“Nausicaa” (also known by the longer title, “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”) is based on the manga series of the same name, written and drawn by the film’s writer/director Hayao Miyazaki. The story is set 1,000 years from now, in a so-called Ceramic Age, where the human race is about ready to join the T-Rex on the extinction list. We learn that in the distant past, at the peak of man’s technological prowess, he unleashed the apocalyptic Seven Days of Fire and laid waste to the world. As a result, most of the planet is now uninhabitable to humans; meanwhile, the Sea of Corruption, a teeming jungle of giant insects and poisonous spore-emitting plant life, slowly sweeps across the planet in a bid to make the rest of the planet equally uninhabitable to human life.
It also seems that the human race hasn’t learn its lesson, and are in fact still in the business of waging wars, with conflicts amongst various nations and monarchies being the order of the day. One neutral nation among the warring factions is the Valley of the Wind, which sits near the ocean where wind currents keep the Sea of Corruption at bay. The Valley of the Wind is ruled by Jihl, a bed-ridden old man whose best days are behind him, but the heart and soul of the kingdom resides in Jihl’s daughter, the Princess Nausicaa.
The idyllic world of the Valley is disrupted when a growing conflict between the nations of Tourmekia and Pejite literally lands in their midst, in the form of a Tourmekian transport which crashes following an excursion into the poisoned jungle. In an attempt to retrieve precious cargo from the downed ship, Tourmekian gunships under the command of Princess Kushana arrive, searching out the “egg” of a legendary God-Soldier, one of the original giant manmade biomechanical monsters responsible for the Seven Days of Fire. Forced to battle the trespassers, Nausicaa and her people are swept up in a post-apocalyptic Cold War that may spell doom for all of them.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been twenty years since “Nausicaa” was first released in 1984. The film holds up remarkably well even today, and may be more prescient now than ever before. Here’s an anti-war movie that isn’t heavy-handed or didactic, with characters that are used to scrutinize the fanatical nationalism that led Japan to ruin in World War II, a common theme among post-World War II Japanese filmmakers. As embodied by the leaders of Tourmekia and Pejite, “Nausicaa” is populated with men and women who would rather see their own people dead before giving in to their enemy. And using the movie’s science-fiction/fantasy setting, Miyazaki is able to drive this very personal point home without naming names.
Miyazaki’s penchant for atypical and stereotype-busting heroines began with the character of Nausicaa, who remains the director’s most enduring creation to this day. She’s a confident and decidedly feminine heroine with an affinity for children, as well as possessing a near-psychic connection with animals. At the same time, thanks to mentoring from master warrior Lord Yupa (who is still the coolest swordsman ever seen in Japanese animation), Nausicaa is a devastating and effective warrior forced into the role of leader after Tourmekian commandos kill her father. Once thrust into the leadership role, both aspects of her personality are tested as she becomes embroiled in the growing violence between Pejite and Tourmekia.
“Nausicaa” is perhaps the most expansive example of Miyazaki’s skill at combining various cultural elements into a single, hodge-podge world, something he would do again in “Laputa: The Castle in the Sky” in 1986 and “Kiki’s Delivery Service” in 1989. (This particular style of Miyazaki’s no doubt also served as inspiration for 1987’s “The Wings of Honneamise”). In “Nausicaa”, the Ceramic Age is a time where warriors are equally at ease with submachine guns as they are with broadswords, and peasants use oxen to tend the fields when they’re not cloud hopping in fusion-powered airships.
“Nausicaa” also previews themes that Miyazaki would revisit in later films, such as his awareness of environmental issues as reflected in the movie’s plot, as well as a banner for the World Wildlife Fund that serves as a pre-title card. Miyazaki depicts the magic of flight in spectacular action sequences that are as dazzling today as they were in 1984, and the image of Nausicaa piloting her jet-powered glider, the “mehve,” is an anime icon as instantly identifiable as the fuzzy-cute totoros from Miyazaki’s “My Neighbor Totoro”. With all due respect to the Oscar that “Spirited Away” snagged, this is unquestionably the high point of Miyazaki’s remarkable career.
Unfortunately there’s no denying that “Nausicaa” is a 20-year-old movie, and to contemporary fans, the visuals show their age and may even seem quaint. The character designs, especially in facial details, are not as detailed or polished as seen in more recent productions from Miyazaki’s own Studio Ghibli. Also, the animation at times comes off a bit uneven and choppy, especially in grand expansive scenes depicting large moving elements.
But even though Miyazaki was working within very limited animation boundaries, there are still some very impressive visuals on display, chief among them being the unique “sliding cel” style of animating highly detailed cels depicting the giant O(h)mus. If anything, “Nausicaa’s” dynamic visuals are more impressive than ever when considering the limited resources and technology available to animation filmmakers of the time. For a movie made in 1984, “Nausicaa” is still very much ahead of its time.
Hayao Miyazaki (director) / Hayao Miyazaki (screenplay)
CAST: Sumi Shimamoto …. NausicaÃ¤
Mahito Tsujimura …. Jihl
Hisako Kyoda …. Oh-Baba
Goro Naya …. Yupa