My biggest problem with Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is that I find the eponymous lead character too one-dimensional. What we know about her is spelt out in the first 30 minutes of the film – a kind-hearted princess, explorer of the Sea of Decay, someone who knows the ways of the strange creatures that inhabit it. After that, other than one throwaway line about anger management, we get nothing. But that I guess is the burden of the Miyazaki heroine – an adolescent that is forever asexual, virtuous to the point of saccharine-sweetness, and dripping with innocence.
The only thing that has dated about this 28-year old film is the score. Don’t get me wrong, Joe Hisaishi’s work is still miles ahead of any animated film soundtrack of that vintage, especially the main piano theme and the vocal leitmotif for the Fields of Gold sequence. The seams show up with the rather ham-fisted Ohmu tracks, where sitar and santoor strains meant to evoke mysticism and awe come off as as pidgin New Age. And the cheesy drums in the action sequences scream of eighties disco.
The film is also surprisingly humorless. Unintended moments of mirth trickle out in some of the voice acting, but the only comic relief is provided by the occasional sardonic quip made by Kurotawa, the general of Tolmekia. There is a out-of-place sequence that reeks of forced humor, where Asbel of Pejite makes faces when chewing some nuts in the fossilized under-world that the two of them find.
But all complaints aside, what a film! From the first frame onwards, the post-apocalypic world is revealed bit by bit to us, in brilliant, miniscule detail. Fantastic creature designs – you can almost feel the pollen-like effervescence that covers the decaying parts. The gentle pastel and watercolor cel-shades are way more faithful to Miyazaki’s painting style than his later works. Long sequences bereft of words or music, overlaid with the sound of the wind, are bold sound design choices for the time. There was a dubbed recut version released in the 80s, called Warriors of the Wind, and I am sure they added lots and lots of discerning soundtrack choices throughout the film. Human flight is of course a recurring Miyazaki theme. The flying sequences are awe-inspiring even today, especially the parts where the airships fight in the clouds. All the other Miyazaki themes are also in place – environmentalism, anti-war and a mellow good/evil conflict.
What was going on in the US the year Nausicaa released in Japan? Movies released that year include The Terminator, Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid, One Upon a Time in America and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Among animated releases, Walt Disney released a home video reissue of its 1973 film Robin Hood. The Transformers came out on TV for the first time. Did the people watching these even know about this Japanese release? Doubt it.
And I saw the trailer to The Secret World of Arrietty for the first time. It’s going to be screened at the Egyptian on the 13th, 4 days before the official US release. I may give that a miss if it’s the dubbed version, though.