Judge Joel Pearce is considering having kids just so he can show them Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.
Our review of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Blu-ray), published June 20th, 2011, is also available.
Miyazaki's Epic Masterpiece
Until now, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was only available in North America as Warriors of the Wind, a painfully shortened and re-scripted version that I have never seen. From all reports, it showed little of the magic that is associated with the work of Hayao Miyazaki. This version of the film is uncut, offers the option of a new literal translation alongside the original Japanese audio track, and sports a brand new dub featuring Hollywood talent. Because it was the first film that Studio Ghibli released and has many of the same themes as its later films, it would be easy to dismiss Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind as a trial run for Princess Mononoke. That would be unfair; this film holds up perfectly after 20 years. Disney's two-disc edition makes up for the terrible North American release of the past, and should be added to your collection at your earliest convenience.
Facts of the Case
One thousand years after an apocalyptic war, mankind lives in fear of the mighty insect world that has risen up in the toxic jungle that covers much of the land. Humans are trapped in small feudal enclaves, fighting over the few scraps that remain of the great technological achievements from before. The greatest one of these is a monstrous weapon that has lain dormant for centuries. The two greatest cities, Pejite and Tolmekia, are fighting over the monster. Both seek it to gain control of the world.
One human city has avoided this petty fighting. In the Valley of the Wind, a constant breeze from the sea keeps toxic spores away from the plants, allowing the people to live in relative peace and harmony. They are led by a young princess named Nausicaä, who believes it is possible to live in harmony with nature. When the battle between Tolmekia and Pejite spills into the Valley of the Wind, their land is occupied by Tolmekia and Nausicaä is captured. She and a few friends must stop this war, before the world is consumed by the toxic jungle and mankind is wiped off the face of the earth forever.
Although Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is aimed at families with older children, it is a war movie at its core. Few American animators would risk making a film with those criteria, but Miyazaki pulled it off. Details of the plot will be tough for younger children to follow, and there is a lot more violence than its American counterparts contain. Yet I would be happy to show this film to my children (if I had any) for several reasons.
Nausicaä is a richly developed, strong female character. While decades of Disney damsels have run around in distress, gotten kidnapped, and waited for princes to save them, Nausicaä is a great role model for girls. Caring and peace-loving, she is a wise ruler who spends time with her people. She is the most capable pilot and warrior in the valley, and must confront her own rage when her people are conquered and her father is attacked. In addition to the great adventures she goes on, she needs to deal with personal issues, and the choices she makes are good.
The ecological message in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind reaches farther than most animated films have attempted to go. The message here isn't "avoid killing off species" or "don't kill the rain forest." While those are important ideals, this message for children (better to work with nature than against it) can be used in a range of situations by all people.
This great story never talks down to youth. Children won't understand everything that's happening in the film, but that gives them things to discover when they return to it later. It's whimsical, colorful, and kinetic, but never cutesy or childish.
Adults will get as much (or more) pleasure from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The exciting, sweeping story is on par with the greatest screen adventures. The premise and the world are highly sophisticated as well, much more than the straightforward animation and simple storytelling style would suggest. Although this isn't exactly what would happen after a worldwide nuclear holocaust, much thought went into the giant insects that threaten humanity. We are not the toughest species on earth by a long shot; if our technology was ever taken from us, we've probably grown soft enough that we'd be in serious trouble. The human society is fascinating, with an interesting blend of Medieval European influences in arms and dress combined with rough technology filtered down through generations. This blend is never fully explained, but it creates a rich texture. The empty shells of the giant monster-warriors and the burst of flame they eventually create is an obvious metaphor for nuclear war, one that works on several levels. No matter how deeply you dig into the world and story, Miyazaki will impress you. Every element has been carefully planted.
The animation holds up surprisingly well, too. It isn't quite as dazzling as Princess Mononoke and it's far from Studio Ghibli's visually accomplishment in Spirited Away, but it is highly detailed and unusually cinematic for animation that was released in the mid '80s. The characters are detailed and unique, already showing the wonderful expressions and reactions that would later characterize the studio's work. The backdrops are awesome as well, creating a world that's easy to get lost in.
Because Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind targets a family audience, I watched the English dub to make sure it does justice to the complexities and subtleties of the literal translation. Overall, I am very impressed. Although there are a few changes here and there, the English voice cast has captured the spirit of the film. Patrick Stewart is as great as always, and Alison Lohmann does a fine job as Nausicaä. One of the biggest problems with Disney's Princess Mononoke dub is that the voices of Minnie Driver and Billy Bob Thornton are distracting and stand out too much. There are big names here, like Uma Thurman and Edward James Olmos, but they sink into the background. I prefer the original audio track, but it's nice to have a good alternative for people too young to keep up with the subtitles on-screen.
Disney has done an excellent job with the transfer. The image quality does show the age of the film slightly, but it's a whole lot better than the bootleg laserdisc rip that I've had to watch in the past. Most of the dirt has been cleaned off the print, and there are few visible compression artifacts. The detail isn't as high as it could be; we can only wish that Disney would spend the effort on these films that they do on their own animated classics. The sound mix is solid, with the choice between Japanese or English in the original mono mix. Although it would be nice to have the sweeping soundtrack and ambient noise fill the soundstage a bit more, the film sounds clean and clear throughout.
Though this DVD package hardly needed to be spread across two discs, great bonus features have been included. The first disc has a brief "Behind the Microphone" featurette with the English voice cast. It's mostly fluff, but it's worth checking out if you have never seen a dubbing feature before. As well, there is a dubbed "Birth of Studio Ghibli" featurette, a fun background on the great studio, even if the dub is aimed a little low. The only extra on the second disc is complete storyboards from the film, in anamorphic widescreen with a choice between English or Japanese dialogue. If nothing else, it's great to have the storyboards archived and accessible to audiences. It's not a fully stocked special edition, but it's not a completely casual effort either.
Every time I watch a film from Studio Ghibli (with a couple of minor exceptions), I am floored by how entertaining, beautiful, and dignified they are. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind sits near the top of this list, a film with firm moral values and a strong understanding of how to entertain audiences of all ages. Finally, 20 years after its original release, we have a chance to see this magnificent film as it was meant to be watched. If you are a fan of animation, don't let it go unseen any longer.
Everyone involved in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and this disc is in no way guilty. I would, however, like to get my hands on whoever had them charged in the first place.
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