This post-apocalyptic environmentalist fable, by Hayao Miyazaki based on his manga, drops you into another world from the start. Nausicaa is a beloved princess in a village threatened by the Toxic Jungle, where giant insects menace her people and everyone outside must wear a mask to protect them from poisoned air.
The beginning is slow-moving, as we and Nausicaa explore her world and she narrates to us what she’s seeing and doing (a characteristic other cast members share, with the addition of praising how impressive Nausicaa’s abilities are). She can talk to the weird bugs that threaten the humans, as she rides around on a jet-powered glider. (Miyazaki fans will recognize his love of flight, frequently on view here.)
The existence of the people is threatened by the environment they battle, making survival difficult. Then a spaceship crashes, bringing enemies who take over the village while proposing to burn the Toxic Jungle. Nausicaa knows that the plants are not to blame, since she’s been gardening, raising non-poisonous plants. The killer jungle is deadly because of the toxic soil and water they grow in. (And yes, at one point, there is literal tree-hugging.)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind doesn’t have the sheer gee-whiz visual amazement factor of the other Miyazaki films I’ve seen. It’s done in an older style, one that vaguely reminded me of Heavy Metal in the nature scenes, with the tech and the giant flying animals. The rest of it is vaguely medieval, with peasant-looking villagers and knight-inspired headgear for the soldiers. It’s very much of its time, both in character style and animation techniques. (I kept getting distracted by the immensely bad choice of coloring Nausicaa’s pants the same color as her skin, giving the viewer the temporary impression every so often that she’s flashing the camera.)
The movie was first released in 1984, which is why the techno soundtrack sounds like a video game. The piano scoring during the quieter segments is much nicer to listen to. Ed (who watched with me) says I also have to mention the “fox-squirrel”, which reminds him of a tiger kitten and I kept calling the rat-thing. (I think I was thinking of Beastmaster.) It’s the requisite cute pet that rides on her shoulder.
The voices date from 2005 (the original US release by Disney) and, except for the lead (Alison Lohman), are impressive. Patrick Stewart is the older mentor, while Chris Sarandon (snarky!) and Uma Thurman are enemy leaders. Shia LaBeouf is the young prince she explores with later in the film.
The movie is extremely well-respected and highly praised, but today’s viewer will best appreciate it based on historical importance and how impressive particular visuals are. I felt the movie tried to do too much, with the various factions and kingdoms and their desires conflicting with the story of a girl working to make the world healthier. When Nausicaa screams at the various warships attacking each other “stop the killing!”, it’s meant to seem an important gesture, but it comes across as naive and childish. I would have rather seen more of the story about a young woman trying to bridge the human and insect worlds in a fascinating vision of the future, less of the battle sequences.
On the other hand, for young viewers, it’s imaginative and awe-inspiring, since they aren’t already familiar with the types and ideas used. (Shame it’s rated “not recommended for young children” due to “frightening scenes”.) I very much liked the way that the two sides are lead by women, making decisions and fighting for what they believe in.
You can hear the movie with an English, French, or Japanese soundtrack with English or French subtitles. The bonus features on the Blu-ray are the original Japanese storyboards and the “World of Ghibli”, which contains the 11 1/2-minute “Behind the Studio”, a featurette about how important this movie is that contains a captioned interview with Miyazaki himself. “Enter the Lands” is a very well-drawn way of showing promos for other Ghibli movies. I couldn’t find the reported “trivia challenge” (but I ignored the “disc has newer content, put in a USB drive” warning I got at the beginning — maybe it was contained there).
The DVD has different bonus features, I believe from the earlier release. “Behind the Microphone” is almost eight minutes of the voice talent talking about how much they enjoyed working on the movie. This one was my favorite, since I love seeing who played whom. “The Birth Story of Studio Ghibli” is 28 minutes of a dubbed documentary. Plus, there are Japanese trailers and TV spots for the movie.
If you’re a fan of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, you will want this updated version, just for the visuals in high-def. If you haven’t yet experienced the magic of Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki’s works, I recommend starting instead with My Neighbor Totoro, which appears more modern and yet timeless. (The studio provided a review copy.)