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Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind

March 11, 1984 (Japan)
February 22, 2005 (United States)
117 minutes
Rated PG for violence
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Written by Hayao Miyazaki and Kazunori Ito
Based on the Manga by Hayao Miyazaki
Produced by Isao Takahata
Characters Designed by Hayao Miyazaki
Music by Joe Hisaishi

Voice Talent (2005 Disney dub):
Alison Lohman as Nausicań
Patrick Stewart as Lord Yupa
Shia LaBeouf as Asbel
Uma Thurman as Kushana
Edward James Olmos as Mito
Chris Sarandon as Kurotowa
Tress MacNeille as Obaba
Mark Silverman as King Jihl
Emily Bauer as Lastelle

Voice Talent (Japanese):
Sumi Shimamoto as Nausicań
Goro Naya as Lord Yupa
Yoji Matsuda as Asbel
Yoshiko Sakakibara as Kushana
Ichiro Nagai as Mito
Iemasa Kayumi as Kurotowa
Hisako Kyoda as Obaba
Mahito Tsujimura as King Jihl
Miina Tominaga as Lastelle

A classic turns 35.

Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind is one of my favorite movies. I can always throw it into my Blu-ray player after a crappy day and come away satisfied after each viewing. Hayao Miyazaki has lovingly crafted an uplifting, poignant, and emotionally satisfying film, a film that examines the human condition at both its best and its worst, both the compassion and selflessness we're capable of and the anger and arrogance that cause some of us to commit the worst acts against our fellow man. On top of this, it's all so very relevant some 35 years (whoa!) after the film first arrived in Japanese theaters.

1,000 years after the Seven Days of Fire, a world war that destroyed much of the Earth, the fast-spreading Toxic Jungle threatens the lives of the last of the human race. Nausicań (Alison Lohman in the 2005 Disney dub, Sumi Shimamoto in Japanese), who is a natural with animals, including the Ohm, giant insects that guard the Toxic Jungle, and Teto, a fox-squirrel that becomes her pet, is the 16-year-old princess of the Valley of the Wind, one of the only countries left in the world whose people live in peace. Nausicań's father is King Jihl (Mark Silverman, Mahito Tsujimura) who has recently taken ill. Mito (Edward James Olmos, Ichiro Nagai) is the Valley's sergeant-at-arms who tends to worry himself sick for Nausicań's safety, namely because she tends to explore the Toxic Jungle. One day, Lord Yupa (Patrick Stewart, Goro Naya), the greatest swordsman in the land, returns home after visiting other kingdoms where Obaba (Tress MacNeille, Hisako Kyoda), the Valley's wise-woman, claims he is searching for the mythical Man in Blue, who some believe will restore mankind's connection with the Earth. That night, a Tolmekian airship crashes in the Valley despite Nausicań's attempts to save it. In the aftermath, Nausicań finds that the Tolmekians flying this airship had abducted Lastelle (Emily Bauer, Miina Tominaga), the princess of Pejite who pleads with her to ôburn the cargoö before succumbing to her injuries. The next day, Princess Kushana (Uma Thurman, Yoshiko Sakakibara) of Tolmekia invades the Valley of the Wind with the Tolmekian military who, led by staff officer Kurotowa (Chris Sarandon, Iemasa Kayumi), assassinate King Jihl. After Nausicań single-handedly takes out a good many of her father's killers, which she subsequently feels guilty for unlike the Tolmekians, Kushana begins the rites of subjugating the Valley and claims to be able to set fire to the Toxic Jungle and eliminate the Ohm while capturing the cargo from the airship, which Lord Yupa suspects is one of the Giant Warriors that destroyed the Earth in the Seven Days of Fire. While traveling, Nausicań, Kushana, and Mito get caught in a firefight with Pejite and after she gets separated from the others, Nausicań meets Asbel (Shia LaBeouf, Yoji Matsuda), Lastelle's twin brother and the teenage prince of Pejite, who soon joins her cause to end the murder and strife before it's too late.

