Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind may be the quintessential Hayao Miyazaki film — not necessarily his best, but the most comprehensive assortment of his characteristic themes and motifs.
The setting is a staggering feat of creative world-building and visual opulence. Characters include a strong young female protagonist, children, and old people; and while the villains may be more clearly evil than most Miyazaki antagonists, they don’t ultimately evoke hatred or vindictiveness.
There are flight sequences and stunning uses of water. Themes include pacifism and environmentalism. The story frankly acknowledges the sadness of loss and fears for possible future losses, but is subtly shot through with hope and grace.
This combination is all the more remarkable since Nausicaä is only Miyazaki’s second film and his first original film (his directorial debut, The Castle of Cagliostro, is based on Monkey Punch’s manga series Lupin III). One might say he began with a showcase of everything, or almost everything, that would become a trademark of his later works. The premise and characters weren’t invented for the screen, though; they originated in the director’s own manga series, of which the film adapts a part. I can’t compare the two, not having read the series in full, but the adaptation strikes a perfect balance: it stands alone as an independent story, yet also creates an intriguing feel of being part of something much larger.
The premise is among the more startling and ambitious even in Miyazaki’s oeuvre: Industrialized civilization has been dead for a thousand years. An invasive jungle of poisonous plants, inhabited by giant insects, dominates the earth and threatens mankind’s survival. The remaining human communities, for the most part, are either dying or at war with each other. Nausicaä may have the bleakest setting of any Miyazaki film, with the possible exception of Princess Mononoke.
Despite the darkness of its world, however, the story is shot through with rays of light, not least of which is Nausicaä herself (Alison Lohman in the English-language Disney dub), princess of the Valley of the Wind. Ranking easily with the greatest of cinematic heroines, Nausicaä has great strength and initiative, but also embodies Miyazaki’s pacifist ideal, emphatically expressing aversion toward killing or hurting anyone. Her strength lies in her willingness to risk or sacrifice herself for others, especially the people of the Valley, but including strangers in need and even the insects, with whom she has a mysterious connection. Her people have absolute confidence in her, which she uses to help them maintain hope and courage, even when she hardly feels those herself.
Nausicaä’s allies are no slouches either, including the legendary swordsman Lord Yupa (Patrick Stewart), tough, one-eyed Mito (Edward James Olmos), and, later, Asbel (Shia LaBeouf), a young fighter pilot from the neighboring kingdom of Pejite. Nor do characters have to fight or fly airships to be lights in the darkness. Ordinary people, notably the elderly Obaba (Tress MacNeille), manage to display courage and compassion that evoke respect and strengthen their neighbors. After all, in such a perilous world, even surviving requires some toughness, and maintaining a community calls for some generosity and solidarity.
(Reviewed by Sarah E. Greydanus) Even at their most stunningly far-fetched, Ghibli films also have a history of celebrating the details of everyday life: cooking, cleaning, planting, studying, mending, become important and precious functions, worthy of devoted attention … Whisper of the Heart may represent the studio’s simplest gesture of this honoring of everyday life.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.