Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind
Classic movies are not something that everyone agrees upon instantly. Arguments continue over such things as the American Film Institute's list of the Top 100 Films, and rightly so...there are some real losers on there! Seriously, though, it takes a while for a film to be truly a classic; it must hold true over time. Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind is one such classic, and although it is dated, it may not only be Hayao Miyazaki's best film (arguably) but one of the best animated films ever made. It really depends on your point of view.
Nausicaa is, on the surface, about a young princess whose world is shaped by pollution and disease. The Valley of Wind is one of the few places remaining in the world where the Sea of Corruption has not poisoned the air and land so badly that they are no longer fit for human habitation. In the forests lie the spores that pollute the environment, and they are considered the main danger to everyone, but no one's quite certain what to do about them. The Valley is one of several city-states that are fighting for survival, but Nausicaa is less interested in war and more in the nature around her. She has experimented with the deadly spores that contaminate the land, and she has just started to realize that the earth is healing itself if given enough time. Unfortunately, not everyone is so convinced that the forests might be their salvation, and so different groups start attacking one another in the hopes of salvaging what's left of the land for their own means. In the process, they start playing with creatures they don't understand, and a terrible price must be paid...and Nausicaa, the only one who has a special bond with the insects and animals of the forest, is the only one who can truly save mankind.
If this sounds like smoke and mirrors cinema with prophecies and messiahs out of Star Wars, it's only partially accurate. Nausicaa succeeds on a variety of levels in that it clearly presents an ecological nightmare not all that far from one we could create right now. It is certainly action-packed, but the characters are well-rounded and flawed, a bit more three-dimensional than the characters in Miyazaki's later work Laputa: Castle In The Sky. For only two hours, it packs an epic within its borders. The artwork is somewhat dated, but certainly exemplary considering the time and in some spots georgeous. Jo Hisaishi, the composer, really did an amazing job on this film, by far his best soundtrack. If Nausicaa does have a failing, it's simply from being overloaded. Miyazaki uses a fateful deus ex machina to conclude the story because of the boundaries he set, and it nearly wrecks it. I would also say that the film suffers in comparison to the manga, simply because of the massive length of the comic and the detail allowed therein. However, if one can handle the happy ending and simply enjoy the story, it's a great ride. Not only that, but it proves that Miyazaki can be a completely serious storyteller and add multiple layers to his characterizations. My hope is that Princess Mononoke--the only major Miyazaki film I have left to see--will take this brilliance in dramatic storytelling to the next level.
Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind -- violence -- A