Aug 14, 2009

[Movies] Kaze no Tani no Naushika / Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Nausicaa of the Valley of the WindMy first venture into the realms of Studio Ghibli, My Neighbor Totoro, was certainly pleasant and more and worth the venture. Given my partner possesses the Studio Ghibli Collection on DVD, I now pretty much have the opportunity (or the responsibility) of exploring these diverse animated films and Hayao Miyazaki's vision.

With that film alone I started to see certain concepts that Miyazaki likes to stress of apply more emphasis towards. To name a few we have strong female character leads, a rich sense for the environment or the setting and a definite knack for capturing the key elements of the people, may it be the innocence of children at play or the watchful love of a father trying to hold his family together.

This next venture into the Studio Ghibli universe certainly altered the setting significantly, but some of these key elements were still certainly there.

Kaze no Tani no Naushika / Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is theoretically Studio Ghibli's first animated feature, athough it appeared even before the Studio was formally named. It's based on a manga title of the same name, although it certainly had that Miyazaki touch in terms of the core look and feel and how it was translated into an animated feature.

Nausicaä flying her Mehve over the Valley of t...Image via Wikipedia

In a post-apocalyptic setting, the world is dominated by the sea of decay and the hordes of monster insects that reside there. Communities of people huddle at the fringes trying to survive while keeping the spores and insects at bay. One such community is the Valley of the Wind where a young and adventurous Nausicaa is its princess. She has a knack of communicating with wildlife, including the massive insects that roam the Sea of Decay that she explores fairly regularly with the aid of her glider. Things change when a Tolmekian airship crash lands in the valley. Amongst the wreckage Nausicaa finds Princess Lastelle from the kingdom of Pejite and a large organic mass that no one can identify. In time the valley becomes the center of a massive conflict, a plan to raze the Sea of Decay and an empire bent of global domination.

While certainly a lot more action-packed than Totoro, this tale has its share of what I have to term as beauty shots - moments of silent bliss when the music just carries you as the animators manage to show off some part of the landscape or the creatures that populate this world in greater detail. You still get that provincial feel throughout the film given the simplicity of the lives of the valley folk, contrasted against the harsh steel of the militaristic Tolmekians.

Ghibli certainly has a thing for steampunk - it goes a long way in conveying the fact that this is all very, very mechanical and not just high technology. There's an implied clunkiness and dirtier nature to steampunk I suppose and it provides a sharp difference to the villagers who try to live more in tune with nature.

Oh, and don't get me started on the flora and fauna in this film! Like Totoro, there were certainly a variety of interesting creatures ranging from the fearsome Ohms down to the very, very cute fox squirrel. Miyazaki seems to make it a point to have a lot of fantastical and original creatures and plants in his stories but he also makes sure to remain grounded in reality. Many of the designs are clearly based on existing living things, but altered ever so slightly to great effect.

Nausicaa is certainly an interesting protagonist, and one who owns what is probably one of the coolest gliders I've ever seen. The tricks she manages with that one device a nothing short of astounding and yet it all still seems to follow an odd sense of physics that makes it still remotely plausible for such a device to work.

Environmentalism is certainly a strong theme here - something that makes me thing of similar undertones in the Final Fantasy series of video games. Given the Japanese culture and their history, I can understand the inevitable need to put importance in that aspect of things. Miyazaki also manages to push this theme well enough without seeming overly preachy.

It's a great story and rather compelling considering it's a 2-hour movie. It's definitely a masterpiece of animation and it's sometimes hard to believe this was still completely hand-drawn given the time it was created and released. Yes, I definitely have a more than growing respect for Studio Ghibli if all their works are anywhere nearly as good as this movie.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind gets 5 fox squirrels out of a possible 5.

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