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Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind DVD Review

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Movie & DVD Details

Japanese Theatrical Release: March 11, 1984 / Running Time: 118 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

English Voice Cast: Alison Lohman (Nausicaš), Patrick Stewart (Lord Yupa), Uma Thurman (Kushana), Shia LaBeouf (Asbel), Chris Sarandon (Kurotowa), Edward James Olmos (Mito), Mark Hamill (Mayor of Pejite), Emily Bauer (Lastel), Ashley Rose Orr (Peasant Girl), Jodi Benson (Lastel's Mother), Tress MacNeille (Obaba)

Japanese Voice Cast: Sumi Shimamoto (Nausicaš), Gorou Naya (Yupa), Yoshiko Sakakibara (Kushana), Youji Matsuda (Asbel), Iemasa Kayumi (Kurotowa), Ichirou Nagai (Mito), Makoto Terada (Mayor of Pejite), Miina Tominaga (Lastel)

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital Mono (Japanese, English)
Subtitles: English, English captions; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: February 22, 2005
Two single-sided discs (DVD-9 & DVD-5); THX-Certified with Optimizer Tests
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99

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Review by Lindsay Mayer

One of director Hayao Miyazaki's first films, Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind has certainly had an interesting history. As Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki explains, the film came about when legendary Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki, as well as cohort and fellow master Isao Takahata, were still blowing about in the tumultuous early years of their animation careers. Although Takahata and Miyazaki had the acclaimed Little Norse Prince Valiant and Castle of Cagliostro under their respective belts, they were still young - and quite new to the industry. Having no proper studio to call home, the directors nevertheless were brimming with ideas.

Sharing the template for Nausicaš with Suzuki, Miyazaki hoped his long-brewing idea could become an animated film. Suzuki was emphatic about the concept, and soon shopped the idea around to potential producers. But being that most animť feature films were typically promoted through popular tie-ins, such as manga (Japanese graphic novels), Suzuki's pitch was turned down. Subsequently, this is how Nausicaš was first introduced to the world - via a featured serial manga in Animage.

Needless to say, the story turned out to be a hit, which readers eagerly checked out every month. As the manga grew in popularity, and drew increased media attention, the rest was inevitable - Miyazaki was finally given the go-ahead to produce an animated film treatment. Working with Top Craft studio, which had before then worked on Rankin-Bass productions such as The Hobbit and The Last Unicorn, Miyazaki began to flesh out his film. After two years of intensive production, Nausicaš premiered in Japan on March 11th, 1984, drawing huge crowds and critical acclaim.

Before this DVD, the only other home video release of Nausicaš in the U.S. showed up in 1991, re-titled as Warriors of the Wind. A New World Pictures release, the film was poorly dubbed and the story mutilated by several cuts which took out about a quarter of the film's original running time of 118 minutes. Miyazaki was shocked at the news of this release, and has asked that viewers "forget it ever existed." Fortunately, New World Pictures' rights to the film expired in 1995. As part of their distribution deal with Studio Ghibli, Disney cannot make any alterations to any of the films, save for English dubbing. So you can be sure that what you're watching on this release is all there!

Nausicaš befriends a young fox-squirrel. Nausicaš lures a giant ushiabu back to the Fukai with an insect charm.

Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland 1,000 years from now, Nausicaš depicts an Earth savaged by human acts. When industrial civilization was destroyed in the infamous global war known as "The Seven Days of Fire," only a handful of humans survived. The remnants of the population have since survived in small pockets, scattered wide across the globe. A massive "sea of decay" known as the Fukai (or the Toxic Forest in the English adaptation) has slowly spread across the earth, its giant spores and deadly flora destroying any human habitation it comes across. The dominant fauna of this forest are giant insects, each having its own niche and duty in the Fukai's vast range. Territorial by nature, the insects are extremely sensitive to any damage the Fukai may suffer by human hands. The fly-like ushiabu, as large as a rhinoceros, make do as a "first defense" - the foot soldiers of the Fukai. Smaller, draconic yamma flyers act as sentinels. The largest and most dangerous of all, though, are the ohmu - giant sow bug-type creatures with dozens of eyes adorning their head. The eyes are key to the insect's mood; gray for sleep, blue for contentmentÖ and a wild red when outraged.

