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.