Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Another chance to update an old review thanks to quickflix's inability to deliver the title you actually want. That's fine though, I really am very happy to see this movie again, and have another go at trying to explain why I think it's one of the strongest and most enduring classics in the anime medium.
The setting for this movie is very post apocalyptic. A massive civilization, with a technology far surpassing our own, has somehow managed to engineer its own destruction. The landscape is littered with relics, many of which people still use and depend upon, but the scattered and much reduced nations have lost the secrets behind their creation. Even worse the land is steadily being consumed by a toxic jungle composed of funghi and molds, home only to swarms of gigantic insects. It seems as if the very land itself is plotting mankinds final exctinction.
Not that mankind seems to need much help. As the resources of humanity shrink the violent conflict to own and control what remains grows. The place we visit, the valley of the winds, seems to be one of the few that has escaped this malaise. Here, in a small valley where the ocean winds keep the jungles toxins at bay, there is a sense of peace. They are a people determined to make what they can of the world, and still optimistic that humanity can find a place within it. Much of this attitude is due to their leaders, but it has also become their culture. However events of the world, sparked by the recovery of one of the most fearsome weapons of the ancient times, are about to test their resolve.
You don't really need to read this review. If you haven't seen this movie you really should. While I don't like to put titles on a pedestal this one deserves it, and the strengths behind its construction are barely dimmed by the passing of years. It's 2005 as I write this, making the movie 21 years old, and it still kicks ass. And after you've seen it also consider the manga, which to my mind is even better... enough so to almost make me wish Miyazaki had been a manga-ka.
So, why is it good? There are two people primarily responsible. The first is the leading character. Not the only character mind you, the movie has a lot of extremely impressive people. From the stoic jhil, to the too damn cool Yupa, the energetic and idealistic Asbel and a whole host of others (including a fair few on the "opposition"). However Nausicaa, the lead of the movie, is simply spectacular. Such a potent presence, someone who contains both immense empathy and sensitivity with imposing strength of will and natural leadership. Miyazaki has a fantastic touch with character and Nausicaa remains one of his finest creations. It also helps that she's an excellent pilot, her "flying wing" craft giving rise to some amazing aerial sequences.
The other person is Miyazaki himself. It is obvious that a great amount of thought and care was put into this production. This makes a lot of sense when you consider the history of this title. This was Miyazaki's debut as a director (and scriptwriter) and had been honed through the writing of the manga. There's actually a short documentary on the disk which indicates that the manga was written in order to try and encourage support, and backing, to get the anime made. However in both cases the results are very clear, there is an almost palpable sense of involvement and investment in the title. The details of the story, the depth of the characters, the epic but fully coherent background to scenes and the spectacular technical design are all at the masterpiece level. It all hangs together so well that it gives the feel of an alien, but extremely believable world. It's even well paced, the details and large cast not detracting at all from the flow of the movie.
The story also has a great deal of strength without being simplistic. When the "villain" of the piece is asked why she has acted in that way she can give a perfectly rational explanation and her view makes sense... and can be seen mirrored on the other side. Both factions feel the other is such a threat that they are forced to act. Likewise the "environmental" message is not as simple as some criticise it for being. It boils down to being the suggestion that before you mess around with a complex system it is best to make very sure you understand it. A view which it is hard to argue with.
Putting the two together, extremely strong characters in a deep world, and you have a very strong title. Add in animation that can still enthrall and impress now, which means it must have been like lightning from heaven when it came out, and it's definitely a safe title to recommend.
The only sadness is that it is a movie. The manga clearly shows that Miyazaki's vision is actually larger than a single movie (even a relatively long one like this) can contain. I almost wish he'd been doing TV animation. Sure, the production qualities would never match what is shown here, but there is so much more to this story it would have been wonderful to see. It also makes me wonder what the longer version of his other titles might be like, and with feature film production being so slow there's many we are never going to get to see. This is of couse irrelevant, there's no point in dreaming about what might have been and getting distracted from what we do have, but I can't help but wonder. Interestingly Nausicaa.net gives a very different story from the documentary on the disk, suggesting that the manga was the premier vehicle and its 13 year gestation meaning we'd see even less!
I can't really think of that much more to say. There is certainly a lot I could talk about, but it would probably just end up as me gushing, and that can get pretty tedious and repulsive. There's also no need because I honestly hope this will encourage you to see the title and make up your own mind. I will mention, in passing, that this was released in America as "warriors of the wind" which was basically the movie with all the talky bits cut out. This is actually what I saw first, and I still loved it, but I think I join most fans in hoping the people responsible feel the guilt of their crimes. It's unlikely you'll run into that release these days, and it freaked studio Ghibli out enough that they're much more careful with their licensing and creative control these days.
It's honestly hard to believe this title is 21 years old and still looks so good. You can certainly see some of the signs, evidence of brushwork seems strange to people used to digital coloring and the palette is quite "earthy". However the flow of the animation, and the depiction of the wonderful design, is still impressive. Watching Nausicaa take out a commando squad, some of the aerial battles, the sense of power behind the ohmu and god-warrior (giant warrior in this, go figure) are still exciting to watch. The voice work is excellent, helped of course by the strong script where every word says something about the character that utters it. The music uses an early synthesiser, which sounds a little odd these days, but that doesn't hide the fact its very well constructed and can really enhance a scene. Even the "lala" song, which I have been dubious of before, actually fits its use well. I didn't watch the dub, because I don't care, but I did watch some of the "subtitles for the hearing impaired".. and was somewhat disturbed to see differences.
The apoclaypse happened 1000 years ago and humanity has continued to dwindle ever since. If the growth of the toxic forest, and the giant insects within it, don't smother humanity then squabbling over the remaining resources will probably kill off the remainders. But the valley of the wind, primarily through its visionary and strong princess Nausicaa, is set to prove there is a middle path. An older title but the animation has stood the test of time and the story is just as strong as the day it was penned. If you haven't seen this title then you should.