It is here that the film begins, as Nausicaš (voiced by relative-unknown Alison Lohman), wearing a breathing mask and exploring the Fukai, hears the report of gunshots and the stampede of an angry ohmu. Boarding her glider, she saves the traveler from certain doom by distracting the creature with flashbombs and drawing it back into the forest with a whistling "insect charm." This traveler turns out to be the teacher and sword-master Yupamiralda, otherwise known as Lord Yupa and voiced by not-relative-unknown Patrick Stewart (Star Trek, X-Men). After a long time away visiting other kingdoms, the lord has come back to the Valley of the Wind, of which Nausicaš is princess. A small enclave protected from the Fukai's poisons by strong ocean winds and thick, ancient forests, the kingdom is an isolated Eden in an otherwise ravaged world.

Not long after Lord Yupa arrives, an ominous, unusually windy night blows into the valley. Nausicaš and the castle guard stand by apprehensively. The mystery of the storm is soon unveiled - a huge airship of nearby kingdom Tolmekia comes blasting through the valley, growing steadily lower and partially covered in angry insects. Despite Nausicaš's best efforts to prevent it, the ship crashes, creating a blazing inferno. Everything is destroyedÖ save for an enormous, pulsating sphere, which went unaffected by the fire. As the valley inhabitants work hard the next day to find and burn any stray spores brought in by the ship, an even worse surprise shows up - a whole entourage of Tolmekian ships, landing roughly and terrorizing the villagers. Scores of armored soldiers pour out, securing the town and killing Nausicaš's father, King Jihl.

Amidst the chaos, a sinister new character appears - Princess Kushana, commander of the Tolmekian army, and voiced by Uma Thurman (Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction). She promises a suspicious "new world" to the villagers, for she has plans to burn the Fukai and be rid of what is seen as a plague upon the Earth. Unheeded by the warnings of Obaba, a blind, wizened woman of the Valley, Kushana vows that unlike the catastrophic past attempts by humans to destroy the forest, this time she will succeed, for she has in her possession a vile, powerful creature - a kyoshinhei. These "Giant Warriors" - powerful, gargantuan, humanoid creatures - were used to burn civilization in the Seven Days of Fire - and they had been thought long dead. But to the dismay - and delight - of all, a dormant, partially formed Warrior had been found deep beneath the earth around Pejite. A bloody war has now erupted for control of the creature.

Ruins, rubble, and charred ohmu are all that remain of Pejite's capital city. Princess Kushana, her chief counselor Kurotowa and the Tolmekian army advance upon the cornered Valley people.

Nausicaš, taken hostage by Kushana, makes a close escape while the airships are ambushed by a lone gun ship, and retreats into the relative safety of the Fukai. There she encounters Pejite prince Asbel, voiced by teenage angstmeister Shia LaBeouf (Holes, "Even Stevens"). Asbel had been the pilot of the gun ship, which had crashed into the Fukai. Making the bad decision of firing at the insects in defense, he was soon overwhelmed by the angry forest inhabitants, saved at the last second by Nausicaš and her glider. The two are fast friends, and decide to make their way to Asbel's hometown, the capital of Pejite. Along the way, Nausicaš's long-unfinished theories of the forest finally gel - the two discover that the trees are actually absorbing the pollutants from the toxic soil and the poisoned water, purifying them; after dying the trees slowly decompose into pure, fertile soil. The truth of the Fukai is revealed - the great and feared Toxic Forest - which is only deadly because of the toxins it absorbs - is slowly working to heal the Earth.
The giant insects that live within the Fukai guard it so viciously because they've evolved to defend the forest from human stupidity.

Using her glider to travel out of the Fukai, Nausicaš and Asbel soon reach Pejite... and are greeted with a horrible sight. Insects, dead and burned, are strewn everywhere - the city itself is in ruins. Encountering some of the remaining Pejite people, Asbel and Nausicaš learn that the Pejites had used some terrible method to make the ohmu stampede and attack the city - an attempt by the Pejites to kill the Tolmekian occupants. An even worse revelation - they plan on doing the same thing to the Valley of the Wind, in order to try and win back the control of the Giant Warrior, whom the Pejites claim "will not use for evil, unlike the Tolmekians." But this would mean certain death for Nausicaš's people, and, knowing the truth of the Fukai and convinced that more killing will do no good, she escapes from the clutches of the Pejite offenders and makes a daring, desperate journey back to her Valley to warn the kingdom of the oncoming danger.

