Movies I Love: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Hayao Miyazaki's reputation for creating and properly utilizing female lead characters has continuously elevated over the years, reaching peaks with the scrappy ambition of a young witch living on her own and the absorbing emotions of an untamed princess seeking to preserve and protect her land. Other heroines have emerged and entwined with the purposes of Miyazaki's stories, but despite the consistent success of his craftsmanship, his very first -- now over thirty years old! -- still stands tall as a comprehensive distillation of just about all the noble qualities that he's explored in the others. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind holds the distinction of being the production that propelled Studio Ghibli into existence, often lumped together with the rest of the studio's catalog despite not being one of their official releases, and the strength of this very different kind of animated princess certainly plays a part in that. Exceptional world-building and versatile, if overpacked, themes providing the obstacles she must conquer certainly helps.

There's cleverness involved with the introduction of Nausicaa, as a masked journeyer on a mount delves into the the Sea of Decay: lands ravaged by the "seven days of fire" more than a thousand years back, now populated with hostile, defensive insects. Elsewhere, our heroine gallantly traverses the area with a familiarly unique breathing device affixed to her face, eventually revealed to be a fairly young girl, one who sacrifices her well-being for that of her community who peacefully live in the Valley of the Wind. Shortly after she encounters Lord Yupa (the masked journeyer from the beginning) while containing the threat of a large insect -- an overgrown, scuttling being called an Ohmu -- the people of the Valley of the Wind are threatened by something equally as imposing, if not more so. Forces from the authoritative Tolmekian kingdom, spearheaded by ruthless Princess Kushana, thrust their rule upon the people and threaten to resurrect devastating ancient technology to wipe out the insects. Nausicaa, fearful for her people and yearning to cohabitate with the Sea of Decay, fights against their efforts.

Introductory text laying out the creation of the Sea of Decay may provide some upfront context to the setting's history, but Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind throws the audience's perception deep into the overgrown, dystopian wasteland without much explanation of how it operates. Instead, Miyazaki's script -- adapting from his own manga novel series -- lets Nausicaa herself elaborate upon the sights and sounds of the dangers surrounding her through her experiences, emphasized by hauntingly whimsical imagery featuring sporous tunnels and overgrown cities wiped away by the spread of toxic pestilence. The Valley of the Wind, the focal area unimpacted by the Sea of Decay, holds its own traditional beauty once we arrive there with its verdant isolation and quaint building, but it's the unique pastels and shadows within the corrupted areas that lend the film its fascinating beauty. It's an unconventional fairytale environment that sets the right mood of melancholy hopefulness upon the first glimpses at the title character's home.

Nausicaa quickly becomes layered and multifaceted in these introductory scenes, showing fearlessness in her desire to explore alongside an understanding of the boundaries that keep her alive, while also taking the time to enjoy being young and alive while pursuing things helpful to her township. The swiftness in which Miyazaki establishes this character allows for the somewhat narrow trajectory of her development to continue latching onto that initial substance throughout the story, as she falls into a position of being a selfless heroine engaging authoritarianism and struggling with the unknown. Quite simply, she's outfitted to be the principled hero whose barometer won't waver in the midst of moral ambiguity; the tyrannical bad guys have noble intentions through their desire to control, while the wildness of the Sea of Decay isn't simply lost to mindless consumption and destruction. She's the one who wants to understand the hostile wilderness and prevent her people from being conquered, bounaries that have little place for moral ambiguity but plenty of breathing room for expressive escalation.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind becomes an endurance test for the young heroine, and it's her spirit amid the ugliness of humankind and the wrath of nature that gives her such a strong presence. Miyazaki doesn't narrow the focus of the film's themes: he incorporates critiques on authoritarianism, destruction of the environment, even warfare itself, as if this might be his only shot at showing the world what Japanese animation can accomplish. This does clutter the film's intentions, ones that the director will tackle individually and more thoroughly in his following works; however, there's a meaningful synergy between them all within this post-apocalyptic wasteland, amplified by the lack of easy solutions to the problems created in this seemingly doomed universe. These are problems bigger than what a single princess can get under control as she hastily glides between locations with a pointy-eared squirrel on her shoulder, and the film's willingness to display the harsh, wrenching repercussions of humanity's obliviousness and self-destructive tendencies give the story a very mature vibe.

Amid stampedes of red-eyed insects, tense aerial battles, and crumbling earth caused by the reemergence of doomsday devices, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind sustains captivating intensity throughout its depiction of princesses with warring perspectives on their duties to preserving the world. A degree of arguably unnecessary mysticism does enter the equation, though, with the film's emphasis on a glorified savior -- memorialized in tapestries wearing specific clothing and surrounded by specific sights -- who's ultimately preordained to come onto the scene and rejuvenate the world. In that, Miyazaki's film teeters into the realm of fantasy, away from a practical viewpoint on Nausicaa's hard-fought reputation and from the "organic magic" generated by the setting. Yet, in true Studio Ghibli form, spiritual prophecy and human effort intertwine into a beautiful galvanization of the film's rewarding meanings, justifying the usage of the supernatural in how it empowers the young princess. Nausicaa may be the studio's eldest heroine, but her resilience and empathy keep her elevated as one of the best.

For the full Blu-ray review, head over to [Click Here]


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