Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds
Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds was the director's first important film, and it remains one of his best, being unequaled by him until My Neighbor Totoro and unsurpassed until Spirited Away.
Nausicaä herself is one of the most appealing and complex characters of film. She is intelligent, determined, and compassionate, even towards those to whom others do not show compassion. What is more, unlike most cinematic heroes, she is capable of doing wrong and able to learn from her past actions. When, for example, the Valley of the Winds is first attacked, her father is slain, and Nausicaä is so enraged that she goes on to kill several of the invading soldiers. Realizing what she has done, she regrets her actions and thereafter fights her enemies without making use of violence. She even prevents those fighting alongside her from harming others, although such actions would not appear to help her cause. The film creates a sense of heroism focused on her, but it is not the usual sort of violent heroism. Nausicaä is a genuinely heroic individual. She fights the good fight, but, learning from her own imperfections, she tries to win that fight only with actions that are themselves morally justifiable.
Even the film's antagonists are well realized, sympathetic individuals. Instead of presenting the viewer with simple villains intent only on doing evil, Miyazaki shows him persons with understandable motives. While the moviegoer condemns their actions, he can understand why they have made the choices they have. They may be misguided and their behavior destructive, but, rather than being fiends, they emerge as very ordinary people not dissimilar from the viewer himself.
As captivating as are the individuals the director has crafted, they do not exhaust the list of the movie's virtues. Among its others, one that is particularly appealing is the deep concern Miyazaki expresses throughout the film about man's destruction of the environment. While art is not didactic, some such content can be useful in enhancing the emotive content of a work. Nausicaä's world is one that has been devastated by man, and many human beings of her world are still bent on further destruction. The didactic content relating to the environment which has been included helps to strengthen the viewer's appreciation of Nausicaä's heroism because she, almost uniquely, fights to preserve the world.
Happily, not only is Nausicaä filled with a variety of fascinating themes and narrative elements, it is also brought to life with such frequently stunning animation that visually the movie is genuinely and marvelously beautiful. Some of the designs employed for minor characters are not of the highest quality, but the central characters are all nicely realized. The backgrounds are gorgeous and memorable. The Valley of the Winds is a charming, idyllic place, and the toxic forests are weirdly and awesomely beautiful. Miyazaki's designs for the huge insects that inhabit Nausicaä's world are wonderfully detailed and fantastically strange, particularly those of the colossal, caterpillar-like ohmu, and the vast air ships which play an important role in the film are lumpy, unwieldy monstrosities. All these various elements combine to give the film a distinctive, enthralling beauty. It is truly a work of art.
I should at this point note that the Disney dub of Nausicaä is, by and large, decent. Some of the acting is less than impressive, and many admirers of the film may be troubled by the English speaking actors' pronunciations of several of the place names of Miyazaki's fictional world, but these faults are never so distracting as to make the dub intolerable. In fact, most of the actors acquit themselves well. The dub's greatest fault is, for me at least, the translators' occasional bowdlerization of what they, apparently, saw as potentially offensive details in the script. Once again, Disney has insisted upon pandering to the most extreme monotheistic zealots. The God Warriors of the original are, for example, referred to as "Giant Warriors." It is a shame that Disney consistently feels the need to prostitute itself to a group of persons who are, frankly, unlikely to watch the film anyway. Despite such flaws, the dub is not only watchable but, overall, enjoyable.
In both its English and Japanese versions, Nausicaä is a gem. It is a stunning, delightful, inventive film and a wonderfully rousing adventure.
Review by Keith Allen
Allen. All rights reserved.