Adventure dominates a world of ruin in one of Miyazaki’s first of many fine films
“Ohmu, go back to your jungle. This is not your world.”
Legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki doesn’t tend to make work that doesn’t have an underlying message in it. Feminism, pacifism, and environmentalism are all pretty common, and quite strong, themes. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is one such example, where all three blend beautifully into one.
In this world, a thousand years have passed since the Seven Days of Fire – an ancient war that scourged the land and gave birth to the toxic forests, lethal and poisonous stretches of land where giant insects live. Nausicaä (Sumi Shimamoto), is the princess of the Valley of the Wind, a peaceful place close to one of the forests, whose land gets in the line of fire of two warring nations – Tolmekia and Pejite. Tolkmekia have stolen from Pejite an embryo of one of the Giant Warriors, massive humanoid weapons which led to the Seven Days, and plan to bring it to life in order to rid the world of the toxic forests. With her tiny country caught in the middle, Nausicaä embarks on an adventure to stop the two nations from sparking another apocalyptic event.
What Nausicaa (which I’ll be spelling from now on without the diaeresis) has going for it is its sense of adventure and fun. From the very beginning, you’re sucked into this new world, and Miyazaki does a great job of making you wish you were there alongside the titular hero. The world is fleshed out just enough for it to feel like a real place. For the majority of the film your knowledge of the world is actually very similar to that of the people who live in the Valley of the Wind, and your desire to explore it grows with every new plot turn. It’s an impressive achievement, considering everything beyond the habitations is essentially just acres of death. We’re also privy to seeing some classic Ghibli designs, where the airships, for example, are all based off various insects due to the world now being infested with them. Small details like that are what give a world life, and Nausicaa is a strong example of this done right.
Speaking of, the character of Nausicaa is pretty great, too. She’s an ass-kicking princess who also abhors violence. She’s open-minded and responsible, and always has a plan up her sleeve. Nausicaa has layers sometimes not seen in rebellious-princess type roles, which gives her so much personality. Compare her to the rebel stylings of, say, most Disney princesses (“but dad I don’t want to marry him!”) and Nausicaa comes out on top, as both a more successful character, and as a better role model.
The supporting cast, for the most part, works pretty well. The swordmaster Lord Yupa stands out over the rest, as a fiercely loyal companion of Nausicaa’s. Our secondary lead, Asbel, offers nothing majorly new in terms of his character archetype, but he’s likeable enough to keep you watching. The Disney dub offers us some great actors, with Alison Lohman voicing Nausicaa, and Yupa voiced by Patrick Stewart. Shia LaBeouf (who does a pretty good job here) Uma Thurman, Edward James Olmos, Chris Sarandon and Mark Hamill all lend their voices to the other characters.
Watching this, you do get that this is an earlier film. While still expertly crafted, the plot sometimes jogs along in a way unseen in later Ghibli films. It never feels amateurish, though, just a sometimes a little rough around the edges. None of this matters, though, because the end result is worth it; it’s a fun adventure film set in a world you wish you could see more of, and it’s pretty great throughout.
Verdict: It never reaches the soaring heights of some later Miyazaki efforts, Nausicaä still manages to be epic, fun and captivating throughout.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Also known as: 風の谷のナウシカ (Kaze no Tani no Naushika), Warriors of the Wind
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Sumi Shimamoto – Nausicaä
Mahito Tsujimura – Jihl
Hisako Kyôda – Oh-Baba
Gorô Naya – Yupa
Ichirô Nagai – Mito
Kôhei Miyauchi – Goru
Jôji Yanami – Gikkuri
Minoru Yada – Niga
Yôji Matsuda – Asbel
Mîna Tominaga – Rastel