Basing the film on his own manga that he created to trick the studio into seeing how good it would be as a film, and fresh off of The Castle of Cagliostro, Miyazaki stuffs Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind to the gills with so much depth and meaning that I'm not even sure how to begin to unpack all of it. There's enough here that viewers will pick up on more and more with repeated viewings. Miyazaki and co-writer Kazunori Ito, the latter of whom would go on to write Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell, explore anger and arrogance as well as the dangers they pose. When Nausicań's anger drives her to kill, she immediately recognizes the danger anger poses and makes no excuses for her actions even though she was arguably in the right. Similarly, even though Asbel was arguably justified in his anger against the Tolmekians for abducting his twin sister, he still feels remorse for shooting down the Tolmekian ship Nausicań was aboard after learning that she comforted Lastelle in her last moments. This also shows how violence wreaks not only physical havoc on the victim but also spiritual havoc on the person committing the act. For example, the Tolmekian soldiers seen in the film have enacted so much violence against their fellow human beings that they've become desensitized and all but lost their humanity, the only emotions they have left anger and arrogance. This arrogance is on full display when several of them face off against Lord Yupa in battle, only to face sound defeat. Miyazaki also shows how fear often causes a person to take leave of his or her senses. Kushana's fear of the Ohm, along with her anger against them, is what causes her to hate the Ohm and want to destroy them while her arrogance leads her to think she can destroy both the Ohm and the Toxic Jungle so easily. With that said, Miyazaki portrays the character as flawed but not evil and as the film progresses, we learn that she has well-founded reasons for feeling this way. Contrast this with Nausicań who exemplifies selflessness and courage under fire. She refuses to let fear or anger consume her and she makes a valiant effort to end the burgeoning war so that no one else has to die a senseless death the way her father did. Much like Ashiitaka later does in Miyazaki's equally excellent Princess Mononoke, Nausicań offers a balanced view of the conflict between Pejite and Tolmekia, able to see where both parties went wrong. On one occasion, for instance, she, rather bluntly, informs Asbel's father that he and his advisers are ôsavagesö who are ôjust as bad as the Tolmekiansö for what he plans to do in the Valley. The film also shows where man's pollution of the environment can lead if unchecked, which also doubles for the fact that Nausicań is trying to heal a broken world, both the humans who live there and the environment they inhabit. Underneath the violence and acts of ugliness seen in the film, Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind is a love letter to compassion and selflessness, highlighting how these two traits will almost always win the day in the end, and perhaps no scene better demonstrates this than its endgame that proves both triumphant and poignant. All things considered, its story is a timeless one, every bit as relevant today as it was 35 years ago.

The animation is, as you'd expect of a Miyazaki film, absolutely stunning. Even though Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind arrived before Miyazaki and producer Isao Takahata founded Studio Ghibli, it matches up to the iconic studio's standards in every possible way I can think of. Its colors are stunning, namely the reds and blues. Its character designs are well-proportioned and realistic and clothing is believable for the world its characters inhabit. The Ohm and other insects have very intricate designs that match flawlessly what a giant insect would probably look like. The locations are also truly amazing, with everything from the grass and hills of the Valley of the Wind to the sandy dunes of the deserts to the (albeit poisonous) nature wonderland of the Toxic Jungle displaying an arresting amount of detail. Vehicles like Nausicań's glider and the various airships follow suit. Last, but certainly not least, future Neon Genesis Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno's work on the Giant Warrior scenes is absolutely mesmerizing, the icing on the cake that is the amazing animation job on this lovingly crafted film.

