Writer/director Hayao Miyazaki dabbled with plucky women in his anime previously, most notably with the character of Fujiko Mine in the Lupin III series – see The Castle of Cagilostro (1979) just for starters.
He also had younger heroines like the Pippi Longstockingesque Mimiko in Panda! Go Panda!
But in 1984, in Kaze no Tani no Naushika (風の谷のナウシカ Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind), with Nausicaä herself – the heroine of this sci-fi/post-armageddon action/fantasy tale, and saviour of the world it chronicles – we see the tell-tale signs of female strength that invade later Miyazaki classics like Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (千と千尋の神隠し Spirited Away, 2001).
The story here revolves around a world treading water (rather than on the mend) a thousand years after the apocalyptic war that’s poisoned the environment. Scattered settlements fight to survive, and one of these is the peaceful Valley of the Wind. The people here are ruled over by an ailing king and his willful, charismatic daughter Nausicaä – and all soon find themselves in a struggle not only with menacing giant insects but against militias from rival kingdoms and the threat of a return to the destructive old ways.
Amidst the action, intrigue, prophecies and surreal toxic jungle set-pieces are another couple of Miyazaki’s favourite themes: an appreciation of and support for the natural world around us, fantastic flying machines, and a huge, destructive robot.
Most Japanese people you meet will know this movie, they’ve all seen it as kids (and often as adults), and many cite it when they talk about favourite anime movies in their lives.
It’s rated in the personal Top 5 for anime director Kenji Kamiyama (Eden of the East), and Tokyo DJ/producer Jin Hiyama rates Nausicaä as his second-favourite anime movie of all time. “It’s the combination and comparison of this grotesque world with her beautiful mind and her honesty,” he raves.
It also has one of the best, most memorable soundtracks ever composed by the prolific Joe Hisaishi (Hana-bi). I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard little kids and their parents humming the iconic theme music.
Still, there are some important things to keep in mind when it comes to Nausicaä.
For starters the earlier manga series (also by Miyazaki) is a far more comprehensive and telling journey.
“You must read the manga,” urges musician Lili Hirakawa. “While the movie is great, it doesn’t tell you nearly enough about this world.”
Additionally, this ground-breaking movie originally entered the West back in the ‘80s via a badly dubbed and horrendously edited version on VHS called Warriors of the Wind – an excruciating cut that makes little sense and a bitter learning curve for both Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, who’ve since insisted on a “no edits” overseas licensing clause.
The edits, however, have nothing on the cover.
That art (left) from the video cassette didn’t even feature principle character Nausicaä at all – save for that lame ring-in in the top right-hand corner. Instead the foreground is dominated by a trio of males characters I’m pretty certain aren’t in the film at any point, not even closeted away driving the tanks.
Fortunately an uncut and re-dubbed DVD version of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, with (even better) the original Japanese dub and good English subtitles, became available around the world in 2005, although I picked up my copy earlier on from Studio Ghibli here in Japan.
And the verdict on the ‘real’ version, in spite of the disclaimers? Quite simply brilliant – just avoid that VHS predecessor at all costs.