Before I start my review, let me state that I did manage to see this film subtitled at an art museum in New York. For me, it was a very interesting experience to discover Miyazaki in his youngest days. While some may find the quality of this film to be a bit dated upon initial glance, it is important to remember that NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND was made back in 1984, so the animation, likewise, does not have as much polish as Miyazaki's later work displays. But this is not to say that NAUSICAA is unwatchable because of that. This is a deeply complex, imaginative tale set in a post-apocalyptic world which will remind many of PRINCESS MONONOKE, only the protagonist is a girl. Nausicaa is a compassionate princess who prefers to solve problems with peace, not vengeance. Her struggle to resolve a bitter conflict between two warring kingdoms and prevent them from reaching her home valley is not a good vs. evil tale. The characters are all flawed, believable people with their own agendas and redeeming qualities.
In a testament to Miyazaki's admiration of nature, the film offers a sub-plot involving a supposedly poisonous jungle. The product of a terrible global war, this thick, lush forest not only showcases Miyazaki's imagination (those insects sure are creepy-looking!) but also emphasizes the dangers of world pollution.
While NAUSICAA is an older movie from Miyazaki, it manages to hold surprisingly well--most classics have such staying power.
Its long journey to America is a story in and of itself. In 1985 (a year after the film broke records in Japan), NAUSICAA was brought to the America--retitled WARRIORS OF THE WIND, drastically altered, and cut by a quarter of its two-hour running time, much to the outrage of Miyazaki and his colleagues. Since that time, Miyazaki declared that any adaptations of his films for American release must be done under the supervision of his company, Studio Ghibli.
As much as some folks love to hate Disney these days, one can credit them for taking the time to strike a deal with Miyazaki to distribute his films globally. While the Mouse House has made their share of marketing mistakes with his films, the dubs they've produced thus far--KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE, PRINCESS MONONOKE, SPIRITED AWAY, and CASTLE IN THE SKY--all have maintained a quality of excellence and strong performances from a solid cast of well-known actors and actresses. This brand new English version of NAUSICAA is no exception.
As the title character, Alison Lohman provides commendable sincerity, compassion, and vulnerability, and is amply supported by a grand cast of side characters, which include Uma Thurman (the embittered empress Kushana); Chris Sarandon (the sneaky, smarmy Kurotowa); Edward James Olmos (feisty, loyal Mito); and unexpected appearances by veteran character stalwarts Tress MacNeille, Jeff Bennett, Tony Jay (who does a brief opening voice-over), and the Little Mermaid herself, Jodi Benson. Shia LaBeouf's Asbel sounds a bit rocky at first, but he grew on me. Mark Hamill, fresh from his outstanding turn as the evil Muska on the brilliant yet under-appreciated (on some places anyway) CASTLE IN THE SKY dub, plays a small role as the Mayor of Pejite. He only appears in two scenes, and consequently, his performance here isn't as remarkable as his work in CASTLE IN THE SKY, but it's nonetheless great to hear his golden voice in another Miyazaki dub. Arguably the highlight of this dub is Patrick Stewart as Nausicaa's mentor, Lord Yupa. He speaks with strong Shakespearian diction and carries the dub as a whole through his subtle, charismatic rendition of this skilled swordsman.
Miyazaki declared that any new adaptation of his masterpiece should be nothing but a straight translation and no cuts. English dub scriptwriters Donald H. Hewitt and Cindy Davis Hewitt (who worked on SPIRITED AWAY) honor his wishes through their adaptation, remaining faithful to the story while tweaking a bit of terminology for comprehension purposes.
As with Miyazaki's other works, Joe Hisaishi provides the music score. Compared to the more lush soundtracks he composed for Miyazaki's later films, his score for NAUSICAA, while undeniably beautiful, occasionally comes off as a tad primitive, notably when it breaks into sometimes jarring techno-synth jingles. For better or worse, his score remains intact in the new cut of NAUSICAA which will no doubt please purists. I was a bit disappointed, however--especially when his ambitious reworking of the CASTLE IN THE SKY score (composed exclusively for that dub) turned out so well IMO. A film like this deserves a 5.1 remix! Nonetheless, it's my one quibble of this otherwise top-notch English track of Miyazaki's most revered masterpiece.
The DVD sports a near flawless visual transfer and a humble serving of extras--which include the typical English voice talent featurette we saw on Disney's previous wave of Miyazaki's films, trailers and TV spots, and a second disc devoted entirely to storyboards. The most noteworthy feature on this disk is a 30-minute long documentary, "The Birth of Studio Ghibli", which is undistractingly dubbed into English. For fans that are curious about the upbringing of this animation studio and wondering which of their films have yet to be released, this is a must-see.
As someone who has been very pleased with Disney's releases of Miyazaki's works so far, I am delighted to say that they have done yet another bang-up job on polishing this legendary classic for new generations to cherish. Don't be fooled by its primitive looks; NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND's status as a masterpiece resonates from the first minute to the last.
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