Performances and dialogue can make or break a film, so I'm glad to say Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind is well-acted and well-scripted in both English and Japanese. Lohman and Shimamoto are perfect as Nausicań, the titular princess and protagonist, both perfectly capturing the character's personality and each giving her a smooth, calming voice that perfectly matches that personality. Stewart and Naya are also excellent as Lord Yupa, the master swordsman who serves as a mentor to Nausicań after King Jihl's assassination, each offering a voice that is both commanding and comforting in the way a father's or grandfather's might be. LaBeouf and Matsuda are also first-class as Asbel, the teenage prince of Pejite who quickly befriends Nausicań even after firing on the Tolmekian airship she was aboard, each molding him into a likable character with aplomb. Thurman and Sakakibara are more than adequate as Kushana, the Tolmekian princess who has ôchosen the bloody path,ö portraying her as flawed but not evil. Olmos and Nagai are marvelous as Mito, one of Nausicań's allies, perfectly capturing not only his tough and gruff exterior, but the kind and selfless heart that lies beneath it. Sarandon and Kayumi knock it out of the park as Kurotowa, the Tolmekian military's sardonic staff officer whose face is almost always twisted into a smirk, perfectly capturing the character's wry and wisecracking nature. MacNeille and Kyoda are terrific as Obaba, each completely convincing as a wise old lady whose words carry serious weight and are not to take lightly. The dub also includes a haunting opening narration by Tony Jay that sets the tone for the entire film when viewed in English. All in all, this is a film full of life, character depth, and purpose in both English and Japanese so watch it both ways and enjoy both for what they bring to the table.

Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind marks Miyazaki's first collaboration with musical scoring master Joe Hisaishi. While some have criticized this score, and someone even dubbed Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind Miyazaki's ôworstö film based on it, I for one love it and it is very clear to me what Miyazaki saw in Hisaishi and why he would use him for each of his subsequent films. From the opening credits accompanied by images of the Giant Warriors during the Seven Days of Fire to the very last frame, Hisaishi makes it feel like we're watching an epic even though the film runs just a little under two hours in length. The piano pieces such as The Legend of the Wind and its variations send a chill down the spine every time. The synthesizer pieces like Stampede of the Ohm generate serious thrills. The Battle Between Mehve and Corvette is genuinely thrilling with its mix of piano, drums, and other instruments. The chanting pieces like Nausicań Requiem are hauntingly beautiful. Overall, it's a great score and it's a perfect fit for the film. An excellent sound design also serves to make the stampede scenes and battle scenes that much more visceral.

For my money, Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind really is above reproach as a film. It is my favorite film directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki and my second favorite anime, just behind Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira. Having decided at age 14 that I absolutely had to see it, I finally blind bought the Blu-ray at 19 and seeing it is something I have no regrets about. I've kept coming back to it and it never ceases to amaze me. Films like Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind represent not only the zenith of anime but the zenith of cinema in general. Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind is a timeless classic, every bit as relevant and engrossing now (if not more so) as it was when it first arrived in Japanese theaters 35 years ago. The studio didn't want it made, but they changed their minds once Miyazaki created the manga and Miyazaki got the chance to make his masterpiece. New World butchered it by leaving more than 20 minutes on the cutting room floor in 1985, but Disney rescued it 20 years later with a proper English dub and proper subtitles to translate the Japanese dialogue and now it's widely available in its uncut form, Warriors of the Wind all but forgotten. The film is often ignored because it came before Ghibli, but without it, there wouldn't be a Studio Ghibli. The film's success is what helped Studio Ghibli's formation. Simply put, it's still an important piece of Ghibli's history and any fan of Miyazaki who hasn't owes it to themself to see this film. Anyone who simply allows themself to be transported to the world the film creates will be amazed. Its characters are easy to get invested in, its themes hold much weight even today, Hisaishi's musical score truly is a masterpiece despite what some say, its animation is absolutely amazing to look at, performances are excellent in both English and Japanese, and Miyazaki's vision is clear. It is thought-provoking, uplifting, poignant, emotionally satisfying, and absolutely unforgettable. Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind also repays repeated viewings and if I had to guess, many seeing it for the first time will probably want to return to it repeatedly as I have. With all that said, it probably goes without saying at this point that I hold no qualms whatsoever about awarding Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind my highest recommendation.