Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Lamb of the month: Nausicaa Valley of the Wind

Conceived by animator Hayao Miyazaki in 1982, Nausicaa Valley of the Wind was first released as a manga and would go on to become one of the best selling Japanese comics of all it's no surprise then that it went on to become a movie. Ironically it was created in manga form because the then little known Miyazaki, couldn't get the funding to make the film...go figure...

Valley of the Wind's story thrusts us into a post-apocalyptic future where humanity has destroyed most of the Earth's eco-system. Humans survive but live scattered across a dying land that is half feudal Japan and half wild kingdom. Deep within this decaying land we meet Nausicaa, a princess with a special gift for communicating with the giant insects that live in the areas surrounding her home in the Valley of the Wind. In design the young Nausicaa seems small and timid but like most Miyazaki heroines she is smart, strong and sympathetic to the plight of the creatures around her.

One day, a large airship crashes into the cliffs near her home, she tries to rescue a young woman from the burning wreckage and instead gets herself embroiled in a massive war between the kingdom Pejite and the more powerful state of Tolmekia. Lots of back and forth battles with large airships ensue until Nausicaa helps both sides realize the futility of their war.

Valley of the Wind is a stunningly beautiful animated film. The characters are well-developed and warm while the creatures are alien and intriguing. In spite of all this artistry the film suffers from major pacing problems and the movie drags. You want to care what happens to the people in the film but the less than riveting writing makes it difficult to pay attention. Perhaps it is too literal a translation of Miyazaki's book...leaving too much in from the manga that does not translate to the screen well.

Valley of the Wind is far from a train wreck, but it's not a movie I can say I really enjoyed either and would say Valley is for Miyazaki fans only. I sincerely hope if you haven't seen a Miyazaki film you start with the far superior Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away; Valley is a slow start to an amazing career.


Arkonbey said...

I agree that Nausicaa is for advanced viewing only. I think it's a cultural map thing.

My Neighbor Totoro is still my all-time favorite Miyazaki film. One of my all-time favorites in general. It's timeless and, more than many animated films, transcends age classification.

Chris Shadoian Fossett said...

Totoro is filled with moments that are amazing (the bus stop scene is one of my all-time favorite movies scenes, period), but it's somewhat slow and ends how most of his movies -- with the exception of Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke -- do. It just kind of ends. It almost seems like the production team got kinda tired, so they stopped when things were pretty much wrapped up.

Princess Mononoke should be read in its original five-volume manga form. It's pretty incredible -- much more fleshed-out than a two-hour-long movie could possibly be.

Anonymous said...

I saw this film when I was very small. I never knew the name or even the plot, but it's haunted me my entire life. A million thank yous to you for posting this today!!
M. x

Arkonbey said...

Shadoian: you're right that Totoro just ends. I wonder if it's intentional (life often doesn't have wrap-ups, but just moves from one thing to another) or if he just has a good story, but doesn't know how to end things.

All I know is I want to live in Mei's family's house...

I'd like to find the Princess M. manga. What bugged me about the movie was the end. The whole film is "we must destroy Iron Town!" and at the end they're all "we must rebuild Iron Town!". That just seemed weird.

Becca said...

Totoro is WONDERFUL! Certainly in my top 3 Miyazaki films. Anytime I'm in a bad mood that Totoro music cheers me up!

That bus stop scene is terrific! I painted a keepsake box for someone once with mei and the Catbus on it. So Wonderful!

I have to agree with Arkonbey about the ending feels like life. That's one of the things I enjoy most about Miyazaki films; the pastoral feel. My favorite scene in a Miyazaki film is from Spirited Away where Chihiro is riding the train across the water and the music that punctuates it. Nothing really happens per say but it's a beautiful and emotional scene.

I've not read the manga. I've only scene the cinemanga...I'll have to track the original down. Thanks for the heads up!

So glad to be of service M. X!

I think the end of Mononoke is about man and nature learning to live together in when they rebuild Iron Town it will be in a way that is more in tune with nature. Progress must go on but not at the cost of the Earth's destruction. At least that's the way I see it.

ThoughtCriminal said...

I found "Castle in the Sky" a bit more entertaining, but this one is also one of my favorites. btw - there is a Japanese project to build a working jet-powered aircraft similar to Nausicaa's.

Chris Shadoian Fossett said...

I don't really have a problem with Totoro's ending per se -- yep, it feels like real life -- but if you lump it in with Princess Mononoke and, more distinctly, Howl's Moving Castle, the weakness of Miyazaki's endings starts to stand out.

There are a couple spoilers ahead, for both those films. Sounds like most readers here have seen all of these, but just in case....

Princess Mononoke is a real shame, since the rest of the movie is AWESOME. But the female villain's motivation is really weird at the end. She completely changes her attitude for no apparent reason. And Howl's Moving Castle? There's a rushed wrap-up that pulls together, like, twelve sub-plots, including one in which a character's curse is lifted by a kiss from his true love... who turns out not to be his true love. Huh? How does that work?

In my mind, Spirited Away remains Miyazaki's only complete, perfectly paced film. It's the only one that really takes it's time with the ending.

SamuraiFrog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becca said...

Castle in the Sky isn't a bad movie at all but if I'm rating my favorites it's toward the bottom of the list.

The aircraft in Miyazaki films is always soooo cool! Porco Rosso's plane is the bomb. It would be neat to see if the "Nausicaa" aircraft project goes anywhere.

I guess I kind of thought that Lady Eboshi faced with the death and destruction of everything she holds dear kind of has this moment of clarity where she realizes in order for Iron Town to work she needs to work with nature not against it.

Howl does tie a crazy amount of things up at the end! And even though it's based on a book, the vast majority of the story was reworked by Miyazaki and they are very different.

I think the true love's kiss from someone who is not your true love thing could be another real life thing? That sometimes you love someone very deeply and they do not return those feelings. Does it make that love any less true for you? I don't know you bring up some really good points.

Of course I'm bias...I think that Howl is actually my favorite Miyazaki movie but while admit it's not his best movie.