From August 25th-31st, over 100 movie reviewers & bloggers are joining forces to celebrate the films of 1984. Our contribution to the “1984 A-THON” is Hayao Mayizaki’s animated classic, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Visit the website http://forgottenfilmcast.wordpress.com/ if you’d like to read reviews by any of the other contributors.
Review by-Jarrett Leahy
A thousand years have passed since the fall of the industrial civilization. Since that time, a highly invasive, toxic jungle has begun to spread rapidly throughout the planet, threatening to kill the last of the human race as it swallows entire cities in its path. One of the remaining realms still untouched by this encroaching menace is the Valley of the Wind, an enchanting terrain wedged between two vast mountain ranges. Unfortunately, the peace and tranquility of the Valley is shattered when the discovery of a mysterious ancient weapon sparks an escalating conflict between two opposing nations. Now caught in the middle of these warring tribes while also under assault by the invading toxic jungle, Princess Nausicaa, the fearless leader of the Valley of the Wind, sets out to save her beloved homeland before her people are completely destroyed.
I don’t pretend to be a Hayao Miyazaki expert; I know there are far more knowledgeable and dedicated fans out there. However, when I read that our 84athon host, Forgotten Films, was looking for NEW reviews of films from 1984 and that Nausicaa was still available, I saw this as an excellent opportunity to continue my exploration of Miyazaki’s illustrious career while highlighting a classic film that I suspect is still relatively unknown to the average movie fan. Hayao Miyazaki has long been referred to as the Walt Disney of Japan. Famed for being both the writer and animator of his many works, the list of recognized Miyazaki masterpieces is vast. Unfortunately, back in 1984 when Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was originally released, American audiences weren’t privy to the original version; instead, we were given a poorly edited 95-minute film under the name Warriors of the Wind. This crudely dubbed variant of Nausicaa angered Miyazaki so much that he later enacted an absolute no-edits clause in every future foreign distribution contract. Luckily for us in the States, after two decades of waiting, the uncut, original version of Nausicaa was finally made available in 2005. Since then, fans of film, animation, and Studio Ghibli have discovered just how impressive this post-apocalyptic adventure truly is.
For those accustomed to today’s advanced methods of animation, it may take a minute or two get acclimated to the more traditional animation techniques utilized in Nausicaa. But once acclimatized, be prepared to be astonished by the world Miyazaki was able to create. The aerial animation and cinematography are genuinely exhilarating. Princess Nausicaa’s preferred mode of transportation is a jet-powered glider, allowing her to ascend from earth and soar high into clouds. These scenes showcase Miyazaki’s wondrous skill for landscapes and topography. Adding to the aerial display are hordes of winged creatures including monstrous dragonflies menacingly swooping and slithering through the air while swarms of giant insects create a dark buzzing blanket in the sky. Miyazaki’s passion for planes can also be seen in the film, as many battles between the Torumekians and Pejites were fought up among the clouds, delivering a profusion of aeronautical assaults.
In comparison to the other movies released in 1984, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is a film that was far ahead of its time in narrative content and character development. Miyazaki created a story that offers both socially and environmentally conscious themes decades before it was fashionable to share such beliefs. Nausicaa’s message about the dangers and long-term effects of human wars and uncontrolled pollution felt even more prescient as I watched the film for the first time thirty years after its debut. Its post-apocalyptic depictions of society are as soberingly impressive as any other classic film of the genre such as Mad Max or 12 Monkeys. I also appreciated how Miyazaki managed to deliver these personal messages subtly without ever coming off as preachy or heavy-handed.
Another aspect of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind that was decades ahead of its time was Miyazaki’s heroic depiction of his protagonist, Princess Nausicaa, voiced by Alison Lohman. In Nausicaa, Miyazaki created a strong, smart, caring, compassionate, independent, fearless heroine during a time when movies were dominated by archetypical heroes like Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker. Nausicaa’s unique qualities are even more noticeable when compared to the film’s primary antagonist, Kushana, Princess of the Torumekia. Kushana, voiced by Uma Thurman, is a cunning and brilliant leader who displays all the typical characteristics of female leader we have grown accustomed to: ill-tempered, calculating, venomous. These attributes make her a successful “female” leader. In contrast, Nausicaa is every bit as clever and accomplished a commander of her people, but she leads without using overbearing forcefulness. When, in 2014, we are still asking studios like Marvel if they are going to create a film with a female hero, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is a beacon spotlighting how successful a heroine-led adventure can be.
Of all the exotic critters Miyazaki created for the film, his most fascinating and arresting are the mystical Ohmus, giant, highly intelligent insect-like creatures with dense exoskeletons that become enraged and violently stampede when anyone attempts to harm the toxic jungle or the creatures that inhabit it. While watching the Ohmus, I couldn’t help but be reminded of similar looking creatures from the 1973 French animated classic, Fantastic Planet. Princess Nausicaa’s singular relationship shared with the Ohmus offers yet another understated message about the importance of living in harmony with the natural world. Their emotional final exchange is a stirring and almost hallucinatory climax that gave me chills.
As many of us know, IMDb’s Top 250 is something that always needs to be taken with a grain of salt. However, if you have a peek at what’s currently listed, you’ll find there are four films from 1984: Once Upon a Time in America (a film that also languished for years waiting to be released and seen in its unedited version), Amadeus, The Terminator, and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. I find that fact to be quite the testament to the lasting brilliance of Hayao Miyazaki’s masterwork. Exhibiting thematic and visual elements found in many of today’s beloved action films, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is a truly epic post-apocalyptic adventure that has emerged as one of 1984’s brightest gems.