Synopsis:A thousand years after an apocalyptic war destroyed the earth’s ecosystem, the scattered human survivors are still fighting each other and their environment. Their settlements are separated by impenetrable toxic forests, guarded by giant insects and filled with poisonous plants releasing deadly spores. There is only one girl who does not fear the forests: the princess Nausicaä, of the Valley of the Wind. Seeking to regain control, the war-like Tolmekians plan to resurrect one the legendary Giant Warriors, used in the war but potentially strong enough to defeat the monstrous bugs and destroy the toxic forests. However, prophecy states that the destruction of the forests will only make things worse for the human inhabitants. Can Nausicaä stop the Tolmekians from unleashing the Warrior before it’s too late?
I only got word of this blogathon for Japanese earthquake/tsunami relief at the last minute (thanks Eve for alerting me!), but I automatically knew I had to participate. My girlfriend’s brother and his wife, along with their ten-month-old baby, live in Japan, and while they are doing fine and are too far south to have been affected by the earthquake/tsunami, we have been glued to the TV and computer since the quake occurred. (We mostly rely on this English stream of NHK instead of the American news networks, as most of the information coming from the American sources seems to be either factually inaccurate or shamelessly fear-mongering.)
Since this is a fundraising blogathon for a very worthy cause, I wanted to contribute more than one measly post. So for the duration of this blogathon, I will be marathon-reviewing some of the lesser-known masterpieces of Studio Ghibli. Japanese animation is more than Hayao Miyazaki, and Japanese cinema is certainly more than anime. However, this is the last minute, I love the films of Studio Ghibli, and we happen to own twelve of them, so this is the best I can offer.
The first film I will review in this series is the 1984 post-apocalyptic environmentalist adventure Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind – which, if you want to get extra nerdy about it, isn’t technically a Studio Ghibli film, as it was produced and released prior to the official 1985 founding of the studio. But it’s directed by Miyazaki and was retroactively stamped with the Ghibli logo, so I’m counting it. It is based on Miyazaki’s manga of the same name and was at one point released in the United States with a new title, a whopping thirty minutes edited out, and hilarious cover art featuring characters that aren’t even in the film (Skeleton Dude! Machine Gun Bro On Pegasus!).
Nausicaä is a beautifully-rendered post-apocalyptic fairytale, telling the familiar story of a princess who can communicate with animals (also see Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, umm… kind of every Disney princess movie). However, this princess is also bad ass and always at the heart of the action, whether she’s swooping through fiery plane battles on her glider, hanging out with huge angry demon-bugs, or saving princes (that’s right!). The film has the perfect quiet, eerie post-apocalypse atmosphere that makes you really feel like you have entered a bizarre yet oddly-familiar world. There’s a very strong environmentalist message, but it works perfectly in context and stays relevant to reality without becoming cloying. The core story is simple, but the plot is highly complex in a way that is both compelling and satisfying. The world-building is well-rounded and awe-inspiring; I especially love the wide variety of insect species, and how the film makes you feel sympathy for the bugs without making them cute or silly. No, they’re just bugs – ugly bugs – but they still feel pain and have emotions, and therefore deserve compassion and respect. The animation is lush and gorgeous, even when illustrating a toxic wasteland. You can truly appreciate the beauty Nausicaä sees in her polluted world.
However, Nausicaä also has some problems which prevents it from entering my short list of favorite Ghibli offerings. It’s one of the most “anime-y” of Miyazaki’s films, based strongly in science fiction robots and complex flying machines, which I feel makes it less universally appealing than, say, My Neighbor Totoro or Ponyo, which are based more in fantasy (not to mention cute, fuzzy animals and big-eyed children). It also gets a little too quiet and drags in places. The ’80s soundtrack, while entertaining, also makes the film feel dated. Overall Nausicaä is a spectacular seminal work for Studio Ghibli and definitely worth seeing for even casual fans of the studio’s later works; even if it’s not one of my favorites and feels a little too sparse for me at times, I still recognize its beauty and can appreciate its dire message, and the subtle way it is delivered.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) – 4/5 stars
Don’t forget to CLICK HERE to make your donation! Need more incentive? Molly (of Pikachu Rope fame) is giving away FREE animal paintings in exchange for a minimum donation of ¥1000 (about $12.60) to ARK, a Japanese animal rescue organization located outside of the affected region but preparing to take in pets left homeless, injured and traumatized by the disaster. Please visit her blog for more information.