Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Sumi Shimamoto, Goro Naya, Yoshiko Sakakibara
Review Author: Tony
Synopsis: Set 1,000 years after an apocalyptic event named ‘The Seven Days of Fire’, the earth’s environment is a wasteland with massive toxic forests, referred to as ‘The Sea of Decay’ which is responsible for the release of contagious spores containing lethal gasses. The Sea of Decay is continuously spreading and consuming the remaining settlements of humans, whilst also serving as a breeding ground for giant insects, including the building sized Ohms. Despite the environmental concerns, humans continue to wage war on each other. In the peaceful settlement Valley of the Wind, a young princess named Nausicaä rides the wind on her glider, exploring The Sea of Decay as she actively looks for a solution to restore the planet and prevent the spread any further.
Outside of My Neighbor Totoro, it pains me to admit I’ve not seen any other Studio Ghibli or Hayao Miyazaki films. In order to rectify this heinous offense and regain the title of film enthusiast, I will dedicate each month of this year to 1 Miyazaki film for review. Described as a genius and pioneer for animation, Miyazaki has captured audiences’ attention for over 3 decades now and continued to legitimize animation as one of the finer mediums for storytelling. While I just as easily could have focused on Studio Ghibli’s filmography, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was directed by Hayao before he established the studio with frequent collaborators Toshio Suzuki & Isao Takahata, and in all honesty it is this film that has ignited my interest in viewing all of Miyazaki’s feature films to date.
While I mentioned above that Nausicaä was created before the inception of Studio Ghibli, the film’s success was an integral moment that led to the creation of the studio. Nausicaä was Miyazaki’s second effort as director of a feature film based on the manga series of the same name developed by Miyazaki himself. Adapting one’s own work is no simple task and Miyazaki had to cut many elements of the manga to condense it down to a coherent narrative but one that retained the essence and scope of the manga. Miyazaki has mentioned multiple inspirations such as The Lord of The Rings novels, Dune, and the fantasy series, Earthsea (Miyazaki’s son, Goro would later adapt).
Miyazaki does a wonderful job of integrating both fantasy and science fiction into this grand story. This dystopian future appears more inspired by the past than the usual cyberpunk incarnations of other science fiction media. Combining steampunk, World War 2 inspired machinery, and even folklore creates this unique world that offsets the grimness of a devastated planet with colour and vibrancy.
First and foremost an environmentalist story, Nausicaä showcases the conflict of man vs nature as The Sea of Decay looks to spread ceaselessly and wipe out the last remanents of humanity. All the while the warring nations of Tolmekia and Pejite seek to violently retaliate against this Toxic Jungle despite the devastating past results of such actions. Allowing nature to restore balance and humanity to seek harmony are themes frequently reused by Miyazaki in his films as he found himself enamoured by the beauty of the natural world. The strong anti-war message and the fruitless cycle of violence was borne from Miyazaki’s own experience, born into a Japan at war and seeing the devastating results it had on his country. Although a cautionary tale, one that seems eerily prophetic of our own climate crisis, Nausicaä closes on an optimistic and heartwarming note.
The character of Nausicaä herself is one of the best female leads ever, blowing any Disney princess out of the water. She is strong willed, empathetic, a natural leader, and a fierce warrior. She embodies the better traits of humanity and strives to research and understand The Sea of Decay as a means of sustaining her valley and saving humanity through non-violent means. Her kind disposition endears her to animals and the giant insects, and she is loved by the settlers in her kingdom. Despite her royal designation, she takes a hands on approach to everything and can be found in the thick of it; whether it be fighting off invaders or traversing the barren wasteland on her glider for scrap and materials to aid her research. Her idealistic nature and optimistic outlook is uncommon in a world in constant conflict, and we see her disgust at the truly desperate and immoral measures others will take to eradicate The Sea of Decay.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a breathtakingly beautiful film, even after 37 years since it first dropped in theatres. The animation is crisp and bountiful, moving from a variety of creative landscapes. The scope of the narrative is enormous for the 117 minute runtime, demonstrating the benefits of animation over Live Action for presenting scale. Perhaps a little too intense for young children, especially featuring depictions of war and mass devastation; Nausicaä will mostly be appreciated by adults due to the multilayered story and abundance of timely relevant themes. A true masterpiece in animation that has me thoroughly excited for the rest of Hayao Miyazaki’s films.
Shots of Saki