Friday, September 21, 2012

Kaze no tani no Naushika (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) (1984)

Seen: On film at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge. Subtitled.

For quite some time now, Nausicaä was the main Miyazaki work I hadn't seen. Everyone who knew about anime yelled at me about it, since its combination of strong lady protagonist and dystopian science-fiction is totally what I'm about. Based on Miyazaki's own manga, the film is set in a bleak future where a majority of the polluted earth has become toxic to humans, and the surviving population is divided into warring kingdoms fighting for survival. The titular Nausicaä is a courageous and kind teenage princess dedicated to keeping her small farming kingdom at peace with the giant insect monsters living in the nearby poisonous forest. When a giant war ship crashes into her village, she finds herself caught in the middle of an uncertain battle with potentially world-shattering ramifications.

Part of Miyazaki's strength is his narrative consistency with certain themes- coming-of-age, environmentalism and anti-war messages, imaginative technology, historical and fantasy elements, and, typically, awesome female lead characters. Nausicaä has all of these things, PLUS a fascinating futuristic setting. The imagery is a lot darker and weirder than I'd expected, which I loved. It looked kind of Fantastic Planet-inspired only I actually enjoyed this film. I loved the huge bug monsters, fanciful foliage, soft coloring technique, and the numerous beautifully-animated flying sequences. The spattering of 80s synth music is a little goofy, but you all know I am NEVER one to say no to 80s synth music.

While this tale of Man vs Badass Cyborg Lady vs Killer Insects vs Terrifying Ancient Giant Creature vs Super Capable Teen Princess is far from heartwarming, it still retains that adorable Studio Ghibli charm with the help of sweet characters and a super cute animal friend that looks like an Eevee. I really liked Nausicaä herself, she's just a level-headed, compassionate, fearless young woman who Gets. Shit. Done. She's definitely one of my new favorite ladies in science-fiction. I also liked her glider. Everybody else is cool too, including the comic relief old dudes from her village and the spunky guy who helps her out but totally isn't a love interest.

It's a little dated and a little on the nose in its environmental commentary, but generally this movie is just great: a compelling adventure with creative dystopian elements, strong characters, and fabulous animation. And now I've seen all of Miyazaki's features! Wowee!

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Mmm there are definitely parallels to future Miyazaki films, especially Princess Mononoke, so I'd go with that. Alternatively, some of the visuals and themes made me think of Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest.

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