Disney // 1984 // 117 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 20th, 2011
A band of young warriors on the wings of their greatest challenge!
"It's so beautiful. It's hard to believe one of these spores could kill me."
The "toxic jungle" has overtaken many parts of the land, destroying entire villages and wiping out life forms of all sorts. If something isn't done soon, human life may be extinguished entirely. Young Princess Nausicaa (Alison Lohman, Matchstick Men) has devoted nearly all of her time to searching for answers to this problem, but she has made little progress despite her considerable intelligence. As if things weren't complicated enough already, soon Nausicaa finds herself in the unenviable position of attempting to keep two warring nations from engaging in a battle that could very well hasten the end of civilization.
While the folks at Walt Disney struggled through a dry creative period during the 1980s, two important cinematic figures emerged to demonstrate that great animation could be achieved outside the House of Mouse. The first was Don Bluth, whose terrific The Secret of NIMH promised a career far more exciting than the one Bluth would actually have. The second was Hayao Miyazaki, whose Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind heralded the arrival of a master of animation. True, it was Miyazaki's second feature (his first was the somewhat underwhelming Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro), but Nausicaa was the film that first gave us a look at the animation style and thematic tendencies that would dominate Miyazaki's career.
Environmental issues would play a role in several of Miyazaki's films (Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, Ponyo), but that theme is perhaps presented most vigorously in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. However, it's worth noting that Nausicaa is no cheap political sermon, but rather a full-blooded fantasy rooted in a deep love for the natural world. The earnest messages of Once Upon a Forest, The Secret of Ferngully and Avatar seem trite in contrast to what Miyazaki achieves here, which is to present his message in a manner that enhances the story rather than distracts from it.
Miyazaki presents a fully-drawn world that has retained an immense deal of natural wonder yet which is only a small nudge away from annihilation. It is difficult enough to maintain a healthy balance to begin with; it becomes next-to-impossible when the surviving nations go to war and are constantly engaged in selfish behavior which promises to bring disaster. Nausicaa is an unconventional hero in that she does not attempt to take down any particular villain, but rather strives to maintain some semblance of order and calm in a world descending into chaos.
Despite the fact that Miyazaki is now regarded by many as one of the world's great animators, it was a while before he became widely well-regarded in the United States. That's partially due to the U.S. butchering of Nausicaa, which was cut by over thirty minutes and re-titled Warriors of the Wind. Many significant scenes were removed and many of the film's environmental themes were invisible as a result (for instance, the giant bugs were re-presented as a violent threat rather than a misunderstood species that had been provoked into violence). Fortunately, Disney would later remaster and re-dub the film and restore it to its intended state. Watching the proper version of the film in hi-def, it becomes clear that Miyazaki was in peak form at a very early stage of his career.
The animation is nothing short of sublime, as Miyazaki has created a superbly detailed world that we feel entirely immersed in within a very short period of time. The film successfully conveys the sense of organic connection that fuels life on this earth, and Miyazaki masterfully reflects the chaos and terror that takes over when senseless rage (human or otherwise) is introduced. The assorted plant and animal life is particularly delightful to behold, as Miyazaki brings traces of recognizable features to fantastical objects as a kind of cinematic shorthand (observe the way Nausicaa's little animal friend moves and behaves very much like a cat despite its oddball appearance).
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind soars onto Blu-ray sporting a very impressive 1080p/1.85:1 transfer. As usual, Disney has done a wonderful job of restoring an older title to its original brilliance, though this transfer isn't quite on par with their very best work. There are a few moments that seem a little soft, but colors are positively vibrant and there are absolutely no scratches, flecks, bits of dirt or grime to be found anywhere. Any issues the film has were likely unsolvable problems, as Disney has turned films as old as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs into movies that look like they were released yesterday. Audio is impressive, blending the inventive sound design, Joe Hisaishi's memorable score and the voice work together in a smooth, clean manner. The action scenes are impressively rowdy too; giving your subwoofer a larger workout than you might expect. While most will select the English-language track (featuring strong vocal turns from well-known figures like Uma Thurman, Patrick Stewart, Edward James Olmos, Shia LaBouef and Mark Hamill in addition to Ms. Lohman), those who prefer to stick with the original voice work will be pleased that the Japanese track has been given a strong lossless mix as well.
The extras are a little frustrating, as they're somewhat thin and are spread out in a slightly exasperating way. Disc one contains an impressive storyboard presentation, an interactive "Enter the Lands of Ghibli" map with little snippets of information and video footage to be found all over the place, and a worthwhile yet brief "Behind the Scenes: Creating Nausicaa" (12 minutes) featurette. Disc two houses a standard DVD copy of the film, along with a two additional featurettes: "The Birth Story of Studio Ghibli" (28 minutes) and "Behind the Microphone" (8 minutes). Disc two also contains the original Japanese theatrical and TV spots. It's not a very comprehensive package, but most of this stuff is worth watching if you don't mind the trouble it takes to access all of it.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind remains one of Miyazaki's finest films and arguably the most impressive animated movie of the 1980s. Disney's Blu-ray release sounds good and looks gorgeous, making it an essential purchase for animation fans. Now let's get some more Studio Ghibli titles in hi-def!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (French)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (Japanese)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Interactive Map
* Trivia Challenge
* TV Spots
* DVD Copy