Good ol’ Studio Ghibli. One of the most recognized names in animated film production in the entire world. Considering their immense reputation, one would think they’ve been around forever. I was actually kind of surprised to learn that their first animated film, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind—the subject of today’s post—was made in 1984. Compared to, say, Disney, that’s practically infantile!
…Wait, what? This isn’t Studio Ghibli? Of course it’s Studio Ghibli, it’s directed by Hayao Miyazaki and based on his own work. Topcraft? What the hell is… oh. Huh. Apparently Studio Ghibli was the phoenix that rose from the bankrupt ashes of Topcraft in 1985. So… this isn’t technically a Studio Ghibli film. I feel like I’ve been lied to for the last decade.
“After a global war, the seaside kingdom known as the Valley of the Wind remains one of the last strongholds on Earth untouched by a poisonous jungle and the powerful insects that guard it. Led by the courageous Princess Nausicaä, the people of the Valley engage in an epic struggle to restore the bond between humanity and Earth.”
Animated origins aside, this is still a Hayao Miyazaki personal project. Given that man has a way of making rich, intimately altruistic and environmentalist masterpieces—at least by popular opinion—this was likely to be much of the same.
In my time watching anime, I have not always been terribly fond of Ghibli works (even if this only half counts as one). Spirited Away is overrated in my view, and a good chunk of others barely sit past “passable.” Outliers such as Princess Mononoke and Porco Rosso stand out amongst the list of supposed works of art that I do find worthy of the praise the studio is known for. As I mature, I’ve found myself more open to the way in which these stories are told, which fares well for Nausicaä’s case.
How it began worried me somewhat. Some establishing shots of people investigating abandoned ruins before settling on a girl in a bright outfit audibly spouting expository details that were apparent to anyone with eyes. Gunshots can be heard in the distance; “Ah, those are gunshots!” The girl easily lifts up a chunk of a giant insect’s shell; “Ah, it’s so light!” The first 10-15 minutes were egregious in a “Show and tell” style of storytelling that was incredibly grating.
Working its way into the introductory period of the world and central village that’s home to the major characters didn’t inspire much confidence, either. A thin layer of passive interest would fade in and out of my attention as these seemingly trivial characters threw out some more rudimentary info. Immersion was becoming harder to incorporate and the stakes weren’t truly set.
Upon a crucial invasion, that is when things began to pick up. And the further the plot pushed from that point onward, the more I grew fond of the direction it was taking. Much of this came from the progressively increasing admiration I had for the main character, Nausicaä.
How very easy it is for films to have a character be reactive, taking in the circumstances that occur around them as they come. Nausicaä is the opposite: she’s proactive—the plot is driven by her, not the other way around. Idealistically driven to protect the world and people around her, no matter the cost. She embodies a true hero, one that fights for the safety of all at the expense of her own safety and well-being. Her kindness and ambition together make her a person worth rooting for.
A little bland to some, I’m sure, but for a film such as this one, I believe it’s appropriate to have the main character be the driving force. One could say Nausicaä is the “heart” of the film, whose beats strengthen the increasingly dangerous situations that she finds herself in. What she lacks in depth she makes up for in earnestness. A great character through and through.
All others fall short in comparison. Outside of Nausicaä, there’s no character I could point out as someone whose presence heightened the interest of scenes. Maybe the antagonistic general woman? Can’t even remember her name, which probably says it all.
Pacing is something I don’t always pay close attention to, especially with animated films. Here, it was easy to keep note of, given the beginning sections felt intensely slow as the introductory elements ease the viewer in. From the last hour onward, the pacing is almost sublime, complete with a bunch of action, different locales, and somber realizations that make things more complex to ponder. The first half is fairly slow; the second half is somewhat fast.
Given this is a
Studio Ghibli Topcraft film, it would be easy to go, “Ah, the animation takes care of itself. It’s gorgeous and wonderful.” Well, it’s not that simple. This is the last project Topcraft worked on prior to bankruptcy and the “first” one made by what would eventually become Studio Ghibli. As such, it’s easy to see why the animation isn’t quite as fluid or mesmerizing as later works. I noted that very early on when I saw the movement of characters and thought, “That’s a little choppy, huh.”
Although the movement can be stiff and the environments a little “avant garde,” there are numerous qualities that give it a distinct quality worth acknowledging. Namely: the Ohm. These giant bugs are both freaky and mesmerizing. Giant, luminescent eyes that glow depending on their mood, and gargantuan slug-like bodies that spout enchanting tendrils. How the film treats these creatures always gives weight to their presence onscreen. Seeing them sparingly also helps in providing mystique.
Pretty good! Another one for the section of Ghibli (kind of) films that I’m quite fond of. Far better near the end than in the beginning and the character selection is a little bare save the main character, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind nonetheless is a rewarding experience that most would enjoy if only for the big bugs alone.
Final Score: 7/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!
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Thank you for your time. Have a great rest of your day.
One thought on “Day Thirteen: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (March of the Movies 2023)”
I’m not gonna lie, I tend to be one of those overly defensive Studio Ghibi fans (working on it lol), so at first reading your review certainly ruffled my feather so to speak. However, I do think your observations, especially on the opening of the film is spot on. In addition, I do appreciate you pointing out that while the story is solid, and really touching – some of the animation is a bit off. It’s a really solid review, and I appreciate that it wasn’t all just praise!