|Review By: Bradley Beeck
A Toxic Forest is spreading across the world, forcing humans into a struggle for survival. They desperately try to stop it's spread, and fight against the monstrous Ohm which live under it's canopy, except for the people of the Valley of the Wind. Protected by the winds, the valley is free from the Toxic spores of the forest, however it's peace will soon be crushed unless Nausicaa, it's princess, can prevent it.
Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki, its famous writer/director, are legendary in the anime world and are sometimes referred to as the Disney of the East. Together they’ve produced a string of highly popular and loved titles, and even won an Oscar for the Best Animated Feature. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was Studio Ghibli’s first movie, and establishes many of the themes and elements common to Hayao Miyazaki’s and the studio’s films. Although technically the studio wasn’t officially formed until after the movie’s release.
The film starts off following Lord Yupa, a nomad wearing a gas mask, as he investigates a deserted town over run by the Toxic Forest. This is quickly followed by the opening credits, presented against a tapestry style depiction of the world's history. It's immediately apparent Nausicaa's going to have an environmental message, something which will appear frequently in Miyazaki's filmography. Once the credits finish we're introduced to Nausicaa herself, a princess of the Valley of the Wind, as she adeptly navigates the hazards of the Toxic Forest. It's then that another of Miyazaki's traits appears in the form of Nausicaa's flying machine, which she uses to rescue Lord Yupa from some rampaging Ohm (huge bug like creatures). The latter will be crucial to the story, however the former, Lord Yupa, is somewhat peripheral to the story and serves as a frame for introducing plot elements.
This is beneficial to the movie because it leaves Nausicaa unequivocally the main character and, in my opinion, she's the most well developed of any of the characters in Ghibli's films. She's an atypical princess; strong, hands on, brave, more like an action hero. However she's deeply compassionate, about both humans and animal, which serves to carry the film's environmental message about living with nature. Consequently she clashes heavily with the other characters in the movie, some of whom are lunatics bent on destruction. This makes her all the more likeable, but at the same time there's a touch of Ivory Tower given the relative safety of her home. All in all, as someone who grew up on a farm, I found the movie's environmental message to be idealistic, although that's by no means a bad thing.
I can't say too much about the movie's plot without spoiling it, but there's a number of different sides to the central conflict of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The people of the Valley of the Wind are given the most detail, explaining their way of life in a positive light. While the other sides are given scant detail, which doesn't help them appear any less lunatic, as I've mentioned. The story is quite action orientated but along the way a prophecy is mentioned. There's no really purpose or explanation for this prophecy, it's just there as fantasy trope. However it does connect with the film's iconic ending, which will stay with viewers long after its finished. While we're on the subject of the ending, it's also one of the strongest of the Ghibli titles, reaching a proper resolution after a real conflict. A lot of Ghibli titles just kind of stop without a thematic ending befitting a film.
Nausicaa's animation has held up extremely well, despite the 26 year interval since it's creation. The backgrounds are amazingly detailed and the forests are a sight to behold. The penultimate scenes of the movie are also praise worthy, as is the design ethic with them being so memorable. The dub is excellent, featuring well known actors such as Patrick Stewart. However the music is a bit dated, with some bad synthesizer mixed in with an orchestra. Joe Hisaishi, the film's composer, went on to perfect the music in Ghibli's next film, Laputa, and I can almost hear it's theme song in some of the tracks.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is one of Studio Ghibli's best movies. It features their most well developed and strong character in Nausicaa herself. The plot is also structured so that ends in a satisfying thematic way, a problem with Ghibli movies. It's quite action orientated but the movie still manages to carry an environmental message without being heavy handed. So it shouldn't be surprising that Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is in my top five Ghibli movies, and is a great movie in general.