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Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind(1984)
A thousand years after a global war, a seaside kingdom known as the Valley of the Wind remains one of only a few areas still populated. Led by the courageous Princess Nausicaa, the people of the Valley are engaged in a constant struggle with powerful insects called Ohmu, who guard a poisonous jungle that is spreading across the Earth. Nausicaa and her brave companions, together with the people of the Valley, strive to restore the bond between humanity and the Earth.
For more about Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind and the Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind Blu-ray release, see Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on March 1, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Alison Lohman, Patrick Stewart, Uma Thurman, Edward James Olmos, Shia LaBeouf, Sumi Shimamoto
Narrator: Tony Jay
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
» See full cast & crew
Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind Blu-ray Review
One of Miyazaki's finest secures an excellent Blu-ray release...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, March 1, 2011
Even in 2011, some twenty-seven years after its initial release, Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind stands as a masterclass in stirring hand-drawn animation, magnificent design and absorbing fantasy storytelling. Based on the first two volumes of Miyazaki's seven-volume manga of the same name, it's an unexpectedly moving cautionary tale and a startlingly timely indictment of war, environmental indifference and reactionary politics. It's also a sweeping, sky-splitting adventure sure to enchant the entire family; no small feat considering the depth and darkness Nausicań embraces over the course of its two hours. Granted, it isn't an official Studio Ghibli production as its coverart suggests (Miyazaki and Isao Takahata didn't establish Ghibli until 1985, a full year after its debut), it doesn't carry the same cinematic clout in North America as it does in Japan, and far too many moviegoers have never sampled its wonders. Even so, it remains a timeless animated treasure and an incredibly important, poignant and powerful film.
A thousand years ago, war scorched the Earth, pushing mankind to the brink of extinction and wreaking havoc on the global ecosystem. Now, a strange and deadly toxic jungle is spreading across the land at an alarming rate, dividing and eliminating the remnants of humanity into several struggling civilizations: the iron-clad, war-mongering Tolmekians, the desperate warriors of Pejite and the peace-loving peoples of the Valley of the Wind, a serene oasis protected from the poisonous spores of the toxic jungle by the sea's salty breeze. As the story opens, the Valley's king is bedridden and dying, leaving his only daughter, the fearless but sweet-natured Princess Nausicań (Sumi Shimamoto in the original Japanese version, Alison Lohman in the 2005 English dub), to care for their people. Thankfully, the young princess isn't alone: she receives inspiration from master swordsman Lord Yupa (Goro Naya, Patrick Stewart), selfless aid from gruff villager Mito (Ichir˘ Nagai, Edward James Olmos) and spiritual guidance from the Valley's mystic, Obaba (Hisako Ky˘da, Tress MacNeille).
Nausicań isn't a traditionalist though. She believes it's possible for man to co-exist with the Toxic Jungle and the Ohmu, a sentient species of enormous insects that, when provoked, are capable of tremendous destruction. Using a rocket glider to soar above Earth's wastelands and venture deep into the Toxic Jungle, the princess slowly comes to understand the beasts and their habitat, and even develops methods to soothe the insects' blind rage. But when a Tolmekian airship carrying an ancient weapon crashes in the Valley of the Wind, Nausicań and her people are thrust into the middle of a conflict between the Tolmekians, the Pejite and a nigh unstoppable force of nature. Before long, the princess has to contend with a merciless Tolmekian strategist (Yoshiko Sakakibara, Uma Thurman), convince a Pejite pilot named Asbel (Y˘ji Matsuda, Shia LaBeouf) to help her, and uncover the secrets of the Toxic Jungle before the Tolmekians or Pejite inadvertently finish what their ancestors started centuries ago.
Nausicań wears Miyazaki's heart and soul on its sleeve. The film's environmental subtext isn't subtle by any means, but it also never amounts to a sermon for sermon's sake. The legendary Studio Ghibli filmmaker not only crafts a fascinating, at-times frightening dystopian futurescape -- one teeming with massive bugs, vast fantasy vistas, untamed jungles, thundering airships, rickety tanks and lumbering fire giants -- he unifies the film's most disparate elements in perfect harmony and weaves a pointed tale as nimble and airy as it is weighty and profound. Many of his characters are impulsive and prone to recklessness, his most noble heroes aren't without their own flaws, his world demands endless exploration, and his deceptively simple story evokes awe and wonder. Nausicań's thousand-year backstory is revealed in manageable increments to make the film accessible to audiences of all ages, but the whole of the mythos is elaborate enough to make further viewings that much more rewarding. Antagonists and opportunists challenge Nausicań every step of the way, but the only true villains to emerge are mankind's arrogance and war itself. The princess exudes an otherworldly essence, an innate mysticism if you will, but remains a decidedly human heroine. Suffice it to say, Nausicań is anything but a conventional animated film.
