Tuesday, March 08, 2005


Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki

It seems a bit odd to start a comics blog with a review of a movie, but it is a movie based on a comic, and comic reviews will start up soon enough.

I’d say I first saw Nausicaa when I was in junior high school (so at least seven years ago), and I thought it was really good. It was around this time that I also saw a number of Miyazaki’s films, and in general I thought they were excellent. However they were available only in fansubbed, bootlegged versions. Not something I could really buy in a store.

In high school Princess Mononoke (by the same writer and director) came out in theatres (even here!) and then on DVD. It was exciting, perhaps soon Miyazaki’s other films would come out.

They didn’t.

Disney owned the rights to release the rest of the Studio Ghibli films, but choose to do it incredibly slowly for some reason. Waiting for ever and ever to release them.

While I was in high school I bought the collected versions of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Written and drawn by Miyazaki (I believe the only long form comic Miyazaki has completed), the manga is the basis for the movie. However Nausicaa is unlike many other manga to anime adaptations. For one the manga was unfinished when the anime was made, only the first two (of seven) volumes were completed when Miyazaki made the movie. These two volumes cover about the first half of the movie, while the second half of the movie goes in a different direction then the manga eventually did. The manga took over twelve years to be produced, starting in 1982 and not finishing until 1994 (though there were a number of break years as Miyazaki worked on movies). The manga was excellent and it only made me want to see the movie again more, but I couldn’t.

(The version I have is the four volume set released by Viz in the mid nineties. It’s larger then the current size most manga is put out in, but smaller then a traditional American comic. Currently there’s a new, larger, edition out that looks really nice and is tempting me to buy it again. I will be strong though.)

In 2002 (I was in university by this point) Spirited Away came out in theatres. In 2003 Disney released Spirited Away on DVD, additionally they released Laputa, Castle in the Sky and Kiki’s Delivery Service, with promises of more DVD releases of Studio Ghibli films to come. The excitement of it all!

Three more Studio Ghibli films were supposed to be released in 2004. And so I waited, and waited and 2004 passed and still I waited. And finally they were released. I hate Disney so much, I just want them to release these films in a vaguely timely matter.

It’s been twenty years since Nausicaa originally came out, and at least seven since I originally saw it in a bootlegged, fansubbed version, but finally I have a copy of my own (though even that was difficult).

When I heard the DVDs were coming out I did not rush out immediately to buy them as that would mean going to one of the places I like the least: the mall. However, later that week I had the misfortune of being in the mall and went to buy them. The first store I went into didn’t have it. They had Porco Rosso, but that was it (they did however have lots and lots of copies of Porco Rosso). So on I went to discover that the other stores didn’t even have Poroco Rosso. I resigned myself to not owning Nausicaa for a while yet. Meanwhile two of my friends had journeyed to the ends of the earth (the other side of town) to get copies of Nausicaa after phoning up every DVD selling place in town they had found one store that had three copies of it.

About a week later I discovered that my girlfriend was in the mall area and was actually (shock horror) going into the mall itself. I asked her to get me the DVDs and said I’d pay her back if she could get them. Success! I had acquired both Nausicaa and The Cat Returns, my collection of legitimate Studio Ghibli films is complete once more (until, hopefully, next year). But I was now faced with a new problem. I had moved and did not have a DVD player at my new house. In fact I didn’t even have a television. Almost a week went by before I could acquire a television and a DVD player (during this week I lent out my copies of Porco Rosso and The Cat Returns to a roommate and a friend who could watch them elsewhere).

Finally I could watch it. Myself and my roommates hooked up the television and DVD player (actually a PS2), though even this caused problems (why does our living room have so few electrical outlets? We shouldn’t have to use an electrical socket in the kitchen to watch a movie), and we were able to watch the movie. I was vaguely worried that it wouldn’t be as good as I remembered it. It had been a long time since I had seen it, and perhaps I wouldn’t like it this time.

Thankfully I was wrong; the movie was as good as I remembered it. Since it had been a long time since I had seen the movie, and since I had read the manga, giving an alternate series of events since then, the movie even held certain surprises for me. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is set one thousand years after the collapse of civilization. Much of the world has been destroyed and a giant forest of poisonous plants and giant insects dominates. Beyond the edges of this forest lies a desert, and the occasional fertile area where humans can still survive. Those humans that are still around haven’t really learnt much and still plot war and destruction, the newest plan being one to destroy the forest by using one of the weapons used to hurt the earth in the first place (Nausicaa, like several of Studio Ghibli’s other films, has a fairly central environmental message).

Nausicaa is a princess, and a popular one. But unlike the princesses that you see in many of Disney’s movies she takes action. Nausicaa makes frequent trips into the forest on her glider to view the plans and insects that live there. When the weapon ends up in Nausicaa’s valley, she does her best to keep the fighting and violence away from her people there. Nausicaa travels across the land and meets (and sometimes fights) people and tries to discover what is best for her land and her people.

The animation is generally strong, though there are a few weak points, and features some beautifully designed flying machines and animals. The characters are well developed, though the ideas of good and evil are not as muddled as they are in the comic (but as Miyazaki had far more room in the comic to develop characters this can easily be excused). The music can be very eighties in a few parts too, but like the rest of the movie is generally excellent.

The DVD comes with a number of extras, including complete storyboards (sort of pointless), all the Japanese trailers (mind numbingly boring after 8 minutes of the same footage being used over and over again), a documentary I haven’t watched yet but that’s supposed to be pretty good, and an interview with the English voice actors. I’ll probably never hear the English dub, they’re generally pretty crappy. And even if they are good (like Princess Mononoke’s was, I’m unlikely to watch them as the dialogue will have been changed for North American audiences. I’m not even sure who they’re aimed at. Little kids I guess.

One thing that is currently puzzling me is a scene I thought I had remembered from Nausicaa when I saw it many years ago. It was a scene where two characters (the male and female leads I believe) are chasing each other through a forest while a battle between the two sides they represent is fought by a castle nearby. I had thought this scene was in this movie, but it is not. Where on earth is from?

So was it worth the wait? Yes. Though I wish that I hadn’t had to wait at all. I wonder how long I will have to wait until the next DVD releases (Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbour Totoro and…?). Probably at least a year, hopefully not another two.

Still to come: Reviews of Porco Rosso and The Cat Returns (over the next few weeks), and reviews of Valiant and Milestone comics later this week.


Nice review Matthew.

I like how as opposed to a Disney style story, it's taken for granted that Nausicaa can go and do the things she does. We're not given a long boring story about how "even though she's a girl" she can still do important things.
She just kicks ass.

Do I need a password to post reviews and shit here?
And would it be OK if Erin were to write reviews here too? I haven't even asked her yet, but it seems like something she might be into, and could do on a more regular basis than hosting the show.
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