Hayao Miyazaki will never make another film as beloved as Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind. He's made better ones, but I doubt that he'll ever again direct a movie that so defines and influences the Japanese animation industry. Since its 1984 release, Nausicań and its title heroine have become icons of the anime landscape, enduringly popular staples in a world of shifting tastes and quick-burning fads. It's a role that, despite some innocent missteps, they deserve.
Far bleaker than Miyazaki's usual idyllic settings, Nausicań offers a future a thousand years after a war known as The Seven Days of Fire laid waste to industrialized civilization. In the time since, much of the planet's surface has been overrun by the Sea of Decay, a toxic swamp filled with massive insects. The remnants of the human race dwell in small warring kingdoms and isolated settlements, and among these is the Valley of the Wind, home to peaceful farmers, their bedridden king, and his daughter Nausicań. Though she's the spiritual leader of her people, the young woman spends equal time exploring and studying the bug-infested forests. She has an uncanny rapport with the creatures there, as she's able to tame everything from a pet fox-squirrel to the Sea's largest denizens: excitable multi-eyed insects called Ohm.
The valley's pastoral peace is shattered one night when a massive cargo ship crashes there. In the wreckage, Nausicań and the villagers find a dying princess and a cocoon holding a monstrous ôGiant Warriorö from the world-ruining holocaust. The accident prompts an invasion from the kingdom of Tolmekia, and Nausicań's land is swiftly conquered by Queen Kushana, an imposing, practical, armor-clad woman determined to use the slumbering Giant Warrior to burn away the world's poison jungles and reclaim the land for her people.
If Nausicań's vision of a polluted future is built on Miyazaki's environmentalist views, the story it backs is satisfyingly even. The humans perpetuate war while the misunderstood forest creatures are a force of nature and attack only when provoked, but things are never too simplistic. Icy-natured Kushana has both personal reasons and the good of humanity in mind as she attempts to destroy the Sea of Decay, and even her wry second-in-command, Kurotowa, is believable and amusingly human. In some ways, they're more interesting than the film's obvious heroes. The skillful swordsman Lord Yupa is little more than Nausicań's mentor, the vindictive Prince Asbel doesn't get much attention, and the people of the Valley of the Wind have honest, unclouded motivations.
For the record, she's wearing pants. It's not that hard to see.
It's Nausicań herself who carries everything. Intelligent, willful, and never afraid of self-sacrifice, she's a walking, talking thesis statement for the film. She embodies all that Miyazaki so dearly thinks we should be, and damned if he and his blue-clad goddess of a ruined world didn't convince me. It's hard not to love Nausicaa for her unshakeable beliefs and utterly selfless deeds, even when she does things that would get her killed in a harsher film. But then, she isn't a na´ve character ľshe's just in a na´ve story. After an initial murderous shock to her system, she's conveniently denied the necessity of killing anyone (in the middle of a war, no less) and is revealed to be right about everything from the Ohm to the invading Tolmekians. For all of its grim scenery and desperate moments, Nausicaa often seems a children's film.
Yet the idealism doesn't really grate. Nausicań's a fable, an allegory, and its honesty is refreshing. Nor does it hurt that the film's fun to watch in action-flick terms. While the first half-hour is a slow introduction, the remainder is forceful, gripping stuff, and even the oft-criticized ending hits hard. It's been called a deus ex machina many times, and though the resolution is contrived, it comes across as a natural extension of the film's nature-uber-alles stance.
Miyazaki directed at least two films before Nausicań, but this was the first feature all his own, and it shows. Instead of the wrecked cityscapes and wastelands that fill most post-apocalyptic settings, Nausicań's world is packed with ideas: dense, colorful jungles teeming with overgrown insects, a gentle village that resembles a mazelike pre-industrial Holland, and military forces that hybridize medieval armor and World War II technology, with steampunk flanges and cogs all around. Miyazaki especially loves his flying contraptions, and the variety of detailed aircraft is amazing. It all makes for a marvelous, unique backdrop, and if Nausicań's style seems familiar, that's only because it's been emulated everywhere from Green Legend Ran to Panzer Dragoon.
