Reviewing the old school: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

I’ve struggled a bit writing this. I hadn’t watched this film in a while, and it seemed like a decent choice for an old movie review. It’s bloody fantastic. Problem is, to be honest, just about everyone probably already knows that. It’s Hayao Miyazaki, often cited as the first of Studio Ghibli’s long run of amazing films (even if the company hadn’t technically started yet). Of course it’s good. Of course it’s been praised, dissected, critiqued and analysed by a million others before. What can I possibly add to the discussion? Fucked if I know, but maybe if I ramble on for a bit I’ll think of something.

So, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (or Kaze no Tani no Naushika). The story takes place on a post-apocalyptic world a thousand years after industrial human society had been destroyed in the “Seven Nights of Fire” (this being a Japanese film, titanic organically grown robots with surprisingly uncreative names were involved). Much of the planet has been claimed by the Toxic Jungle, that releases poisonous spores into the air within and around, and is gradually claiming human settlement after human settlement. Nausicaä is a princess of the kingdom known as The Valley of the Wind (hence the title of the film). Far and away one of the hardest bastards in the film (there is one other character who kicks as much arse and he needed to be voiced by Patrick Stewart to do it), she’s also a committed pacifist with a talent for calming, charming and redirecting the deadly insects that protect the Toxic Jungle rather than following the trend in other human kingdoms to kill everything remotely threatening with fire. Aside from a dying a father, everything’s going pretty sweet in the valley until an enormous airship from a neighbouring kingdom, Tolmekia, crashes into the valley and just ruins everyone’s day. Partly because it was carrying spores from the toxic jungle. Partly because it was carrying a foreign hostage who died after the crash. Partly because it was carrying the… embryo… of one of those giant robotic killing machines that I mentioned destroyed the world earlier, that the Tolmekians want back. Anyway, several hopeful anti-war and environmentalist lessons later, everything turns out relatively alright.

It is a beautiful film. The animation is smooth and hold up well for a thirty-one year old film. The art-style makes intimate moments seem grand and grand moments feel intimate, as well as finding the beauty in in what are honestly some fucking horrific-looking beasts. There’s this scene early in the film, when Nausicaä is searching a cave for resources and she discovers the shell of an enormous insect called an ohm. Like, really bloody enormous. It’s presented like a religious experience, a pilgrim entering a cathedral and seeing light fall upon an altar. A lot of blue and white in this moment. A few minutes later the beast that left the shell behind is a nasty, snarling monster chasing after that character voiced by Patrick Stewart (an unforgivable offense in my book, but Nausicaä’s a far better person than I am). Red eyes and a black shell, stark in the desert outside of the cave. Another minute later and the monster has been calmed and is heading home with a surprising grace. Red has been turned back to blue.

Given this focus on colour, the cinematography, the characters and the message that humanity’s best chance of not killing itself is strong anti-war and environmentalist leadership (not to mention the post-apocalyptic setting), I kept comparing Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind to, of all things, Mad Max: Fury Road. No, seriously. There’s a tonne of parallels there that I don’t have the time to go through in order to get this up before a self-imposed deadline, but if I ever meet George Miller I’d be inclined to ask how much of an influence Hayao Miyazaki is on him. I might even write a much longer post on the subject sometime in the future. We’ll see. I’m not saying that if you enjoyed Fury Road you’d enjoy Valley of the Wind. Except I actually am. And vice versa.

So, have I added said something interesting in all of this? Maybe. That last bit sounded good, even if it was a bit short. Fuck it, that’s good enough. Point is, if you haven’t seen Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind before, you should definitely watch it. If you have seen it before, well, you should watch it again.

Leave a comment. Thoughts are always appreciated, ideas for future Old School Reviews will be politely considered.

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