Friday, February 01, 2008

Aero in the Valley of the Wind

NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND is my all-time favorite Hayao Miyazaki movie. It's the first feature Miyazaki directed from his own story. When we went to Japan in 2004, on our first full day there, we went to the Ghibli Museum, which was devoted to Miyazaki's work. That night, when we went to Akihibara, I bought one Region 2 DVD: NAUSICAA -- which had just been released on DVD in Japan, and had never been released uncut on American video at that point. When our tour went to a Chinese restaurant in Ikebukuro later that night, guess what was playing on the restaurant's TV -- NAUSICAA.

So when the American Cinematheque played a rare big-screen showing of NAUSICAA this evening at the Aero theater in Santa Monica, how could we help but go? Apparently, a lot of people had the same idea -- the audience was full.

The only other time I saw the movie at a theater was when the horribly sliced up version, WARRIORS OF THE WIND, was shown at the LA Animation Festival in 1985. This version, like that one, was dubbed. But thankfully, it was a far more faithful dub -- and the film itself uncut.

The dub featured such actors as Patrick Stewart (Lord Yupa, naturally), Uma Thurman (Kushana), Chris Sarandon (Kurotowa), and Shia Lebouf (Asbell), and it wasn't too bad. But it wasn't quite up to the quality of such other Disney dubs of Miyazaki films as PORCO ROSSO or SPIRITED AWAY; or the celebrated dub of PRINCESS MONONOKE written by Neil Gaiman. And I'll always prefer the subtitled Japanese language film, particularly due to Sumi Shimamoto's performance as Nausicaa.

And the film. Oh my, the film. I've seen it many times, but it still has the power to squeeze some moisture out of my tearducts. Miyazaki's later films may be much more slickly animated (heck, this one even animates giant pillbugs by using sliding paper cutouts), and they have some excellent stories and characters; but nothing matches this one. And what character could match Nausicaa -- the teenage princess who's an ace flyer, a plant biologist, an incredible warrior (she wipes out a room full of sword and gun toting soldiers, using only a staff -- and it looks believable), a leader, a hero (she constantly finds herself saving both male and female characters, left and right), and someone who will fly toward a machine gun, unarmed, with her arms spread wide. And on top of that, she's compassionate and humble. As Amy mentioned, those parents whose daughters are infatuated with Disney princesses should show the girls this film; here's a princess who's a real role model.

Watching NAUSICAA brought to mind my recent viewing of GEDO SENKAI: TALES OF EARTHSEA, the debut animated feature from Hayao Miyazaki's son Goro Miyazaki. The character designs in GEDO SENKAI strongly resemble the elder Miyazaki's in NAUSICAA. But Goro's direction just doesn't have the storytelling art of Hayao's. Many scenes in GEDO SENKAI serve no purpose except to get the characters from point A to point B. Such a scene would be unthinkable in a Hayao Miyazaki movie. Every corner you turn in a Hayao Miyazaki film leads you to a new treat -- something that surprises you, or thrills you, or amuses you, or makes you gasp with wonder at its beauty.

No comments: