Monday, July 18, 2011

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: Miyazaki's first masterpiece

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Animation, Action, Adventure)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Starring Alison Lohman, Patrick Stewart, Uma Thurman and Shia LaBeouf

Disney / Buena Vista | 1984 | 118 min | Rated PG | Released Mar 08, 2011

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

English, French, Japanese: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

English, English SDH, French

50GB Blu-ray Disc
DVD copy

The Film 5/5

When it comes to animation, my favorite director by far is Hayao Miyazaki. If you have read my Top 20 animated list, you’ll see how often his name appears. Studio Ghibli has been responsible for many good films, but Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was actually released in 1984, just before the studio was founded. It remains Miyazaki’s most ambitious work because of its epic scope.

Nausicaä is set approximately a thousand years in the future when pollution levels have threatened to destroy life on the planet. The land is dominated by the Toxic Jungle which is filled with poisonous plants. The jungle is protected by giant insects and other creatures.

We meet Nausicaä (Lohman) early in the film when she discovers a discarded ohm shell. Ohms are giant creatures which seems wiser than any humans they may encounter. Nausicaä recovers one of the parts of the shell and takes it home. Ohms are not always calm and their eyes grow red with rage when they are angry. Nausicaä helps save Lord Yupa (Stewart), a master swordsman, from an enraged ohm.

Yupa knows Nausicaä well and has a present for her; a small fox squirrel which she names Teto. Her first encounter with the creature shows us her true nature. She says that there is nothing to fear, but the fox-squirrel bites her. She makes no move, but simply repeats that there is nothing to fear. It stops biting and licks the wound. It’s such a touching scene and gives a hint at how Nausicaä interacts with strangers later in the story. She’s an easy character to love.

Nausicaä’s life is peaceful. She lives in the Valley of the Winds where everyone works together in harmony farming the land. Although her father is the king, princess Nausicaä doesn’t put herself above other people. She lends a hand repairing machinery or whatever else is needed. Her people love her; especially the children. For any parent thinking of showing the film to their children, Nausicaä is a good role model.

The film has quite a few battle sequences, but they are brief and involve misguided people who think their causes are just. I think Miyazaki is showing us what could happen if we continue to pollute and exploit the planet without giving any thought to the future. It’s a common theme in his stories and is more prominent here than in later films. 

Unlike any other animated film I have seen, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind shows us a vast world. We explore some of it and see Nausicaä discover secrets about the world and the creatures inhabiting it. She has a way with animals and insects and seeks solutions that avoid killing any kind of creature. She seems to empathize and realize how to stop seemingly wild creatures from attacking. People around her are frequently amazed by her actions.

The film shows the futility of war and the power people have to change their lives by thinking about their course of action. So much happens in the two hour running time that the film seems to move at a breakneck pace. There is always something happening, whether it’s action or a discovery of some kind.

Joe Hisaishi is again responsible for the music, and it’s one of the best scores he has ever produced. There’s a particular scene with a piece of music using children’s voices which has me in tears every time. I’m not sure why, but the music is powerful and fits the scenes perfectly.

I know I haven’t revealed much of the story. That’s because I want you to discover the secrets for yourself. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind reminds me of scenes in Avatar and Star Wars, but the story is arguably more powerful than both. If you have seen other titles from Hayao Miyazaki, be aware that this contains more adult themes than most. That said, it can and should be enjoyed by the whole family.

Video Quality 4.5/5
If you have seen any of Miyazaki’s films, you’ll know that his animation style looks nothing like modern studios such as Pixar or Dreamworks. He’s an artist in the true sense of the word and the frames of the films look like watercolor paintings. It’s been 27 years since the film was released, so the animation style looks a little dated. Some of the supporting characters in crowds won’t move, but the overall effect is still wonderful. Disney has delivered another great transfer. Colors improve dramatically over the DVD version. Some scenes look slightly soft, but that’s partly due to the animation style. This doesn’t look like Up, Ratatouille or Rango, but detail is strong and any Miyazaki fan will be delighted with the result.

Audio Quality 4/5
The film comes with three audio mixes. Disney failed to provide a lossless Japanese option for Ponyo, but purists will be happy to see the Japanese: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track included this time. Other versions include English and French: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Although a 5.1 mix would have been welcome, I’m not disappointed by the options on offer. Dialogue is clear throughout, while battle scenes pack a considerable punch. Ambient sounds such as wind in the valley come across well, as does Joe Hisaishi’s score.

Special Features 3/5

The additional features are split between the BD and the DVD.

As with other Miyazaki films, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind includes the option to view the entire film with the original Japanese storyboards. It’s interesting to see how Miyazaki’s original sketches developed.

Enter the Lands of Ghibli gives the viewer the option to click on characters from some of the other films. There’s not a huge amount of content, but it’s nice to see.

Behind the Studio: Creating Nausicaä (12 minutes, HD) – A brief feature which includes thoughts from Miyazaki.

The Birth Story of Studio Ghibli (28 minutes, SD) – A TV documentary from Japan talking about Studio Ghibli’s origins.

Behind the Microphone (8 minutes, SD) – The American cast is shown recording some of the scenes and talking about the film.

Original Japanese Trailers and TV Spots (8 minutes, SD)

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind includes a lot of themes and elements that we have come to expect in a Hayao Miyazaki movie, but it’s more epic in scope. Like Avatar, this makes me feel like I am stepping onto another world. Unlike Avatar, the dialogue isn’t dumb in any way. I like Nausicaä as a character because her intentions are always good. She sees the best in everyone and is a positive force. The whole experience makes the film one I love to revisit and it’s always rated among my favorite animated titles. Disney’s Blu-ray presentation does the film justice and is highly recommended as a story that can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Overall score 4.5/5

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