Spotlight on Japan: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Spotlight on Japan is a brand new weekly column reserved for my reviews of Japanese films. Let’s see how this thing works out.

Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) is an animated film with huge historical significance. It started a new era in Japanese animation by bringing together the staff who would found Studio Ghibli, the most consistent and popular Japanese animation studio of all time. Along with a few other films in the 80’s, it created a completely new level of animation quality never seen before. Its monetary success created a playground for Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki – who would become the most prominent figures of the industry by releasing one masterpiece after another, which they are still doing. Picking Nausicaä as the first film for Spotlight on Japan was a no-brainer thanks to its status.

Nausicaä was originally a manga series that Miyazaki both wrote and drew. He was still in middle of working on it when he started the film’s production, which led to the film taking a drastically different path. The complex world and plot are simplified in the film, but that’s only for the better because that makes the pacing more reasonable and the themes more obvious – Miyazaki doesn’t sacrifice too much of the original story. One thing that bothered even the director himself was the ending where he had to pull off a complete deus ex machina (that isn’t luckily too random) to get a proper ending for the film. This particular event was avoided in the manga that would still continue for a decade before Miyazaki finished it.

Essentially Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is about a young pacifist princess in a world which is gradually drowning in a “toxic jungle” while scared nations fight each other over the possession of a God Warrior, a destructive being that might be the key to saving the world.

Even as a film maker, Miyazaki is a storyteller first and foremost. His images are always marvelous to look at and his eye for editing is sharp. Despite reducing the manga of its complicated elements, the film requires a lot of exposition to cover every needed aspect – and Miyazaki has to depend a lot more on dialogue than he would in his later film. Hence the beginning of the film is a bit stiff (and even corny) because the characters are forced to speak lines that only serve the heavy narrative exposition. However, the film recovers fast and the rest of the film is full of glorious storytelling only Miyazaki can pull off.

As usual, Miyazaki is very concerned with environmental themes, but he never goes for an irritating black and white approach and Nausicaä is no exception. Excluding Nausicaä’s thoroughly good nature (which puts her in an interesting position – in terms of storytelling and ethics) every single character is a mixture of good and band – which make them extremely human and their actions reasonable. While environmental themes might sound narrow on their own Miyazaki manages to make the film thematically captivating by throwing himself deep into the central problems.

With Ghibli striking visuals are taken for granted and Nausicaä really delivers on that front: the animation looks superb even after 26 years. Joe Hisaishi’s soundtrack doesn’t completely stand the test of time: distracting synths occassionally disrupt the illusion momentarily (reminding the viewer of the fact it was made in the mid 80’s). With that said I have to admit those instances are few and occur before the final third of the film, meaning it doesn’t exactly affect my final opinion of the film.

In overall, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a captivating, entertaining film that I would recommend to anyone. Without Nausicaä, there would be no Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke. Its influence goes beyond the “limits” of Ghibli and had a profound impact on how anime was produced later on so its historical significance shouldn’t be doubted. As a result, it still ranks among the most loved films among the fans of Japanese animation.

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About Oz
A Finnish film buff who has taken a huge interest in language and Japanese cinema. Can be contacted via email (johlauri@hotmail.com), Twitter (@OzymandiasJL) and a Private Message on EvaGeeks (Oz).

2 Responses to Spotlight on Japan: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

  1. Pingback: Spotlight on Japan: Laputa – Castle in the Sky « Forced Perspective

  2. Pingback: Spotlight on Japan: My Neighbour Totoro « Forced Perspective

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