If there's a real problem here, it's the uneven quality of Joe Hisaishi's soundtrack. The orchestral pieces are gorgeous, but the tenser scenes are backed by synthesized tunes seemingly drawn from an early Sega Genesis game. The Japanese voice acting doesn't suffer, though, and Nausicań received a solid, if somewhat heavy-handed, dub from Disney. Alison Lohman (Matchstick Men) never quite matches Sumi Shinamoto's original performance as Nausicań, but Patrick Stewart is amazing as Lord Yupa, Chris Sarandon (Humperdink!) gets Kurotowa right, and Uma Thurman is a shockingly well-matched Kushana. Further credit must go to the bonus features, which include voice actor interviews and a brief documentary about Nausicań's release and the subsequent birth of Studio Ghibli. A second disc features the entire film in storyboards, a nice addition that I doubt I'll ever watch completely.
Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind may not be Miyazaki's best film, and it certainly isn't his most subtle. Yet it possesses scope and intensity beyond his other works. It's a rough, powerful, grand-scale epic, the likes of which the director has yet to attempt again. Perhaps that's why Nausicań has a special place among anime films, and why it's still captivating twenty years later. In the truest sense of the word, it's a classic.
Warriors of the Wind
The term ôbutcheryö is grossly overused by anime fans. They apply it to anything that's edited, even in the case of a minor soundtrack change or a revision mandated by the production's own creators. It's an annoying trend, as it lessens the impact when a work is truly, irredeemably butchered. That's what happened when Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind was first brought to the west.
Miyazaki's film was licensed in the mid-80s by New World Pictures, years after the company had been sold by its founder, trash movie emperor Roger Corman. Deeming Nausicaa too slow to be peddled as a children's film, New World excised several scenes, including such pivotal sequences as Nausicaa's Ohm-induced dreams, and altered most of the dialogue and character names. Nausicań became ôZandra,ö Asbel was ôMilo,ö Kushana turned into ôQueen Selena,ö and so on. For a finishing touch, the film was retitled Warriors of the Wind and given a cover that was mind-boggling in its deviation from the original movie.
Let's try to pick out which of these characters are actually in Nausicaa. On the upper-right we see ôZandraö on her mehve glider (called a ôcloud-climberö in Warriors), while a Giant Warrior brandishes its light sword below. The creature appears to be standing on top of another, larger Giant Warrior, looking much as it does at the film's climax.
It's hard to say where the robot, the rifle-raising blond hero, and the Pegasus rider come from. I think the hero, who's at least wearing a Nausicaa-style shirt, was drawn in homage to the sandworm-taming bit in Lynch's Dune film, and that Friar Vader is an appeal to the kids-like-them-robots school of marketing that Star Wars instilled in the Ĺ80s. No idea on the post-apocalyptic Bellerophon and his flying horse. She-Ra had a flying horse, if you want to reach that far.
The covers of the European versions of Warriors aren't quite as bizarrely distant from the movie, though the edits are still in place. The UK box shown above combines a bunch of scenes from the film, but the art's on par with good computer-game cover illustrations and therefore an improvement on its American counterpart.
Yet there's a harsh truth about Warriors of the Wind: it's not that bad of a film. As inexcusable as New World's editing was and as much as Miyazaki hated the cuts, Nausicań is a modestly entertaining movie even when stripped of its cohesion and character development. The voice acting is confused and silly, but not terrible. Zandra sounds vaguely like Rocky the Flying Squirrel (though, contrary to rumor, she's not played by June Foray), but most of the actors get by, and I actually like Cam Clarke (known for playing Leonardo of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and dozens of other roles) as Asbel/Milo.
Some critics, unaware of the hackwork visited upon Miyazaki's film, praised Warriors of the Wind, and many kids grew up enjoying it even though they didn't understand it that well. In a way, the picture clumsily introduced American viewers to Ghibli films. It also prevented any future chop-jobs on the studio's work, as Warriors incensed Miyzaki so much that all of his contracts with American companies since have expressly forbade any editing.
As New World Pictures lost the rights to Nausicań in 1995, there will be no DVD release for Warriors of the Wind. VHS copies can still be found cheaply if you're willing to hunt through thrift stores, flea markets, and other merchants depressing enough to stock old or second-hand video tapes. Perhaps you should. Miyazaki wants Warriors to be forgotten, but I'd recommend this mess to fans of lost anime dubs and anyone curious to see the results of genuine butchery.