Thursday, July 17, 2008

"Nice valley. Think I'll keep it."

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Kaze no tani no Naushika) | rel. 1984/re-rel. 2005 | dir. Hayao Miyazaki

This is August's Movie of the Month at the LAMB.

Nausiccaa of the Valley of the Wind possesses all the expected animated glory of a Hayao Miyazaki film. Visually, the film is extraordinarily alive. Story-wise, the film moves slowly and wanders in a midst of a beautiful but minimalistic animated landscape. When the film finally starts its engine, the action sequences are illustrated with extreme gusto and the villain is certainly sinister, thanks to a wonderful voice-over performance.

The film takes place in the future, a thousand years after the "Seven Days of Fire," which destroyed a majority of living things. Like many stories about the future, things aren't looking up. For one, there aren't many people left on Earth.

Nausicaa, a young princess of the Valley of the Wind, is the heroine of the story. She lives in a world where insects (they are called "ohmus" in the film) and humans refuses to live peacefully with each other. Courageous, intelligent, and fiercely independent, Nausicaa is determined to avoid conflict with the insects and treat them with as much kindness and care as possible.

When an airship crashes on the Valley of the Wind and unleashes a cargo that is the God Warrior (a powerful weapon used in war a thousand years ago), the Tolmekans--led by the Tolmekan princess--is enthusiastic for its revival and hopes to utilize it as a destroyer of the toxic jungle, which has been threatening the relationship between nature and humans for much too long. To secure the God Warrior as theirs, the Tolmekan princess orders the death of Nausicaa's father, the king of the Valley of the Wind. Without a king, the Valley of the Wind places forth their trust to Nausicaa as they meet the antagonistic power of Tolmekan princess and its army.

The Tolmekan princess is voiced by Uma Thurman, who delivers an excellent voice performance. The tone of her voice is strangely charming, but every bit as devilish and menacing as a true villain should be. Do not be fooled by the character's lush beauty and gold arm--she is unsympathetic trouble. Thurman's voice work in this film deserves to be appreciated with the all-time greats--from Robin Williams in Aladdin to a more recent effort by Peter O'Toole in Ratatouille.

While Thurman was born to voice her particular part, I cannot say the same for Allison Lohman, who voiced Nausicaa. In the beginning scenes of the film, her voice comes off as awkward and rather unnatural. As the film progresses, Lohman does improve, but I do not find her voice performance convincing or charismatic enough for such an ideal, worldly heroine.

Personally, I find Nausicaa almost too ideal. She is the heroine of the story, but she never fails to be the courageous, charming, independent, likable, intelligent, adventurous, kind pacifist. The only scene in the film where she appears to be human is when she understandably mourns for her father's death.

But without giving too much away, I guess that is sort of the point of her character, right? Legends and myths can't do without those perfect beings...

What I do particularly like about the film is the relationship between Nausicaa and Asbel (voiced by Shia LaBeouf), the twin brother of the princess of Pejite (who was the girl who died in the airship crash). The relationship between Nausicaa and Asbel is the least flustered relationship in the film and I appreciated that breath of fresh air. Their scenes together are very comedic and sweet.

Like I said earlier in my review, the film develops at a very slow rate. The first half-hour showcases the magic and passion Miyazaki has for animated flying sequences. As Nausicaa flies through the air on her trusty glider with that glorious score by Joe Hisaishi, it is almost enough to satisfy the taste buds of my short attention span. The film gradually unravels itself, layer by layer. The action scenes do not appear until about the one-hour mark. But even with exciting animation that the action scenes offer, the film is not intended for young children. Not only does it develop slowly, the action scenes are actually quite violent. (But truthfully, it doesn't really beat any of the violence kids see on video game commercials.)

Despite the minor problems I seem to have with the film, I completely enjoyed it as a whole. Nausiccaa of the Valley of the Wind is colored by an environmental-friendly message, way before Al Gore made a hit documentary out of it. The climatic scene where the God Warrior comes alive is magnificent to behold, full of fury and bravura. There is such spirit juiced in every scene to carry on even the film's duller moments. Witnessing this film unfold is equal to witnessing Miyazaki's relentless passion for his work and art. Clearly, the passion shows in every scene beyond the point of avoidance. Miyazaki's fingerprints are everywhere.

Rating: 8/10


  1. OMG. OMG!!!

    The Uma shout-out is awesome; her v/o of Kushana is seriously great.

    I've said this before, but I don't know and can't really defend why I love Lohman's so much as to think it's my favorite performance ever (lol). Maybe it's just Nausicaä's character traits shining through, which makes sense. IDK, it just clicks for me.

    Yay, you loved the score!!! I think. Right? It's like probably my 2nd favorite ever, right behind Princess Mononoke, also by Hisaishi. He has A LOT of Chloes, LOL.

    And you loved The Interpreter too?! That's it - you're my favorite person now. AWESOME.

  2. J.D., I changed it to score. I have no idea why I wrote "soundtrack." But yup, loved the score. Hisaishi is officially the Japanese John Williams in my book.

    The Interpreter is excellent. So underrated, especially the performances by Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman. Glad someone out there appreciates it too!

  3. It is! I'd nominated Kidman, actually. Her Drowning Man Trial monologue is one of my favorite ever. It's so re-watchable too. I've seen it like 6 times, and it's always as smart and entertaining and thrilling as it was the last time I watched it.

    Have I ever said you're awesome? ;)

  4. I'm quite flattered, J.D. :) You are also totally awesome.

    What I really loved about Kidman in The Interpreter was that she looked so normal in the role, you know what I mean? She had a fake nose in The Hours, she was drop dead gorgeous in Moulin Rouge, and she was in typical damsel in distress attire in Batman Forever. But Kidman completely embodied Sylvia and made her interesting without any fancy ornamentation (like wearing make-up that would make her look plain or ugly, etc).

  5. I get what you mean, and I agree. Especially compared to how she's usually made-up in movies, yeah.

    Btw, will there be a review of it?

  6. I don't know if I'm reviewing The Interpreter or not. Someday...when I feel like it.

    I'm planning to watch/re-watch several Sydney Pollack films so I might write a massive review for all of them someday.

  7. Ooh, that's not a bad idea. I'll wait till then, then. :)

  8. You, my friend, have excellent taste. :D