Hayao Miyzaki’s anti-war ode.
Our theater has been running some of Miyazaki’s films, and we were able to catch Nausicaa on the big screen. Miyazaki is perhaps the most well known animated story teller in the U.S. There is good reason for his fame, his stories are excellent, and often bridge themselves between being familiar yet still inherently Japanese. We are exposed to big ideas and small cultural details at once in his stories.
Nausicaa is the princess of the Valley of the Wind. We discover that the Earth has been polluted after a great war. Now, a toxic jungle spreads everywhere, and the few remnants of human civilization are being increasingly pushed in by the expanding danger. The people of the valley have taken to live with nature, and try to cohabitate close to the swamp by not burning too much.
The people of the valley are dragged into an international conflict when two other societies use the land as a staging ground for their own war. The Talmekians crash a ship carrying a Pejite princess (not sure if she is actually the princess, but certainly royalty) and a embryonic Giant Warrior. The Giant Warriors appear to be part machine/part organic killing machines that more or less destroyed the planet in the great war 1,000 years ago. This sole remaining one is now the objective of both the Talmekians and the Pejites, for the society that has the warrior will have the ultimate power.
The power of the Giant Warrior is appealing, mainly due to the massive insects that populate the toxic swamp. None are as fearful as the mammoth Ohm, which when frenzied can level entire cities. A major theme of this story is that humanity is frail, and on the precipice of disaster.
The frailty of humanity is in large part due to greed, hatred, and stupidity of people. Wanton destruction led to the world being burned, and now the land is toxic. We learn that the poison swamp is functioning as a massive filter for the world to correct itself, but these warnings come almost too late as the Talmekians plan to simply burn it all down. We end up with a thrilling adventure that balances heady issues with fast-paced action throughout.
Nausicaa is the strongest character, and she is one of many great female leads in Miyazaki’s films. While Nausicaa is not my favorite, she is well rounded, strong, smart, and an excellent role model. Women in Miyazaki’s films don’t need rescuing, they need friends. Nausicaa is surrounded by a colorful cast, but it is her fierce (and often reckless) determination that sets her apart from her fellow citizens.
One thing that I love about Nausicaa is that she is a scientist/engineer at heart. We see her constantly building and experimenting throughout the film. She is thrust into a conflict she wants no part of, but strives to do what she thinks is right.
The film looks great. The handmade animations are top-notch, and Miyazaki’s distinct style pours through in every scene. Once the film gets rolling, it becomes a non-stop powerhouse of storytelling that marks this as one of the finest animated films ever made.
Despite all of the strengths of this film, there are still some limitations. The original narrative is an adaptation from a significantly larger manga (penned by Miyazaki), so there are some narrative oddities. The most problematic moments come in the beginning. We are introduced to the valley, the Talmekians, and the Pejites in short order. Further, we meet the Pejites through the Talmekians—who are currently occupying Pejite territory. If this sounds a little complex for the first fifteen minutes you are correct. Aside from a rushed and complex set-up, we are also introduced to major characters surprisingly late in the story. These issues don’t detract from the overall experience of the film, but they do make the beginning of the movie less enjoyable. By the end of the movie I tend to forget this narrative weakness, but it is worth mentioning.
Overall, this is a strong film with an equally strong message. 9/10