Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind Review: Where everything great for Studio Ghibli began
Though both the legendary Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata have created many excellent films under the Ghibli name, their talents came together even before Studio Ghibli was created. Their first film, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, was actually the first film that brought them together with Takahata taking on a producing role and Miyazaki taking on directorial roles, only for the second time at this point. Together, the two have created an epic realization of the manga of the same name, actually created by Miyazaki in 1982, and crafted a world that encompasses their clear inspirations that have made so many Ghibli films successful.
The film follows Nausicaa (voiced by Alison Lohman), a pacifistic and warrior princess of the Valley of the Wind whose kingdom is surrounded by the “Toxic Jungle” filled with toxic gas and mutated insects. As the Toxic Jungle begin to grow, Nausicaa and the other kingdoms are forced to defend against the forest and its inhabitants in order to not become extinct. However, when a rival kingdom acquires a mythical weapon that could burn down the forest for good, Nausicaa must determine whether burning the forest is the correct course of action and act before things become worse.
Right from the get-go, it’s easy to see how Nausicaa’s story and world gave clear inspiration for many of their iconic works. From having a strong female lead in the form of Nausicaa, creating an animated world filled colorful characters and intriguing creatures, and strong themes that stand the test of time. The film even contains some strong messages about environmental conservation and pollution, through Nausicaa’s realization that people have caused the forest to become toxic, and pacifism and anti-war messages that are seen through Nausicaa’s desire to not see any more bloodshed. All of this is played out nicely here and would reoccur in future films like Grave of Fireflies, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, and Pom Poko.
The film also utilizes its characters well through its world-building and excellent voice cast. Lohman’s voice brings out the confidence and intelligence of Nausicaa and helps showcase her passionate attitude that comes out through Miyazaki’s excellent writing. Patrick Stewart is also a lot of fun as the legendary swordsman Lord Yupa and Uma Thurman creates a fun, villainous performance as Kushana. Even Shia LaBeouf puts in a great performance as Absel and, even for not being in the film much, gives the film an adventurous spirit that’s always iconic to a Ghibli film. Other strong voice talents like Mark Hamill, Chris Sarandon, and Tress MacNeille help round-out the strong cast of characters that Nausicaa has to offer.
The film is also gorgeously animated, and I loved the design of all the insects and how the world feels wide and epic. There’s a lot of great shots of just Nausicaa soaring through the air and hovering just above the ground that makes the world detailed, spacious, and builds this world of man vs. nature. The character design also has this western vibe to it and the film has this Star Wars meets Final Fantasy vibe that I really dug. Not to mention, the insects also have this creepy and intriguing design to them and the Ohm, a humongous trilobite-like armored insect, were great in that they come off as intimidating and gentle, which makes it feel like a true Ghibli creature.
Now, while there’s plenty of great inspirations that show how it’s influenced Miyazaki and Takahata to create some of the best anime films of all-time, there’s definitely moments that show that Nausicaa is their first outing together. The score is incredibly strange that ranges from the fantastical piano that many would associate with their films and this synth techno score that doesn’t work at all. Some of the audio is also a little lackluster, especially in the opening, and there would be certain moments when metal clings would create a louder impact than gunshots that came off as strange to me. The opening is also incredibly slow and, while I understand that the film’s first act attempts to build the world, it harshly affects the film’s pacing and I didn’t even feel like the film started until about 40 minutes in.
So, even when you can tell that Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was Miyazaki and Takahata’s first film together, it’s hard to ignore how it clearly inspired them to create so many anime classics. The film embodies exactly what these two have brought to many of their films and it’s hard not to be a little nostalgic seeing where it all began. Even if these beginnings weren’t perfect, Nausicaa still shows how and why these two are synonymous with excellent works of anime.
Watch the Trailer Here: