two-hour running time into a 90-minute edit, and altering much of the plot and characters, the resulting disaster was infamously known as “Warriors of the Wind”.  Needless to say, Miyazaki was appalled by this treatment; so much so, in fact, that he declared that any future adaptation of his work should be done under his terms.  As such, the public was denied of Miyazaki’s work for more than twenty years.

Flash forward about twenty years later.  Having successfully produced English versions of six Ghibli features under their agreement with the Japanese studio, Disney commissioned a brand-new dub for what many fans consider one of Miyazaki’s most important films ever.  Unlike “Warriors”, however, this version would not omit even one second, nor even change even one aspect of its storyline or characters.  In fact, the only thing that would count as an alteration of any kind is the inclusion of the celebrity and voice actors and English dialogue.  (As well as a few minor terminology tweaks.)  So how did Disney’s new version of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind turn out?  Well, as usual, reaction ranged from genuinely favorable to harshly critical.  (The owner of the Ghibli Blog, for instance, once declared on a now deleted post on IMDB that the redub of Nausicaa is actually worse than “Warriors of the Wind” “if I was really rotten.”)  Whether it was derided or praised, a good majority of viewers agreed that, after what New World Video had done to Nausicaa, anything else had to be a considerable improvement.

As “Warriors of the Wind” shouldn’t even be counted as a proper dub at all, I will not even cover it in my mentioning of my review, except that I did manage to see a brief clip of it.  Needless to say, it’s below the standards of the current version, even if it does feature respected actors like Jack Angel, Hal Smith, and Ginny Tyler, and it doesn’t help that it was heavily edited.  The performances in Disney’s dub, meanwhile, are an entirely different matter.  Produced by the now expected team of ADR director Rick Dempsey and scriptwriters Donald and Cindy Hewitt, the new dub of Nausicaa is a fresh, competently produced effort that easily outclasses its predecessor.

NAUSICAA (Alison Lohman) — The titular character of Miyazaki’s epic tale is a very demanding and essentially challenging one.  Nausicaa is a strong-willed but sometimes vulnerable teenage girl with a compassionate, caring nature and a strong stand on solving problems without using violence.  Simultaneously, she is wrestling with her own inner demons of anger (as evidenced in the scene where she flies into a murderous rage at her father’s killers) and has some very poignant moments of fragility.  All of this makes for a daunting task for any actress; initially it seemed as though Natalie Portman (yes, Queen Amidala) would be speaking for this character, but in the end, the role went to Alison Lohman.  Her performance as this character has divided many viewers–an atmosphere not much different from other lead characters in Ghibli/Disney dubs.  Most reviewers greeted her performance very favorably, but others found her lacking in every way.  (The cruelest critic of all was the owner of the Ghibli Blog, who declared that Lohman “sounds more like the typical teenage girl on a Disney Channel sitcom. Good glayvin, she can’t even yell properly.”)  In fact, there are a few places where her delivery isn’t always strong, mostly in some of the more quiet scenes (such as her exploration of the gloomy area beneath the quicksand pit).  But to castigate her overall performance based on a few minor setbacks would seem unfair, because overall, Lohman does a very commendable job.  Vocally, she has a genuinely calm, pleasant tone which never ventures into saccharine territory, and while there are a few moments where her shouting or screaming scenes falter, other such moments are very strong… particularly at the climax where she struggles against a baby Ohmu.  In this latter sequence, she gives her all.  Not the strongest performance in the dub, but better than average overall.

LORD YUPA (Patrick Stewart) — The first person to speak in the dub is this elderly but charismatic swordsman, who serves as something of a mentor to Nausicaa and aids her plight to keep the piece.  Stewart’s deeply rich baritone is instantly recognizable, bringing a dramatic gravitas to this character and adds a powerful presence to the cast.  Unsurprisingly, too, he adds himself to the tradition of the usual “show-stealer” that these dubs often have.  Whether he is talking with Nausicaa or addressing the Tolmekians in a stern tone, Stewart shows why he is a true pro when it comes to both acting and in voicing a character.  Another quirk about his performance is that he is not really “lip-synching”, since all that is seen of the character when he talks is his moving moustache.  Patrick jokes in the voice talent featurette that he is “moustache-synching”, and he does that with style.  (Interestingly, some time after this, he would show up in another Anime, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Steamboy, alongside another Ghibli alumni, Castle in the Sky‘s lead actress Anna Paquin, but that’s another topic altogether.)