As with his action epic Princess Mononoke 13 years later, Miyazaki touches on profound environmental themes in Nausicaš, though never fully spotlights them. We realize that this film's wasteland was brought about by human hands, as well the awesome destructive power of the abominable Giant Warriors. We witness the irony of the humans' attempts at destroying the very thing that is healing the scarred planet. Though it never is conspicuous, nor black and white, like a Western storyteller might spin it. The characters, also like Mononoke, are not purely good or purely evil. There are the Valley people - the innocents caught up in a conflict that they have no part in. The Tolmekians, which desire power and control, though essentially want to try "helping" humanity by destroying the Toxic Forest, seen as nothing more than a formidable plague. The Pejites also desire control, though they claim to use it "for good." They see only the means to an end, the "greater good" that, even if many people die now, once the Fukai was supposedly destroyed, humanity would be free to start anew. It is only Nausicaš who makes the attempt to understand the apparent "enemy," and only Nausicaš that is willing to sacrifice all to bring peace.

Being a trademark Miyazaki "epic," the film runs nearly two hours at 118 minutes. The English dubbing is surprisingly good, with an astounding cast providing the voices. Lohman's Nausicaš is emotional and genuine, while Stewart puts in a wonderfully nuanced performance as Lord Yupa. Uma Thurman's work as Kushana is convincingly menacing as the realistic antagonist, and Shia LaBeouf's is nice and earnest as the young prince Asbel. Even "jack-of-all-trade" voice actors lend a great performance; Tress MacNeille is perfectly raspy and prophetic as Obaba, and Mark Hamill shows off his vocal range as the not-quite-evil Mayor of Pejite. Even Jodi Benson shows up at one point, and until I saw the credits, I hadn't known it was her. The "translated" American dialogue was, fortunately, quite close to the literal script. Though some terminology was tweaked a tad, overall it was a very well-performed and faithful adaptation to this Miyazaki classic.

Resolved and determined, Teto and Nausicaš stand to meet their fate. Blind with rage, thousands of ohmu bear down on the Valley of the Wind.

VIDEO and AUDIO

As with the previous Miyazaki wave, Nausicaš is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Though it's not noticeable on most TV monitors, the DVD-ROM shows a very slight "windowboxing" on all sides of the picture. Even though I am far from a "tech" expert, the overall picture quality was excellent - a clean transfer yielded sharp colors and surprising detail; there are several "scale" shots in this film which show the relative size of humans versus trees, other creatures, etc. In all cases the tiny human figure still held their relative shape - and even their character-specific movement and actions. Contrast is excellent - all scenes, whether bright or dark, are excellently rendered and there was no sign of bleeding, noise or edge enhancementÖ at least to this novice's eyes!

Audio is offered as two-channel Dolby Digital Mono tracks of both the English dub and the original Japanese track, matching Nausicaš's initial sound format. This mix sounded more than adequate; the only real drawback I noticed may not even be a "tech" problem at all. As it is, the volume seemed to be a bit unbalanced; although the loud action scenes were well-mixed and not overwhelming, there are a few points during the film where there is no score and "quiet points." Miyazaki often likes to create "inconsequential" shots and sequences that are purely for contemplation and reflection, though I wondered if some of those shots were meant to have little to no sound. I also wondered if it was just a demonstration of Nausicaš's "unusual powers" whenever she concentrated on a far off, oncoming noise, when the viewer cannot hear a thing. I tend to think this was the intentions of the film rather than an actual audio defect, but it is confusing at times.

Uma Thurman discusses her role as the antagonist Princess Kushana. Split-screen shows Patrick Stewart 'mustache-syncing' for the kindly mentor, Lord Yupa. Producer Toshio Suzuki ensured that 'Nausicaš' had plenty of publicity in the Japanese animation periodical Animage.

BONUS MATERIALS

The extra features of this second Miyazaki wave all seem to be more-or-less the same from title to title.
In "Behind the Microphone," we get to hear the English voice actors at work, as well as their comments and thoughts on voice dubbing, and the film in general. They all seemed to have enjoyed the work, and several express their appreciation for voicing a character in one of Miyazaki's first films. At under 8 minutes, the featurette feels a bit "glossed-over," but it's an appreciated and fun bonus anyway.

"The Birth of Studio Ghibli" is a 28-minute program that originally aired in Japan around the time Princess Mononoke was released. Unlike the sometimes-overwhelming subtitles of "The Making of Spirited Away" Nippon TV special on the Spirited Away DVD, this featurette is dubbed over by an English narrator. It follows the origins of the careers of Miyazaki, Takahata, and Suzuki, how they ended up working together, and the literal and figurative origins of the studio itself - including a humorous aside about the name "Ghibli." Suzuki was the only one who wasn't reluctant on interviews, so he gives a large amount of anecdotes from his perspective. The program then goes on to profile each and every Ghibli film that has since come out, with the presenter bookending the piece with an "epilogue" of Ghibli's projects post-Mononoke. It was indeed an interesting slice of history to watch, and at the very least, my head wasn't spinning from reading rapid subtitles this time around!

