Recently I rediscovered the awesomeness that is Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind after rewatching it with a friend.
I don’t think the story or characters are particularly interesting. They’re vaguely good and likable, which I don’t think is necessarily a flaw or weakness (at least not here), but you don’t really learn much about them as people.
Though I will say Kurotowa, the military officer under Princess Kushana, is a somewhat refreshing character, in the sense that characters motivated by greed are generally unmindful and/or outright rejectful of the idea that their plans could go awry and they could lose everything. Kurotawa, however, seems to understand this and is aware of the potential consequences of his actions; he knows what he’s doing is a huge gamble that could cost him dearly, he’s just not afraid to take that risk. But he’s also not the stubborn type who will doggedly see through all of his decisions until the bitter. He follows the orders of Princess Kushana, and has little to no objection changing his course of action based on her whims. However, this does not mean he is gutless. You see him stand his ground at the end against the enormous horde of Ohmus, to a degree, where he pulls back a soldier for trying to run away from the battle. Eventually he does succumb to survival instincts and flee for his life, but I would not call him a coward. I watched the english dub and Chris Sarandon does a marvelous job making the him sound dignified yet slimy and low-down, or what I have termed ‘honourable scum’.
That’s beside the point, I think. I didn’t feel like I needed the characters to be more fleshed-out. The sheer imagination of the world and its inhabitants, accompanied by a wonderful and absolutely captivating score was more than enough for me. It’s not a particularly memorable story, but I doubt I will ever forget the setting and themes it presented, nor the phenomenal animation put on glorious display. Possibly my favourite moment/environment in the whole film is the area below where Nausicaa falls through a forest floor down into another forest. It’s one of the coolest fantasy world locations and most beautiful bits of scenery I’ve ever seen, and as someone who’s always loved the whole idea of secret underground areas (most likely influenced by RPGs), it’s like looking at a dream level design come true.
What’s so absorbing about Nausicaa for me is less to do with the narrative (though I enjoy it a great deal) and more to do with getting lost in the breathtakingly beautiful and incredibly imaginative world brought to life by Miyazaki and company. The designs and details in this film are beyond exquisite and so meticulously unhindered that I find myself feeling stupefied several times before the movie is over, as if the enchanting visuals were a magic spell being cast upon me again and again. Which is wonderfully ironic, because it is a post-apocalyptic world; a traditionally very drab, bleak, and lifeless setting designed to evoke a sense of despair. So when watching Nausicaa you tend to forget this fact, because despite the great danger many of its (toxic) areas impose on its inhabitants, the world is such a truly lovely sight that it’s hard to think of it as something so hazardous. Though maybe it only feels that way because Nausicaa is so unflinchingly self-sacrificing and compassionate for humans and insects alike.
I have not read the manga, but I have heard great things about it: a much grander and more serious voluminous epic-sized adventure spanning seven volumes (59 chapters) with more focus on its religious and political side of things and a lot more warring and death. It seems that the movie is a more romanticized version of the story, and far less involved in the characters and plot. However, I do not consider it to be a failure as an adaptation because of this. Rather I feel fortunate to have the option to experience two different amazing versions of the same story. Nausicaa the movie may not be as dark and violent as the source material, but that doesn’t bother me, for I am quite fond of it as it is.