Old Review: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Nausicaa of the Valley of the WindA great war had struck on the world and after a thousand years, earth’s ecosystem is severely damaged and large civilisations are dwindled down to small settlements. One of these settlements is the Valley of the Wind, which is led by Jihl and her daughter, Nausicaa, an intelligent woman with the unique gift of being able to communicate with large insects, such as the Ohmu, which protect a large poisonous forest that is situated near the Valley. Things start going for the worse when an airship crashes, containing the egg of a Giant Warrior, a god like creature which was a cause of the destruction from the Great War. This leads to a large battle between settlements, with the Valley to restore peace and the bond between nature and humanity itself.

The history of this film was kind of confusing to me at first, until I contacted one or two people for my answers. During the production of “Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro” in 1979, 38 year old Director Hayao Miyazaki became friends with then editor of Animage, Toshio Suzuki. Publisher of Animage, Yasuyoshi Tokuma, wanted to extend his company into film making, so Suzuki organised a meeting between him, Miyazaki and Tokuma, to pitch film ideas and sketches of Miyazaki’s works. These ideas, which lead to both Nausicaa and Laputa: Castle of the Sky, were rejected since they were original works, and the most successful and profitable animated films were based of mangas or TV series, since they already had a fan base willing to see the film. Not to mention that original films were too big of a risk to produce since whether they were good or bad, back then they almost always flopped, and Miyazaki and Takahata were victims to this simple fact. Since Suzuki had high hopes for Nausicaa, he offered Miyazaki to write and illustrate a serial manga version in Animage, thinking that if the manga was popular enough, they could try to pitch it as a film. Miyazaki agreed but not to make it into a film. Since he was a child, Miyazaki aspired to be a manga artist, and release his own manga, and the Nausicaa manga was his chance to live that dream. He did not intend Nausicaa to be a film and made Suzuki swear not to make his creation into an anime. However in 1983, one year after the first issue of the manga was released, Nausicaa became Animage’s most popular feature and Tokuma Shoten offered an adaptation to an animated film. Being torn between his vision and his own promise, Miyazaki eventually accepted on the basis that he would direct the film himself. He also demanded that his best friend and trusted colleague Isao Takahata to produce and then freelance musician Joe Hisaishi was assigned the composer after high recommendation.

Before I continue with the review, I will mention one important thing involving the film. It has been debated on whether this counts as a Studio Ghibli film. On the one hand, Studio Ghibli was founded after the film’s release, and was developed by Top Craft, an animation studio owned by Tokuma. On the other hand, several elements from later Studio Ghibli films are found in Nausicaa and large amounts of the staff including Miyazaki, Suzuki, Takahata and most of the production staff from Top Craft moved to Studio Ghibli. I believe it should be classed as a Ghibli film because of the people involved, the elements and we wouldn’t have Studio Ghibli without this film anyway.

The animation and artwork is superb, the amount of detail, even to the wind blowing against peoples robes and hair, when compared with anime films such as Barefoot Gen and even later films like Akira, it is impressive seen how well the film stands to its own merit. The best of Nausicaa’s animation comes from this scene, which believe it or not was solely animated by Hideaki Anno, who banged down Miyazaki’s door to after seeing a want ad for animators for the film. The backgrounds also show great detail, with the skies and the earth showing many colours.

If I was to be honest, the music is my only problem with this film. To his credit, for Hisaishi’s film composition debut, several tracks such as the main theme and the music played during the flashback scenes are lovely and greatly orchestrated, but then at multiple points in the film, the music consist of synthesizers and organ style music which sound like it came from a keyboard, I ended up finding it off putting to see it switch from beautiful orchestra to a guy messing around with a keyboard or a square lead synthesiser.

The original Japanese voice cast is brilliant and is definitely worth a listen to, with each voice fitting role it’s been assigned too, and putting a lot of effort. Sumi Shimamoto gives a bright personality and a deep caring side for the Ohmu for Nausicaa, Goro Naya giving a mysterious and wise tone but friendly and helpful side when the situation comes for Yupa, and Sakakibara showing an interesting mix of royalty and military styles to her voice as Kushana to name a few. A few months after its release, a dub of the film entitled “Warriors of the Wind” was release first in a small amount of theatres, then on VHS. Looking the film up will tell you it’s bad but you won’t know how bad it is until you’ve watched it, it is terrible. Around 30 minutes were cut and the whole plot became a mess, with the most light hearted explanation being the plot was turned from environmental film to war film, treating the Ohmu as the main enemy and diluting the environmental messages, killing the point of the film’s ending. Since Miyazaki wants everyone to remove the film from people’s minds there’s no point of talking about it any further, but search hard enough and you’ll find a copy for a monetary value. Disney released an English version, uncut, in 2005 that is far superior, with an almost unchanged script and brilliant performances from actors such as Patrick Stewart as Yupa, Uma Thurman, Alison Lohman and Tress MacNielle, giving the same feel of character for their roles with the few exceptions such as Chris Sarandon as Kurotawa, who is more snively when compared to Lemasa Kayumi.

If I was to be more honest, I don’t have any problem with the storyline or the plot of the film. From beginning to end, the film flows nicely, mixing between dramatic, heart-warming and action scenes very well. While it is also a film that is set in a future that clearly doesn’t look like our own, it definitely has a great environmental feel like it is present day. I know this may be hard to believe since I’m trying not to spoil the story for first time viewers, but like all Studio Ghibli films, this is one that cannot be missed.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is available from Walt Disney in the US and Optimum Releasing in the UK as part of the Studio Ghibli collection. The original manga is available from Viz Media. If for some odd reason you want to see “Warriors of the Wind”, the poor English translation of Nausicaa, it was available from New World video and Vestron Entertainment but it is out of print, so have a look on Amazon or eBay if you want it.

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