MITO (Edward James Olmos) — There are several male characters in Nausicaa’s kingdom who serve as her trusted servants/allies, and Mito is one such person.  In addition to being fiercely loyal, he is very concerned for his charge.  He also has a bit of a “rough and ready” edge, as evidenced when he tries to shoot down a Tolmekian craft carrying a badly damaged Ohmu baby.  Olmos has a considerably scratchy-sounding voice which is fairly appropriate for the character, although there are moments in his performance where he comes across as though he’s reading.  Otherwise, however, it’s a decent role all around.

KUSHANA (Uma Thurman) — Like Lady Eboshi in Princess Mononoke, this character is a very fierce, strong-willed figure of authority (in this case, the Princess of the Tolmekian Army) who insists on destroying a natural resource (the Toxic Jungle) for the sake of saving her people.  Unlike Eboshi, however, Kushana is a much more ruthless and less sympathetic character–even after Nausicaa, Yupa, and the elders from the valley combined pardon her, she is still deeply committed to awaken the most deadly creature in the world (the Giant Warrior) to carry out her cruel vengeance.  Thurman conveys these bitter aspects of the character aptly; although unlike Minnie Driver, she does not use an accent.  Nonetheless, she does have a steel, harsh quality to her voice which works in favor of her declarations of war and threats.  Yet as Kushana is not really an “evil” person, Thurman wisely steers her performance around cliche territory.

KUROTOWA (Chris Sarandon) — One thing I’ve always found amusing in the Ghibli dubs is the casting of actors best known for their roles in the cult-classic The Princess Bride.  In Castle in the Sky, we have Mandy “Inigo Montoya” Patinkin as one of Dola’s goofy but loveable sons, Cary “Westley” Elwes speaks for both Donald Curtis in Porco Rosso as well as the Baron in both Whisper of the Heart and The Cat Returns, while Prince Humperdinck gets to play this sneaky swordsman who serves as Kushana’s ally.  Actually, Sarandon is no stranger to voice acting, as animation fans remember him best as Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas.  Nonetheless, the snide, somewhat smarmy tone he provides to Kurotowa brings him somewhat more in line with the role he’s famous for in Rob Reiner’s film.  He makes the most of his scenes, and, if it weren’t for Stewart, would probably tie as one of the best in the dub.  Either way, though, it is gratifying to hear Humperdinck — sorry, Sarandon — participate in a Ghibli production.  One wonders if he’ll participate in another.

ASBEL (Shia LaBeouf) — If there is a weak link in the dub of Nausicaa, it may be for LaBeouf’s performance as Asbel, the aggressive prince from Pejite who eventually becomes Nausicaa’s friend and ally.  Vocally, LaBeouf does have the right tone for the character, but his actual acting is another matter.  His initial readings come across as rather stiff and monotonous.  It’s not drastic enough to bring down the dub, but it is definitely not one of the strongest performances in a Ghibli dub.  (Even James van der Beek’s Pazu, while — perhaps unfairly — criticized for sounding more mature than his character, was a lot more, well, animated in his actual acting than here.)  That said, he does grow more into his role (although considering that he has a considerably small part in the film it’s really hard to say how Asbel could be better fleshed out vocally), and moments where he is thrust into action (threatening the guards to release Nausicaa, or helping the latter escape when his carrier is attacked) are definitely all uphill from his first appearance.

PEJITE MAYOR (Mark Hamill) This marks the second time that the multi-talented voice actor formerly known as Luke Skywalker participates in a Disney/Ghibli production.  His first, an impeccable turn as the deviously treacherous Muska, has always been hailed as one of Castle in the Sky‘s greatest strengths.  Compared to that role, however, the Mayor of Pejite is a considerably smaller part, and as such, Hamill’s voice work here isn’t as outstanding.  That said, it is gratifying to hear him in another film by Miyazaki, even as a cameo.  A note about the character:  the Mayor of Pejite is not a villainous character, but rather, a misguided man dedicated to protecting his tribe regardless of whether his ruthless decision to send a stampede of raging Ohmu toward Nausicaa’s home kingdom causes any harm.  Hamill plays him as such; while his harsh, gritty tone is somewhat similar to Muska, he wisely steers around making the Mayor another “evil” character.

KING JIHL (Mark Silverman) — The father of Nausicaa, the bedridden ruler of the Valley of the Wind, has a considerably scanty but noteworthy part.  Silverman has the sort of aged voice that works very well for this character and he sounds very solid throughout.

