For those in the know, ‘Nausicaa – Valley Of The Wind’ is accepted as Miyazaki’s best film. Twenty years old, its story of nature biting back at warmongering nations remains remarkably relevant now, and the animation equal to later Miyazaki films, and a universe away from the bland features Disney was distributing in the mid-eighties.
Adapted from Miyazaki’s own epic fame-bringing comic strip, the film is confidently told in broadstrokes, unfolding one thousand years in the future where a Sea of Decay (known as the Toxic Jungle in the English dub), comprised of man-made pollutants, threatens to engulf the world. Huge insects dwell in the toxic sea while in unpolluted regions nations are divided between agriculture and militarism.
Nausicaa is the Princess of the Valley of the Wind, whose peace is shattered by the arrival of the warring Tolmekian army, attempting to steal a huge warrior beast away from a rival army in order to destroy the Sea of Decay. Nausicaa becomes locked into this conflict, desperate to prove that understanding differences is more preferable to total war.
With breathtaking ease ‘Nausicaa’ creates its world and populates it with vividly animated alien creatures. Tackling difficult and potentially preachy themes, the plot’s imagination and breathless pacing turns a merely interesting film into a riveting experience, a world away from deathly literal ‘Harry Potter’ adaptations.
As with ‘Princess Mononoke’ and other Miyazaki films, ‘Nausicaa’ has its cake and eats it, being a pacifist’s warning about conflict and conservation while cramming in edge-of-the-seat thrills and excitement, blending antiquated and up-to-date military technology in a unique vision of warfare. Battles above in the clouds in Miyazaki’s beloved flying machines inspire genuine awe, as does the finale when an army of beserking ohmu (giant bugs that spread the Sea of Decay) stampede on the Valley of the Wind. But, careful attention to character and expertly orchestrated suspense elevates this above empty spectacle.
Nausicaa herself is a spunky lead, while secondary and peripheral characters are also sketched with warmth and insight. A sense of giddy exhilaration bristles in the film every time she climbs aboard her glider and takes to the skies.
Watching ‘Nausicaa’ it becomes clear how conventional Western animation is, and how thought-provoking-cum-enjoyable storytelling is badly needed in family films. Yet, in 1985 for the American market New World Pictures took ‘Nausicaa’ and re-edited and re-christened it ‘Warriors of the Wind’ (way to miss the point, guys) and famously had Miyazaki decreeing he would never allow Western hands to tamper with another of his films.
For anyone interested in their anime, this is a must-have.