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Kaze no Tani no Naushika

What would I do without my friends to clue me in on things? Be clueless, I guess. :-D

Last Thursday night, miyeko IMed me and told me Turner Classic Movies (TCM) was airing Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Laputa: Castle in the Sky. I taped them, but was very busy this week and didn't have time to get to Nausicaa until just tonight. I watched all of my Sci-Fi Friday lineup before settling back and enjoying what a late night feast for the imagination.

A somewhat random review of Nausicaa

First, let me say that I had very positive expectations for the film, from knowing how my friends FedoraLV, Mike Fu and Harold Sun from Illinois, and many others loved it. I have seen two other Miyazaki films (Mononoke-hime or Princess Mononoke, which I saw last January, and Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi or Spirited Away, which I saw last February) and the only other anime films I've seen are Kokaku Kidotai or Ghost in the Shell1 and Cowboy Bebop: The Movie. I knew that this film was an ancestor of Miyazaki's more famous films in the USA, though I didn't see this as an automatic pro or con. As it happens, I think it is a classic, excellent work, and very interesting in its own right. Its sheer scope and originality make it worthy of its legend, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I'll start by getting a few minutiae and nonessentials off my chest. I think the sproglets' obaba, the blind seeress, was a little cliche and overly pathetic. Nausicaa's healing was similarly a bit overdramatized and predictable, though I'm sure that was to increase the appeal to young audience. taiji_jian, gondhir, and perhaps you would laugh me offline, but she should not have been able to stagger around and pick up a minigun with those bullet wounds! (Don't even get me started on fluid dynamics, air buoyancy in particular... as Tripitaka said, "unlikely aircraft".)

Nitpicking aside, the themes of the film ring very true: living in harmony with the earth, abjuring weapons of mass destruction, forbearance from xenocide, inner beauty of character (and "not judging a book by its cover"), hopeful bravery in the face of doom, and willingness to sacrifice one's life for the cause rather than humanity for survival. Miyazaki's characters are very three-dimensional, though as I think Neil Gaiman remarked of Princess Mononoke, their depth comes from the way that Miyazaki portrays a little bit of good and evil in everyone. There are no saints and generally no irredeemable people - it is a spectrum, and glimpses of good can be seen even in antagonist characters such as Princess Kushana of Torumekia in this movie and Lady Eboshi in Princess Mononoke. I like the way Miyazaki illustrates the unnatural, the spiritual, and the surreal. Unnatural or demonic things are "fueled by anger" and are suffused with a "polluted" look: the implacable customer in Spirited Away, the fallen old boar-god in Princess Mononoke, and the giant warrior in Nausicaa that I've taken to calling a "nukular golem". Everything spiritual has an ephemeral quality. My favorite scene was Nausicaa's portentous dream of the baby ohmu. Similarly, the dream-like scenes are recognizable by the ambient stillness, leading up to the introspective "thought bubble" remarks that echo in people's voices: Nausicaa's, Lord Yupa's, the Pejite boy's, etc.

The scenery here is lovely, and you can see the precursors of the valley and the Iron Town in Princess Mononoke in the valley here. Seeing the glider scenes, I was immediately transported back to the train over the water in Spirited Away. There's something about about Miyazaki's idealized imagination of Gaea and evolution that makes the suspension of disbelief not only willing but utterly natural, to the point where you are actively taking part in the reification of his dream creatures. What seems utterly fantastic a quarter of an hour into the film is part and parcel of the world we're immersed in by the end of it.

I hear that the 2004 Disney-dubbed version that we saw was a vast improvement over the hack-job that was done a decade ago. I was only sorry I didn't tape the second run of Nausicaä and Laputa that immediately followed the English-dubbed versions. Watching my tape, I see they were in Japanese with English subtitles, which is how I like to watch anime - I can actually learn a few words in each one that way.

I agree with miyeko's other remarks, to wit, that the environmentalist undercurrent is strong here and that the film is a little dated. even in Princess Mononoke and would give Nausicaä an 8 out of 10 only because the look, though brilliant and inventive, is a little rougher than in Miyazaki's more recent work. I am sure that some prefer this less crisp and polished aspect, though, finding it less sterile than the newer Studio Ghibli work that relies so much more on computers and probably junior animators. Our only difference of opinion is that I loved the soaring theme music; it's an orchestral fusion that IMHO reflects the multiculturalism of the whole film, the whole genre. Very 1980s, as miyeko wrote; but I liked the 1980s! (OK, I admit I could have done without the Flash Gordon lead-ins to some of the action scenes such as the launching of Nausicaa's glider from the Padgite airship.)

I loved every last line of dialogue in this film. If I had to describe it in a single word, I'd say was simply memorable.

Turner Classic Movies deserves a standing ovation for airing the much-needed import of a classic such as this, uncut and without commercial interruption. To be honest, I was not in a hurry to see Nausicaä, despite my curiosity about what influences it had on later generations of anime. Similarly, I have not watched Nadia: Secret of the Blue Water2 though I would like to judge for myself the claims that Atlantis: The Lost Empire ripped off its look and feel, even despite its cult status among my Miyazawa-fan and anime-fan friends. As it is, I'm very glad I taped it and will recommend it to my family (at least those who haven't long since seen it).

