Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind 

Release date: 11 March 1984

Relation to Ghibli: Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Produced by Isao Takahata

Synopsis:

Far in the future, after an apocalyptic conflict dubbed the “7 days of fire”, much of the world’s ecosystem has been devastated. The few surviving humans, now divided into warring factions, live in scattered, semi-hospitable environments within the “toxic jungle.” Our protagonist, Princess Nausicaä lives in the arid, toiling Valley of the Wind, and has gained the ability to communicate with the massive insects that populate the jungle. Under the guidance of veteran warrior and dear friend Lord Yupa, Nausicaä works to bring peace back to the ravaged planet, while others intend to destroy it.

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It’s hard to tell a compelling story. It’s also hard create an expansive universe. Miyazaki manages to do both superbly in Nausciaa of the Valley of the Wind. Technically, this movie was created before Studio Ghibli debuted, but it could still be one of their strongest films yet.

Having written the source material for this film, balancing between concision and substance was always going to be a struggle for Miyazaki. The characters are incredibly fleshed out, and Miyazaki has made creating a plethora of deep, individual characters look easy. But using a 7-volume manga series as the backbone for this film did create some issues. Like with most adaptations, part of the art is removing parts of the original piece that doesn’t follow the film’s direction, or extra development that is deemed unnecessary. Towards the second half of this film, there was a rapid introduction of characters, countries and factions, which complicated the world more than it fleshed it out. It would have been difficult to summarise everything he had created in his manga, but Miyazaki’s pacing made the film sometimes sporadic and confusing, even being hard to enjoy in some instances. Much like Lupin, I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t look away without missing an important piece of information, with little time to soak up what I’d just experienced. With that being said, pacing is the only issue I had with this film.

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As the film begins, we are immediately thrown into a new world full of faded scenery, polluted atmospheres and incredibly hostile inhabitants. The first scene introduces the viewer to Nausicaä, establishes the relationship she has with her environment and some insight into the world’s geography. While it may sound like a lot, it never felt overwhelming. In fact, I loved the opening, and its title sequence. The inclusion of ancient art and mythic flashbacks added depth to the world without overtly telling the viewer its history. The resulting intrigue is weaved throughout the entire film, as the world’s lore only becomes more and more complex. Gazing into the beautiful, yet terrifying toxic jungle, I was always curious as to what other creatures inhabited these awe inspiring environments.

This is the first time I’ve written a review where I’ve used the term “faultless”. But there is no better way to describe Miyazaki’s art in this film. Starting with the characters, most costumes were simple yet effective; being used to emphasise class or their nation’s technological advancement. It became clear after looking at the villages that they had been knocked back technologically by the “seven days of fire”, which effectively destroyed civilisation. Nausicaä is simple in design too, but the use of a blue colour attaches a more regal atmosphere around the young princess. What makes Nausicaa’s art outstanding, however, is the depth within each environment. The viewer is never looking at a still forest, or barren desert. The animation makes it very clear that they are complex ecosystems, rich with organisms. In that way, the audience adds extra detail to the art internally, envisioning what remains hidden, which also allows the animators to avoid overcomplicating their designs.

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There are many themes present in this film that can now be considered Ghibli staples:

The most prominent Ghibli motif explored in this film was the relationship between humans and their environment. Miyazaki is the biggest proponent that humanity and their environment aren’t separate entities, rather two sides of the same coin. This connection should be respected, and we should coexist in harmony. To me, this film is his strongest environmental discourse. The director’s feelings towards environmentalism are embodied in most of his characters. While Nausicaä technically holds the role of princess, the protagonist considers herself a pacifist-warrior, more concerned with uniting the world than her loyalty to a single kingdom. It’s a classic case of supernatural creatures initially being framed as the film’s threat, before revealing that mankind is the real toxic waste. As if it were an homage to his childhood, Miyazaki loves implementing both the good and evil of adulthood, as if to say “sometimes grown ups just don’t get it”. Yet, there really aren’t any heroes or villains; just conflicting viewpoints. This is another theme Ghibli enjoys utilising; having a protagonist unite conflicting views through an act of courage, shedding light on a more serious issue (which is usually about the state of the environment).

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This film also debuts Ghibli’s most popular character archetype; a young, intelligent female protagonist who exercises kindness in even the most dire of circumstances. That isn’t to say that Nausicaä is perfect. The viewer witnesses her struggle to balance both her responsibilities as the princes of the Valley of the wind as well as her connection to the toxic jungle. She must battle, and even kill opposing kingdoms, which causes intense inner conflict within her. It’s not her actions that the audience judge her for; it’s her attempts to uphold her morals even in the most dire of circumstances. Instead of ditching her morals when things get tough, she clings onto them tighter, which wins her the love of not only her kingdom, but the viewers.

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When reading the story on pen and paper, it sounds almost horror-ish. While the themes seem common enough (both in the ghibli catalogue and anime in general), exploring environmental issues, the evils of humanity and the morality of the universe, it has led to a surprisingly dark film aimed at children. I was shocked, when scanning my shelf, to see that this film had a lower movie rating (G) than Princess Mononoke (M). Yet, Miyazaaki’s ability to inject his protagonists with optimism leaves the audience with a sense of hope and confidence, even in the most grim situations. This unadulterated innocence cannot be found in any of the adult characters; it lies solely within children, like a special trait that only the younger viewers can empathise with. It almost seems like the director is talking directly to his child viewers, knowing that they will be the only ones that get it.

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The music in Nausicaä is incredibly atmospheric. Joe Hisaishi does a fantastic job of not only creating a compelling scoresheet, but producing music that is distinctive to this film. Each song is both beautiful and tragic simultaneously. You feel a great sense of wonder when flying over the toxic jungle, but also a sliver of hopelessness. The song “Requiem”, which features a child singing eerily, is a personal favourite of mine. It’s incredibly haunting, and it stays with you even once the film has ended. It added a layer of importance to the flashback scenes it meshed with, and did an excellent job at building up tension.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is an excellent piece of animation, and it’s no wonder that it would later spawn Studio Ghibli. It’s impressive use of visuals, music and story create a compelling story, though nothing morally complex. I would have liked to see a slower pacing, though it would have been difficult to explore all facets this piece did. A must watch for any fan of animation, with a historical significance that is un-refutable.

Art – 10

Story – 9

Writing – 8

Overall – 9/10

Image sources:

https://www.moviepilot.de/movies/nausicaae-prinzessin-aus-dem-tal-der-winde/images/54617, http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Nausicaa-of-the-Valley-of-the-Wind-Blu-ray/10049/, https://www.mfah.org/calendar/nausicaa-valley-wind, http://www.neoverso.com/1984/03/spoilers-nausicaa-in-valley-of-wind.html?m=0, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRZ5JalHjhs, http://www.ifccenter.com/films/nausicaa-of-the-valley-of-the-wind/, https://www.fathomevents.com/events/studio-ghibli-fest-nausicaa-of-the-valley-of-the-wind?video_id=XGSt0xCdXEI

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