Welcome to The AniMAYtion Challenge, where Ashe and Branden review one animated film every weekend throughout the month of May. Each film was chosen in draft style, with Ashe recieving the first pick of round one. With the fifth pick of the 2015 AniMAYtion Challenge, Ashe Collins selects Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind from 1984.
Over a thousand years have passed since the Seven Days of Fire destroyed what was left of the world and gave rise to a Toxic Jungle. No human can survive in this Toxic Jungle, which houses giant insects that viciously guard their territory. Where the Toxic Jungle eases its approach, scattered human settlements have dug in, adapting to the new world and using found materials to shape homes, equipment, and weapons.
Nausicaä is the princess of the Valley of the Wind, a settlement that lives ever so close to the Toxic Jungle, but who also has a vast understanding of the ecology of the Jungle. Their peaceful world comes tumbling down when one of the other settlements crashes an airship at the edge of the valley. In this airship are angry insects, and a relic from the Seven Days of Fire. Several other settlements are fighting over how to save their planet, but Nausicaä has figured out the underlying truth of the Toxic Jungle, and knows that the other settlement’s plans will simply destroy them all.
When we were drafting our picks for The AniMAYtion Challenge, Branden went right for the throat with his third pick being a Miyazaki film, which he hasn’t reviewed yet. I decided to return the favor in kind, and went for the first film Miyazaki directed, based off one of his stories that he’d turned into a graphic novel. This was also before he ever founded Studio Ghibli, but it’s counted as where the Studio first began. There have been a few U.S. releases, and the copy I have is the DVD that was released in 2005. If you find a copy called Warriors of the Wind, stay away. This is a heavily edited version of the film. It’s the one that prompted Miyazaki to vow no edits for future films, and why when Miramax was going to make edits to Princess Mononoke, he sent them a katana with a note that said, “no cuts”.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind takes place in its own world, but still very much ours, much like many of Miyazaki’s later films. Although it stands on its own, there are some very obvious influences from Earthsea, Dune, Lord of the Rings, and even The Odyssey. With all the fantastic inspiration, there is also a very real world inspiration: the mercury poisoning of Minimata Bay, which Miyazaki would use different cues from how nature responded there to flesh out how the world was built and functioned with Nausicaä. There are some great themes built here about the environment, and a definite anti-war sentiment. There is also the belief that not everything is evil or that all motivations against other people are nefarious as almost everyone here is motivated by what they believe to be the right choice to help their people survive.
There are some amazing visuals in Nausicaä, but a lot of the style is still rooted in the late-‘70s style animation look. I’m very much reminded of Rankin Bass in the coloring and styles with their take on The Hobbit and The Last Unicorn. You can easily tell it’s a Miyazaki film by the way the characters look and move, but it’s a lot more rough around the edges than some of his later films, and relies on far more traditional animation techniques to get the job done. That’s not a knock against the film. Nausicaä is still amazing to watch and take in, and the design and world building that went into it to make it look like a world that actually functions is outstanding.
I watched the film this time with the English voice cast, all dubbed over with Walt Disney Studios participation, so we get Patrick Stewart, Alison Lohman, Shia LaBeouf, Edward James Olmos, Chris Sarandon, Uma Thurman and Mark Hammill as the vocal stars of the film. The Japanese voice cast is fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but when a dub is done right it can be amazing. Out of them all, Chris Sarandon steals every scene he’s voicing, but a lot of that has to do with the character he’s voicing. Alison Lohman does a great job as Nausicaä, and I have to admit I groaned when I saw Shia LaBeouf in the cast, but he does a pretty good job with the character. I can’t really complain about the dub at all as the cast really fits well, and work wonderfully with the characters as they were animated almost twenty-one years before they did a proper and uncut voiceover for a U.S. release.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a fantastic first film by a director who redefined what you could do with what most would consider a children’s film. Studio Ghibli was the Disney of Japan, and you can see why in almost every one of his films. Nausicaä, much like Mononoke, hits some pretty strong chords with me, and the strength and selflessness of the lead characters are outstanding, and not something you usually see in post-apocalyptic settings. Nausicaä gives you that sense that most other post-apocalyptic films never seem to – hope – and I can’t recommend it enough.