Japanese Cinema Blogathon: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Image Source: MovieGoods

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?

This is an official entry in the week-long Japanese Cinema Blogathon for disaster relief, co-hosted by CinemaFanatic and Japan Cinema. As we all know, Japan was struck with a 9.0 earthquake on March 11, resulting in devastating tsunamis and widespread destruction. Please CLICK HERE to make a donation to the represented charity of your choice to aid Japanese disaster victims, and be sure to click the banner at left to view the other contributions to the blogathon.

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.

Nausicaä rescues Asbel from a would-be insect exterminator.

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.

You want scale? This is one of the baby bugs.

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.

13 Comments

  1. i love this movie so much! its easily #3 on my Ghibli film list. i had to laugh @ the cover art. I had always wondered myself ‘why is Pegasus in this picture??’ lol!

    i think the thing i love about this film is Nausicaä herself… She is strong willed and self sacrificing. I seriously have to cry at some parts in this movie because of how awesome she is! XD

    you did a great review!!

    • Thanks, Amanda! She really is an awesome character. I love that she is both compassionate and strong. You don’t have to be one or the other, you can be both.

  2. Personally, next to Mononoke Hime, this is my fav Ghibli flick. Thanks for participating and thoughts go out to your girlfriends brother & wife. I’ve added this post to the blogathon list!

    • Thank you! It’s definitely a beautiful movie. Thanks for hosting this event, it’s a wonderful idea and I’m happy to help. :)

  3. Wow, I didn’t know about that cover. What’s up with that?

    I’m gonna go with Japan Cinema here and say that next to Mononoke and Chihiro, Nausicaa is next. Unless you count Grave of the Fireflies… xD

    Also, love your blog’s name. Garbo Laughs.

    • The Warriors of the Wind version sounds truly awful. Apparently it was even released to theaters like that. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nausica%C3%A4_of_the_Valley_of_the_Wind_%28film%29#Warriors_of_the_Wind (My favorite part: “On hearing that Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein would try to cut Princess Mononoke to make it more marketable, one of Studio Ghibli’s producers sent an authentic katana with a simple message: ‘No cuts.'”)

      I’m going to try to review Grave of the Fireflies for the blogathon too. We own it but have put off watching it because it sounds a bit, um, heavy. But it also sounds fantastic, so I’m looking forward to it.

      • I’m trying to stay a bit light for the blogathon, didn’t want to deal with disasters. Fireflies is really REALLY a tough watch, but so SO good.

  4. I am admittedly pretty ignorant on the subject of Japanese animation…though I’m learning much thru this blogathon…thanks for a great blog for a great cause…and I send all good wishes to your girlfriend’s family members in Japan

    • I am not that knowledgeable on it myself; compared to most people I probably look like I know a lot, but there is also a lot to know. The films of Studio Ghibli have done very well in America, probably because they are so universally appealing. Thank you so much for e-mailing the CMBA about this blogathon, Eve; I am really enjoying reviewing these films and am so happy to be able to help in some small way. :)

  5. Page

     /  March 17, 2011

    Caroline,
    A beautifully written review of such a visually appealing film.
    I hope that this Blogathon brings some much needed donations to the people of Japan who so desperately need it.

    I’m glad that your girlfriends family came out of it in good health.
    Page

    • Thank you, Page! The family is in Osaka, so they were only slightly affected by the initial quake (and not by any of the tsunamis, aftershocks, or ongoing energy crises), and while all of their extended family is OK they are obviously very worried about the current situation.

  6. While I really enjoyed I the first time, it took me a couple of views to start to love it. Classic Miyazaki and the story is one of the best Studio Ghibli has ever done.

    You’re right, it does drag in places but it’s one of the more adult geared films in their collection which I think helps set it apart. Funny how this and Mononoke are pretty much dopplegangers. But the environment is a big deal to Miyazaki and Takahata and they use it as a plot device quite a bit. Fine review:)

  7. Personally, Nausicaa is one of my favorite Studio Ghibli films (and I’m happy you consider it Studio Ghibli too even though it was released prior the ‘creation’ of the studio). But yeah, perhaps the anime-y feel makes it less appealing to others, but as a longtime anime fan, it’s fine with me.

    I recently reviewed this in my blog too. You can find it here. http://pageprophet.blogspot.com/2013/11/anime-review-nausicaa-of-valley-of-wind.html

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