1 Edit, 11:00 CST - I had misremembered one of the producing studios of Ghost in the Shell (Manga Productions) as Studio Ghibli, and prezzey corrected me.
2 Edit, 21:25 CST - For some reason, I thought it had been claimed that Atlantis ripped off Nausicaa, not Nadia.

Thanks again, miyeko, for clueing me in to the airing. I'll be taping My Neighbor Totoro tonight.



( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 19th, 2006 02:01 pm (UTC)
Really?! We have TCM, too! Why don't people tell me these kinds of things? >_<

the only other Studio Ghibli film I've seen is Kokaku Kidotai or Ghost in the Shell.

FYI, that's not a Ghibli film. Here is a really informative Ghibli fansite. IIRC, Ghost in the Shell is Production IG. *checks* Well, IMDB says it was produced by Bandai, Kodansha, Manga Ent and Production IG. Quite the collaborative effort!

the environmentalist undercurrent is strong here

The original manga (also drawn by Miyazaki) gets quite detailed in this aspect. (BTW, it's excellent - even better than the movie. I can recommend it even to people who don't normally read manga.)

I hear that the 2004 Disney-dubbed version that we saw was a vast improvement over the hack-job that was done a decade ago.

It seems like Nausicaä is especially prone to this; it was in movie theatres here when I was a child, but it ended up being heavily censored (yes, censored - this is pre-1989). A more accurate term could be "thoroughly mangled".
Jan. 20th, 2006 03:35 am (UTC)
You have TCM? Miyazaki-fest 2006 is on now!
Really?! We have TCM, too! Why don't people tell me these kinds of things? <_>
You need to know cool people like miyeko! :-D

Seriously, they just showed My Neighbor Totoro and Porco Rossi is on now, followed in another half hour by Whisper of the Heart and the English-subtitled, Japanese edition of Tonari no Totoro a little under two hours after that (00:15 our time). Set your VCR!

I was going to reply to you earlier today, but I got sidetracked by work and forgot to tape the English version of Totoro myself.

Thanks for the info about Ghibli and the manga.

The new Naushika messes with names, but makes no significant cuts to scenes or dialogue. I heard the earlier one did away with something like 23 minutes out of 116!

Jan. 19th, 2006 04:49 pm (UTC)
TCM has also been showing another Miyazaki film, Castle in the Sky, although it has a pretty crappy English dub.

You should go out and find all of Miyazaki's movies, they're fantastic.
Jan. 20th, 2006 03:36 am (UTC)
Castle in the Sky
Yep! I taped that last Thursday; it played right after Nausicaa. I missed the two Japanese editions right after those, though.

Jan. 20th, 2006 10:24 am (UTC)
Cool!... I'll have to check whether or not we get TCM here, but if we do, bam, I'm hooking the cable up to the tuner card...
Jan. 20th, 2006 10:26 am (UTC)
Oh, and I know how strong the environmentalist 'undercurrent' (make that current) is in Japanese manga, anime, video games (think the entire Final Fantasy series, Secret of Mana, Earthbound, Chrono Trigger...), and movies. Have you ever seen Kurosawa's "Dreams"?... It's great.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 21st, 2006 05:52 pm (UTC)
Nausicaa, Mononoke, and Spirited Away
I've seen all three. I actually liked Nausicaa better because somehow it seemed more idealistic and possessed of that sense of wonderment and innocence that makes Miyazaki films great. Mononoke was more adult, more polished, but also eerie in a wistful sort of way. It was also a lot bloodier, but that's not what bothered me so much as the loose ends.

I have no problem with Miyazaki's milieu of "no clear-cut `alignment', only representative points of view". I think that's more realistic: those who serve "their own" interests in ethical conflicts over custodianship of the earth are sometimes custodians of nations, cultures, and peoples. So, my slight dissonance with Mononoke wasn't with Lady Eboshi; if anything, the motivations of her counterpart in Nausicaa, Princess Kushana, are less clear. But the morality play of the cursing-gods (demon boars), the way anger (of the old gods at the despoilers of the earth, of other kami), complacency, acceptance, and common ground are treated in Mononoke seems to me to have been treated more with special effects than with plot, dialogue, and great voice acting. In Nausicaa, somehow, you could see people's thoughts reflected more in their body language and (to a lesser extent) their facial expressions. The plot contains the actual morality play. I can't say what really happened with Iron Town because it was... well, quasi-mystical like the deer-god (great forest spirit) itself.

Miyazaki spent more years working on Nausicaa (espcially the manga), I'm told, and I think it shows.

I liked Spirited Away, though for me it was more of a fairy tale than a movie with a deep message.

Jan. 29th, 2006 05:51 pm (UTC)
ohm dream
The dream about the baby ohmu actually represents a memory of Nausicaa's--she had secretly had the baby ohmu as a pet, but her father had made her get rid of it. When she comes too, she asks the ohmus who have retrieved that memory whatever became of the baby. I think the idea is that they trust her when they realize that she's been friendly to them like that since childhood.

Miyazaki wrote a long, long, manga of Nausicaa that wasn't even finished at the time of the movie--his main theme in it (as I see it) was the worth of all living (and maybe not even living) things--against the notion that some things are inherently bad or impure.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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