A Letter To Elia
Martin Scorsese narrates and co-directs a documentary on the late filmmaker Elia Kazan
On Film4: 20 Apr 2:50AM
On an ecologically devastated future Earth, a warrior princess may be the only person capable of stopping an all-consuming war. Epic animated fantasy from Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki
As traditionally animated films die out in favour of computer generated ones, the films of Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki and his animation house Studio Ghibli are nothing short of a marvel. Lush, detailed fantasies packed with character, they push the limits of animation to an extent barely seen anywhere else in cinema, and what's most surprising is that his cinematic vision has been in place virtually from the start.
Produced in 1984, Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind was Miyazaki's second anime feature film as director (following 1979's energetic The Castle Of Cagliostro). As well as being the success that led to the founding of Studio Ghibli, it's a stunning achievement that still stands as an example of animation at its richest and most affecting.
An adaptation of the manga series also written and drawn by Miyazaki in the early 1980s, Nausicaa is set on Earth in the far future, when most of humanity is trying to reclaim the planet from the Toxic Jungle that has overrun it. But a small civilisation called the Valley of the Wind is taking a gentler path, living in harmony with all aspects of the natural world, and guarded by the fearless princess Nausicaa (voiced by Alison Lohman in the US dub, Sumi Shimamoto in the original). But peaceful life in the Valley is shattered forever when an airship from the neighbouring kingdom of Tolmekia crashes onto their lands.
A beautifully mounted ecological fable, Miyazaki's tale moves at a thrilling pace. It offers epic action as well as more chances for Miyazaki to explore his love of baroque, gorgeously designed flying machines. The graceful sequences of Nausicaa on her glider are full of energy and, despite the fact that the 1980s animation doesn't measure up to 21st century productions, the film still works perfectly thanks to the imaginative direction and sumptuous design work. From the bucolic landscapes of the Valley to the surreal world of the Toxic Jungle, the film is a riot of fantastical imagery and isn't afraid to confront darker themes.
Despite having a nominal villain in the Tolmekian leader, Miyazaki makes war and fear the principle enemies in the movie. Both sides are so dedicated to the idea of conquering by force and wiping out their enemies that they are virtually identical - even Nausicaa is horrified by how easily she can kill when the Valley is attacked. Miyazaki works this into a powerful anti-violence message amidst the thrill of adventure.
Because it shows the consequences of violence, Nausicaa is much darker than his latter films like Howl's Moving Castle. In one of the most powerful moments of the movie, an enraged Nausicaa is stopped from fighting the Tolmekian soldiers by her friend Lord Yupa (Patrick Stewart; Goro Naya), and as he holds the blade of her sword still, droplets of blood slowly drip down the blade and hit the floor. It's a simple device but it inspires empathy by turning cartoon characters into real people
Epic and hugely affecting, Nausicaa ranks alongside the best of Miyazaki's work.
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