"Original Japanese Trailers and TV Spots" offers just that - a "play-all" look at several TV ads and original trailers for the film's initial 1984 release. There's no option to view the promos separately, and the lack in variation and themes to each ad made for somewhat redundant viewing, though it was interesting to see these included - especially since Disney rarely does it for their own DVDs anymore.

The only bonus feature on the second disc is the entire film in storyboard form. It offers an intriguing perspective of the film's production, since Miyazaki tends to produce the majority of storyboards himself. These images are hardly stick figures, either - many of them are wonderfully-rendered works of art in their own right, With only a pencil, two- or three-toned shading, the occasional watercolor, this pre-production art - if one has the interest and patience for it - is a fascinating feature. It seems a bit awkward that it's all by itself on the second disc, but so far all of the Disney-released Ghibli DVDs have had this trend, so at least it's consistent!

Producer Toshio Suzuki discusses Studio Ghibli's films and origins in the 'Birth of Studio Ghibli' featurette. A Nausicaš title logo from one of the many Japanese trailers and TV spots. A storyboard sketch from Disc 2.

MENUS and PACKAGING

The menus on this DVD are 16x9-enhanced, animated screens. Nausicaš's Main Menu features the princess and her companion Teto as they make their perilous final flight back to the Valley. The "transition" animation is always Nausicaš giving the thumbs-up as she flies out of sight - and though it gets a bit tedious after a while, it does have a "skip" option.
The Bonus Features menu, as well as Disc 2's menu, depicts a view of the Valley of the Wind, a windmill churning lazily to the left. Though the other menus feature still shots, all have accompanying orchestral music to them - which again, can get a bit tedious if you're menu-hopping much.

The double-disc set is housed in a standard black dual Amaray keepcase, and unlike the last Miyazaki wave, each of these titles also feature a slick cardboard slipcover that's identical to the keepcase cover art. A dual-sided insert the film's chapters on the front, advertising the entire "Ghibli collection" on the back. A fold-out booklet features ads for The Art of Porco Rosso, the Nausicaš manga collection, Bambi, and a time-sensitive offer to get either Spirited Away, Kiki's Delivery Service or Castle in the Sky for just $1.99 shipping and handling, if you buy all three of the current wave's releases.

The featured "Sneak Peeks" are actually quite appropriate and "mature" - no cutesy amusement park ads, no "girl power"-themed papÖ Only The Incredibles, Bambi, and all six films of the Studio Ghibli DVD collection released so far. One glaring omission, unfortunately, is the lack of a trailer for Miyazaki's next film, Howl's Moving Castle - coming to the U.S. this summer. A - frankly - confusing move on Disney's part.

Equipped with an breathing mask, Nausicaš explores the deadly beauty of the Toxic Forest. Kurotowa loooooooves Kushana! ;-)

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though feeling a bit lacking in extras, this is another great DVD release from Disney, and it feels "respectful" to the sophisticated production of Nausicaš. There is no attempt to sugar-coat or water down anythingÖ very nice on Disney's part. The film itself is beyond description - having never seen this classic before, I was very impressed. Miyazaki's trend of slowly building up the story and delivering a stunning climax proves to be quite true to this film, too. While it may not move quickly enough in the first two acts for some of the more impatient viewers, the last battle, thick with symbolism, is worth sticking around for. It's my personal opinion that Miyazaki films in general have a high "replayability" - they're films that you can view multiple times and never get tired of. Indeed, the films of Studio Ghibli often get better with each viewing, as you can appreciate the visual nuances and sophistication of the plot. Here's hoping that this brilliantly-made film finds a whole new generation of fans with this solid new DVD release.

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Related Reviews
Studio Ghibli:
Castle in the Sky ē My Neighbor Totoro ē Porco Rosso
Howl's Moving Castle ē Spirited Away ē Pom Poko
My Neighbors the Yamadas ē Whisper of the Heart ē The Cat Returns

Disney Movies Featuring the English Voice Cast:
The Even Stevens Movie ē Holes (Shia LaBeouf)
The Little Mermaid ē Toy Story 2 (Jodi Benson)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (Chris Sarandon)
Bambi II (Patrick Stewart)

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Reviewed February 20, 2005.