Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Digital television's best film channel, Film4, has recently been entertaining its fans with a season of Studio Ghibli films, during which all the classic films from the famous Japanese anime studio would be broadcast over the course of a month or so. Swedish Charlotta, who I've mentioned a few times here, is a big fan of the studio, and she introduced me to it in the form of the very kind gift of a Spirited Away DVD. When we watched it, I was amazed by the creativity and prettiness of the filmmaking, by the celebrated director Hayao Miyazaki. It was a total coincidence that Film4 was showing the films at the same time, and so I took the opportunity to catch at least one new one. When the terrific Twitter account @TopFilmTip advised watching the 1980s anime Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, I decided that was the one. And since it was another Miyazaki, I couldn't resist.

Once again, I was relying on the subtitles writer to capture the essence of the Japanese script. I could not tell you who chose 'Nausicaä' for the English spelling of the main character. In the film, it's pronounced 'nao-OOSH-coh'. Impress your anime-loving pals by pronouncing her name correctly when bringing up the film. When we begin, a millennium has passed since the Seven Days Of Fire, a great big war between all humans that destroyed the Earth's ecosystem and left it covered in infertile desert. The Toxic Jungle plagues the surviving humans, a vast forest populated by insects which are deadly to humans. This forest is slowly taking over the Earth's surface, and the humans are trying to find a way to stop it.

Nausicaä is the princess of the titular Valley of the Wind, a little town of windmills that gets its energy from the wind coming off the sea. She's very keen on nature, and has a way with the insects and creatures of the post-apocalyptic planet that means they don't want to attack her. Every opportunity she gets, she escapes the Valley of the Wind and explores the caves and deserts beyond the hills on her funky floating windboard. However, her nature-loving values are challenged when a group of foreigners arrive in the Valley, asking for the locals' help with their ambition of burning the Toxic Jungle permanently.

It is a fashion amongst science fiction films to feature a little subplot concerning environment issues. Directors like to take the opportunity offered by setting a film in the far future to show us the errors of our polluting, fly dumping ways. Miyazaki likes to hammer these messages home pretty hard, showing shamelessly what a bunch of tossers we are to the world around us. We take advantage of everything we can squeeze out of the planet, then destroy it when it doesn't work the way we want it to. As Nausicaä finds out late into the film, the Toxic Jungle is actually nature's method of restarting its cycle, as it grows from the last morsels of nutrients left in the soil and begins again. The insects are defending the forests from the humans that are its only threat. It's a depressing vision, but it certainly hits where it hurts.

As always, Miyazaki's animation and drawings are masterful. While it might not be as smooth as future Studio Ghibli productions (this is usually regarded as their first feature), it certainly lends the film some charm that is lacking from the flawless, realist computer generated animations that have almost completed their total takeover of the commercial animation market. The Ohmu, Nausicaä's beloved insects (picture a cross between a crab, a wood louse, a headless armadillo and a spider the size of the Royal Albert Hall) are a remarkable show of the director's creativity. Though silent and unable to show emotion, you can tell how they're feeling and they play a major part in the plot. It's just another demonstration of Studio Ghibli's outstanding animated output, which I dare say is matched only by Disney and Pixar for influence and emotion. Considering the low number of films in the category, I'd be confident to nominate Nausicaä for the title of greatest animated sci-fi film ever made.

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