OBABA (Tress MacNeille) — Adding yet another role to her rather impressive list of credits in a Ghibli dub, Miss MacNeille plays this blind old woman who serves as something of a fortune-teller.  Her voice is considerably raspy and very ancient in tone; this is not an easy trick to pull off, but Tress manages it well.

The rest of the vocal cast consist of Disney’s standard use of traditional voice actors for other roles, all of who blend seamlessly into the cast.  The late Tony Jay (better known to Disney fans as Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame) provides a brief opening narration (ala Keith David in Princess Mononoke); James Arnold Taylor, Frank Welker, and Jeff Bennett voice three “elderly” characters who are both warriors and loyal servants to Nausicaa; and other voices such as Bridget Hoffman, Edie Mirman, Peter Renaday, and Robert Clotworthy can all be heard among the incidental cast.  Hey, even Jodi Benson (yes, Ariel herself) makes a brief but noteworthy cameo as a woman who serves as an important plot point to the character of Asbel.  One thing that is also noteworthy about the Nausicaa dub is that the children of the valley are voiced by actual children.  I like this, as it adds an authenticity to an already compelling epic drama.  Not that you can’t cast adults to voice children provided they do it convincingly, but ADR director Rick Dempsey nonetheless deserves to be commended on his part for striving for that touch of realism.

Scriptwriters Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald H. Hewitt again rise to the task of adapting Miyazaki’s own screenplay into a smooth, natural-sounding ADR script, and they do so seamlessly.  Any changes to the dialogue are not out of spirit with the original; what may be controversial to some fans, though, is the minor tweaking of some terminology.  Readers who have grown accustomed to the comic book series of the same title will notice that Nausicaa’s glider, Mehve, is simply called a “glider”; all the insects are referred to as simply insects or giant dragonflies, and the deadly area that our protagonists venture into is called the “Toxic Jungle”.  This latter change was included in the “Warriors of the Wind” dub, but before anybody criticizes Disney for supposedly stealing this term, keep in mind that the Hewitts never even saw the edit, and that the decision to use this term was made due to careful consultations with Ghibli.

All in all, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind ranks as yet another noteworthy entry to the cannon of the Disney-Ghibli dubs, effectively erasing dreaded memories of the travesty that New World Video was responsible for.  Although not without its occasional stiff moments and sync issues (there is one moment where Obaba is talking where the mouth doesn’t seem to match her words), this new Disney edition is still very much welcome overall.  I tip my hat to the folks at the Mouse House.

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Author: Jon Turner

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Comments

  • Esosa Osamwonyi

    I heard this one. It was well done. After all this years I never did hear the original Japanese voice acting.

  • Miguel Douglas

    The first time I watched this film, it was the Japanese version. I then watched the dubbed version and enjoyed that as well. Great review Jon, and we can view “Warriors of the Wind” as a prime example as how to not handle Japanese animation.

  • http://japanflix.com Jin

    I hope this version becomes the one that I can finally show my English-speaking friends after so many years.

  • http://japanflix.com Jin

    I am not a fan of dubbed films at all, but this is one of the few I could sit through without cringing.

  • cvb

    I had a hard time sitting through the Disney dub of this one, and I agree with a few of the critics on the voices. The first time I watched the full version of Nausicaa, I had to find a fansub on VHS in the mid 90s in Japanese and I LOVED it. Before then I only knew the cut up HBO version. However, I have to say that the “ruined” version had fairly amazing voice actors like Cam Clarke, and I really enjoyed Kushana, Kurotawa, Nausicaa’s voices… heck a lot of the voices in that version were really spot on. They actually casted it fairly well. Of course it seemed a little rushed and stiff in places, as many translated anime of the time was like. However, the actors did a fine job regardless. If only they had translated it correctly and left it alone, it would have been a classic. But that’s how people viewed animation in the 80s, as purely kids fodder. Always thought they could improve something from a foreign country. What bs. At any rate, over the years I have seen quite a few people purely hate on the New World version’s actors, but it’s all unfounded. They were also all professional voice actors at the time and some still work today (and do a damn fine better job than some of the horrible anime voice actors going around today). The only reason people hated that version was for the cuts, and somehow they just transfer that hate to the actors as well for no good reason. A lot of people who hate that version actually never even saw it. And people back then who saw the movie, if they were kids, they didn’t KNOW that the movie was edited. It was on HBO and we watched it and enjoyed it. It was only after we found out, as adults , that the real movie was 100 times better that we got upset about it. Don’t let that knowledge affect what were actually somewhat decent performances by those actors. It’s not like THEY cut the movie, they were hired like anyone else.