|Nausicaš Of The Valley Of The Wind|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 22 February 2005|
“Anime”—Japanese animation—began making itself known in the U.S. about twenty years ago, but for a long time, it was a proud and lonely thing to be an Anime fan. “Akira” made something of a splash, but most Americans were uncomfortable with its limited animation (but strong visual style), violence and pack of very similar-looking teenagers. And then came Hayao Miyazaki. Gradually word spread that this particular director was as different from other Japanese anime as anime was from Disney-style animation. He was a fresh breeze in the animated landscape. But his movies were hard to find on video in the U.S.
His “The Castle of Cagliostro” (1979) got him some notice this side of the Atlantic, but then there was a long, long pause, interrupted by brief sightings of some of his other movies. And then came “Princess Mononoke” (1997), given A-list treatment by its American distributor, even including a starry voice cast. That set something off. One of the few admirable corporate decisions the Disney company made in this period was to grab as many of Miyazaki’s movies as possible, including his first, “Kaze no tani no Naushika.”
It has been retitled “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds” and given classy treatment in this two-disc DVD release. One of the discs includes the feature itself, presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, with optional English dialog track—again with the voices of prominent actors including Patrick Stewart, Alison Lohman, Uma Thurman and Edward James Olmos. The Japanese track is also available, as are, curiously, two different subtitle tracks. (The two are from different translations; one track seems to be for the hearing-impaired, while the other is for what might be called the Japanese-impaired.)
As usual with Miyazaki, he presents a full-blown, carefully-designed and original mythology and physical setting for his romantic, action-packed and slightly satirical tale. It’s a thousand years after nuclear war laid waste to Earth; people survive only in small enclaves, usually in valleys. The rest of the planet is partly desert, partly covered by a “toxic forest” (called the Sea of Decay in one of the subtitle tracks), and the forest is thick with giant insects.
Nausicaä (Alison Lohman) herself is a princess from the Valley of the Winds; she’s adept at flying on a small hang-glider, and loves to wander the landscape beyond the Valley. She’s friendly with wandering warrior-shaman Lord Yupa (Patrick Stewart), and one day helps him escape the hill-sized, multi-eyed Ormus, one of the insect tribes. The Valley of the Winds is peaceful but always on guard against the encroaching toxic jungle—and against other human groups.
One, the Tolmekians, are led by metal-armed Kushana (Uma Thurman) and wry, weary warrior Kurotawa (Chris Sarandon). Their giant planes land in the peacefull valley and the Tolmekian warriors kill Nausicaä’s father, the King. But Yupa and Nausicaä prevent further bloodshed and agree to accompany Kushana and Kurotawa back to their land, traveling in their enormous airplanes. (Miayazaki is an aircraft buff.)
But the Pejite, a third group of human survivors attacks, leading to a forced landing by some in the toxic jungle. Asbel (Shia LaBeouf), the pilot who shot down most of the planes, and Nausicaä are forced to work together to survive the dangers and mystery of the jungle. There is a rip-snorting climax of hundreds of the huge insects thundering across the desert, heading for the Valley of the Winds.
As usual with Miyazaki, many things are not what they first appear to be, and enemies can become allies when viewed with the correct information. Also as usual, the central character is a heroic, warm-hearted young woman, Nausicaä; she seems to be a teenager, and while she’s the bravest of the bunch, she’s still entirely a girl.
This is so breathtakingly different from what is seen in standard American movies that at times Miayazki seems to have come from somewhere a lot further away than Japan—like another galaxy. American movies tend to apologize for their heroines; if they’re tough, they’re not warm; if they’re romantic, they’re also sarcastic (even cynical). But in Miyazaki’s big-scale adventures, and even the smaller-scale ones like “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” his heroines run the show and yet have the virtues we associate primarily with women.
And his movies are beautiful. They’re as strongly designed as other anime, but are on a bigger scale, with vast landscapes; the colors are well-coordinated pastels, and most of the images are broad and open, unlike the jagged, cramped images often seen in other anime.
His movies are full of action but low on strong violence—not that they are not disturbing at times. The charge of the giant boar that opens “Princess Mononoke” is shocking; here, a “giant warrior” from the time of the nuclear wars is used to battle the oncoming giant insects—while its own flesh is sloughing off in thick, mudlike folds. It’s not realistic, but it’s so grotesque that it’s hard to watch.
As with “Princess Mononoke,” there’s an environmental message underlying “Nausicaä,” though it’s understated and subtle. Nausicaä herself has learned that if the plants of the jungle are grown in clean, uncontaminated water and soil, they lose their toxic quality. He also features a cat-like creature, Nausicaä’s new pet; it plays no real story part, but Miyazaki seems to like cats as much as he does airplanes.
In addition to a pristine print of the movie itself, this DVD set from Disney also includes an interesting documentary dealing with the voice cast of the American edition. This includes Lohman, Stewart, Thurman, Olmos and Mark Hamill, and each of them has something interesting—sometime surprising—to say. There’s also a feature made for Japanese television about the history of Studio Ghibli (pr. jee-blee), which was established by Miyazaki. “Nausicaä” was just the first in an amazing series of movies from this great writer-director of animation. And the documentary itself, brisk, funny and interesting, is a delight to watch.
The second disc consists entirely of the storyboards for the feature, with sound effects and a voice track; the curious can learn what scenes were planned but left out of the final cut.
Miyazaki’s vision as writer and director is so clear and direct, with few elements that tie it into the period when it was made, that instead of seeming 20 years old, “Nausicaä” is as fresh and welcoming as tomorrow’s sunrise.