Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Review
It’s difficult to sum up Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind in narrative terms such are its complexities. Indeed, director Hayao Miyazaki himself simply throws us into the action and asks of us to find our own bearings. What we do know comes courtesy of a brief opening title which lays down the story’s foundations and from hereon in we’re asked to fill in the gaps. Many years into the future, the Earth is being swamped by a “sea of decay” which, as it gradually subsumes the planet with its toxic fumes and insect inhabitants, threatens human existence. Yet whilst other forms of life have evolved, mankind has largely stayed put, dying out from hunger and unnecessary warfare. Only small pockets (presumably there is more than one) of self-sufficient communities exist, one of which, the Valley of the Wind, houses our heroine, the Princess Nausicaä.
Unsurprisingly, Nausicaä turns out to be the standard Miyazaki protagonist. Young, female and in possession of a certain purity, it is she who grounds the film’s amongst its various fantastical trappings. Nausicaä is a work of huge dimensions, creating a world infused with legends, fate and destiny, yet it never forgets this character at its centre. Indeed, she proves to be Miyazaki’s mouthpiece and therefore the film’s conscience.
The clue comes before the first credit has appears as it is a card for the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) which greets the audience. Ecologically minded, Nausicaä is a paean for the protection of the planet. Of course, it’s dressed up in steampunk aircraft battles, civil wars and complex plotting, but the thematic concerns are central. Nausicaä has an affinity with all creatures and a righteous indignation when she discovers the reason for the “sea of decay” (the result, unsurprisingly, of years of industrial waste) – and, it is continually implied (perhaps even implored), so should we.
Not that it feels as though Miyazaki is lecturing his audience. The simplicity of his message is such that he never has to strive to make his point. Rather he is able to weave it through the various plot strands and infuse Nausicaä as a whole with a gentle poignancy. Yet as was true with the later – and superficially similar Princess Mononoke - Miyazaki is also unafraid of going to extreme lengths in order to make this point. If he feels the need to show suffering then he will, and do so as clearly as possible.
However, if this marks Nausicaä as a mature work, then it also prompts comparisons with Princess Mononoke. And I’m inclined to believe that the latter is the better of the two. Certainly, Nausicaä possesses the depth, not to mention the artistic content (in which respect it may in fact be superior given the more alien qualities with which it has to deal), yet it doesn’t quite hold the audience in as much thrall. Though this may come down to personal preferences, Mononoke presents a darker, more morally complex universe with which to discuss its themes. (Plus, I find tiny of aspects Nausicaä, such as the over the top orchestral scoring and incongruous use of electro, a mite distracting.) Certainly, Nausicaä should be viewed as more than a mere dry run – and it is a highly impressive work in many ways – but there was still better to come from Miyazaki and Ghibli, the studio this production helped to create.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind finally makes it to the UK DVD market in fine form. Mostly identical to the two-disc US version, Optimum have offered the film in uncut form, with English and Japanese voice tracks and with an anamorphic transfer (at a ratio of 1.85:1). With regards to the image, things are mostly impressive. There are instances of ghosting throughout, though this is barely discernible unless you have the pause button at the ready. Otherwise we are treated to a clean print, crisp colours and no noticeable damage.
As for the soundtrack, as noted this comes in both the original Japanese and the English dub recorded by the likes of Patrick Stewart and Uma Thurman. Whilst it is no doubt personal preference which is likely to govern an individual’s choice as to which they go for, please note the Japanese option does edge the English dub in terms of clarity. Certainly, the difference is minimal, but it is there. As for the subtitles, these are identical to those found on Region 1 offering and are discussed in Noel’s review of that disc. In addition, it is also worth noting that these come in yellow rather than white, which some viewers may find distracting.
Where the disc differs from the Region 1 is in its dispensing of the second disc. Rather the storyboard version of the film now comes as a multi-angle function and therefore allows a more direct comparison with the main feature. Moreover, it is likely that only a select few will wish to view the storyboards in their entirety, rather it is the key scenes which will provoke a more widespread interest.
Also missing is the ‘Behind the Microphone’ featurette, though we do get the 28-minute ‘The Birth of Studio Ghibli’ piece. Taking us from Little Norse Prince through to Princess Mononoke this proves to be a brisk affair, but with an agreeable sense of humour. Note that this also comes in the original Japanese with optional subs (yellow again), not overdubbed into English as was the case with Region 1.
The package is rounded off by a series of original trailers for Nausicaä and a Studio Ghibli trailer reel.