And so the challenge begins…
There have been many films released over the past few years which have environmental undertones; Avatar, The Road and Wall-E to name a few. Whilst these films have mainly used the environmental theme to create the setting for a story, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (the second film by Hayao Miyazaki) fully embraces environmentalism, creating a story which has as its central theme the relationship between humanity and the earth.
The film is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the Earth’s ecosystem has been destroyed in what is referred to as The Seven Day War. The central character is Nausicaa, a Princess of the Valley of the Wind, which is one of the last few habitable places on earth. Large swathes of the earth are now covered by a ‘Toxic Jungle’ which is guarded by a variety of giant insects, the most deadly of which are known as Ohms.
War breaks out when a rival race, known as the Tolmekians, invade and destroy the rival city of Pejite in order to obtain the embryo of a Great Warrior (the creature who is thought to have destroyed the earth) which recently been discovered. On transporting the embryo back to Tolmekia, the Tolmekian airship crashes in the Valley of the Wind, prompting the Tolmekians to invade the Valley in order to retake the embryo.
The Tolmekians believe that in order for earth to survive, the Toxic Jungle must be destroyed and so plan to use the Giant Warrior to destroy the Toxic Jungle and all other people who stand in their way. However, Princess Nausicaa has discovered that it is not the plants of the toxic forest that are polluted, but rather the soil and water in which they grow. The plants themselves are actually slowly cleansing the planet so that it will be clean once more. When Nausicaa discovers the Tolmekian plan, she, along with Prince Asbel of Pejite, sets off on a mission to stop them in order to save the planet and all of the creatures and people who inhabit it.
One of the first things that struck me when watching the film was that it was incredibly ahead of its time. Originally released in 1984, the environmental theme of the film is very relevant to the modern day and Nausicaa has to be one of the few films which may be more relevant now than when originally released.
Another thing which I thought interesting, was that Nausicaa contains that rarity in modern day cinema; a strong female lead character. Too often in animation and often in live action films, the lead female character (if indeed there can be said to be one) is the stereotypical damsel in distress. In fact, if you look closely at the Disney Pixar Films, not one of them even has a strong female character (the closest Pixar comes is Mrs Incredible in The Incredibles). It is therefore refreshing that Nausicaa bucks the contemporary trend and not only has a female as its lead character, but a strong female warrior who is not afraid to risk her life to protect all other species on the planet, be it good or evil.
The animation is lovingly rendered and each frame incredibly detailed resulting in a visual experience which doesn’t feel out of place when compared to more recent examples of traditional animation. The world in which the film takes place is exceptionally complex and is comparable to the worlds which exist in Star Wars, Lord of the Rings or Avatar. Some of the different races and transportation which is used in the film clearly reference Star Wars and it is clearly one of the main inspirations behind the film.
Whilst the detail of the setting adds to the richness of the film, it also creates some complexity in the story. The last half hour of the film is chock full of different locations and tribes of people (such as the Tolmekians, the Pejite and the people of the valley). As the story nears its conclusion we constantly jump from one event to another, many of which often happening simultaneously, and this leads to a bit of conclusion in the plot.
Overall, whilst I enjoyed this film, I didn’t love it. I didn’t ever feel that emotional connection with the main characters which I need in order to truly fall in love with a film. Despite that I think there are enough interesting aspects of this film to warrant a repeat viewing, however I do not think its status as one of the top 250 films is really justified.
1 down, 249 to go…