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November 2010

Nausicaš Of The Valley Of The Wind

voice cast: Alison Lohman, Patrick Stewart, Uma Thurman, Chris Sarandon, and Shia LaBeouf

director: Hayao Miyazaki

117 minutes (PG) 1984
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Optimum blu-ray region B

RATING: 9/10
review by Sarah Ash

Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind

A thousand years into the future, the Earth has been almost destroyed by a terrible war, the 'seven days of fire'. Humans, threatened by the encroaching Sea of Decay, live on the edge of the Toxic Jungle where deadly spores and giant insects are their constant foes. Most dangerous and destructive of all are the giant Ohmu, crustaceans whose multiple eyes glow red when angered. But in the little kingdom of the Valley of the Wind, Princess Nausicaä (Sumi Shimamoto/ Alison Lohman) and her people are co-existing peacefully with the threat from the jungle until a giant airship from a neighbouring kingdom comes down in flames in their midst.

Its terrible cargo is the living embryo of one of the terrible giant warriors that almost brought about the destruction of the earth so long ago - and it's not long before the Valley of the Wind is invaded by the warlike Princess Kushana of Tolmekia (Yoshiko Sakakibara/ Uma Thurman) and her powerful army. Kushana is determined to use this sinister living weapon to destroy the Toxic Jungle.

Nausicaä agrees to go as hostage in order to secure the safety of her people - but when the convoy is attacked by a daring lone fighter and her plane comes down in the Toxic Jungle, her skills and intimate scientific knowledge of the seemingly hostile environment are the only hopes for the survivors. However, Nausicaä and the fighter pilot, a young man called Asbel (Yoji Matsuda/ Shia LaBeouf) are dragged down through quicksand to find themselves in a world of clean air and clear water far below the surface.

Now that she knows for certain that the Toxic Jungle is slowly cleansing itself of the toxins, Nausicaä is determined to stop Kushana's plan at all costs. But Kushana, an equally determined young woman, pursues her plan ruthlessly - and the reawakening of the giant warrior, then the terrifying sight of a herd of red-eyed Ohmu bearing mercilessly down on the Valley of the Wind drive Nausicaä to make a selfless and courageous move to try to save her people.

Justly celebrated for the beauty of the hand-drawn animation and the imaginative sweep of its storytelling, Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind encapsulates many of the themes dear to Miyazaki's heart: a strong, resourceful young girl as the main protagonist in a world brought to the brink of destruction by humans who are wastefully profligate with natural resources and selfishly pollute the environment. Important as these underlying themes are, the film works first and foremost as an exciting and involving science fictional adventure. Enlivened by Miyazaki's characteristic touches of quirky humour, yet not shying away from the brutalities of war, Nausicaä's story seems as fresh and involving now, as it must have done over a quarter of a century ago when it was first released.

Joe Hisaishi - whose music has brought an added dimension to almost all of Miyazaki's animated films - is at his most successful here when depicting the strange, alien world of the Toxic Jungle. The use of strange and beautiful electronically generated sounds (at a time when synthesizers were still a relatively new tool for musicians) helps create a unique atmosphere that complements and enhances the images. The poignant sound of a child singing a simple folksong-style tune - used to great effect when Nausicaä has a vivid dreamlike flashback to a traumatic moment in her childhood - inspired (I believe) a tradition adopted by other anime composers, most notably Yoko Anno (Arjuna, Wolf's Rain, Aquarion).

The 2005 US dub introduces a starry cast of actors with Patrick Stewart as masterful as ever in the role of Lord Yupa, the travelling swordsman and friend to Nausicaä, and Chris Sarandon is just right as Kurotowa, Kurusha's cynical chief of staff. Even Mark Hamill makes a cameo performance and the disc extra Behind The Microphone sheds light on the commitment and enthusiasm of the English-speaking cast.

I'm less impressed, I confess, with Alison Lohman as Nausicaä; Sumi Shimamoto just sounds so much more fresh and spontaneous to my ears, without the inevitable overtones of 90210 that this young Californian actress brings to the role. But, minor complaints aside, the US script for Disney serves Miyazaki's tale really well and allegedly earned the team the gift of a genuine samurai sword and the heartfelt message 'no cuts' from the director (after the horrendously mangled first US version, Warriors Of The Wind, in 1985 by New World Video).

It's been a while since I last watched Nausicaä on DVD, so I was a little apprehensive about the transfer to a blu-ray version. I needn't have worried; it's a genuine pleasure to watch, with all the subtle colouring and the clarity of the hand-drawn images superbly preserved, even enhanced, in the new format.

Special features include: storyboards, audio commentary with key animation consultant and assistant director, and interview with Toshio Suzuki and Anno Hideaki (44 minutes), Nausicaä and Evangelion! The Whereabouts Of The Giant Warrior, The Birth Of Studio Ghibli (27 minutes), Behind The Microphone (seven minutes), original Japanese theatrical trailers, and Studio Ghibli collection trailers.

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