Of course, Miyazaki's animation steals the show. Princess Nausicań's flights of fancy are absolutely stunning, her first encounter with Tolmekian warriors is thrilling, the Ohmu skitter and stampede with unnerving speed, Lord Yupa's sword blazes a furious trail, jungle spores float to the ground with the grim grace of a light but lethal snow, battles are exquisitely fierce and fluid, and a rapidly decaying giant rivals Akira's Tetsuo-born monstrosity. And that's without touching on Miyazaki's barren wastelands, enormous underground caverns and lush toxic jungles. The animation isn't as complex or polished as it is in his later films (particularly Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Ponyo), but it's no less mesmerizing. There's an elegance to his characters' expressions and an natural, all-too-convincing ease to their movements that allow them to spring to life. His post-apocalyptic world is bristling with activity, his creatures' every reaction and response speaks volumes, and his animators' aren't given much liberty to take shortcuts. Combined with haunting wartime imagery, Joe Hisaishi's rich score and sing-songy Ohmu themes, a series of excellent performances by the original 1984 Japanese cast and the 2005 American ensemble, and an intense, rousing and emotional endgame, the resulting film is nothing short of a hypnotic tour de force.
Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind Blu-ray, Video Quality
Disney's exceedingly respectful 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is almost as striking as the film's soaring visuals. Colors aren't as vibrant as some might expect, but there's a solemn strength, a sand-swept beauty and an organic restraint to Miyazaki's dusty watercolor palette that, in many ways, is far more evocative and arresting than the alternative. Detail is just as admirable. Every fluid stroke of the animators' lineart has been perfectly preserved, their ink-work is deeper and cleaner than it's ever been, and their hand-drawn backgrounds and airships are a stunning sight to behold. Moreover, the film's fine grain structure is intact and, despite its prominence, both consistent and attractive, lending each scene a filmic quality that only showcases the transfer's cinematic integrity. Yes, a number of soft shots pepper the proceedings, slight telecine wobbling is apparent, and negligible cel nicks and specks, as well as some minor print imperfections, appear throughout. However, each and every quote-unquote issue traces back to the original source and very few instances, if any, detract from the overall impact or authenticity of the presentation. The studio's encode warrants even higher praise. There isn't any significant artifacting, banding, ringing, compression anomalies, aliasing or, really, anything at all that might distract seasoned videophiles from Miyazaki's remarkable imagery.
To be clear: Nausicań doesn't look as if it rolled out of an animation studio yesterday, a fact that will probably elicit apathy from viewers hoping for a water-into-wine redux. But as twenty-seven-year old anime classics go, Disney's reverent high definition transfer makes it that much easier to sink into Miyazaki's dazzling vision and float away.
Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Choices, choices. Unlike Ponyo, Nausicań includes a trio of lossless options: a solid Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, an equally impressive English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix and, for those it benefits, a comparable French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 offering. There are a few small differences between the three, the most notable being that voices in the original Japanese-language track are brighter but thinner than their English-dub counterparts. Be that as it may, it's important to remember Nausicań's Japanese cast delivered their lines in 1984 while the film's American cast was recorded some twenty years later. Needless to say, every difference audiophiles will encounter is inherent to each version's original sound design, not varying quality among Disney's lossless tracks. Regardless of whether you choose Japanese, English or French though, dialogue remains clear and intelligible, effects are reasonably well-grounded, low-end tones are granted some relative oomph (despite the lack of any LFE channel support), Joe Hisaishi's score holds its own, and the whole of the soundscape, though dated, is entirely serviceable. I do wish a 5.1 or 7.1 remix were available, if for no other reason than to sweeten the pot, but I doubt many film purists or Miyazaki devotees will be sitting at home shaking their fists at the faithful options at their disposal.
Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Unfortunately, the Blu-ray edition of Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind doesn't boast as much supplemental content as I hoped it would. What it does offer though -- a full-length storyboard presentation, a Japanese television documentary, two featurettes, a trivia challenge and other less notable goodies -- is worth watching, even if you have to pop in the 2-disc set's standard DVD to access some of the film's special features.
Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind is a classic in every sense of the word. As relevant and engrossing today as it was nearly three decades ago (if not more so), Hayao Miyazaki's sweeping fantasy epic is as touching as it is beautiful, as haunting as it is poignant, as captivating as it is unforgettable. Disney's Blu-ray release isn't as indispensable, but it is without a doubt worth owning. Its video transfer is faithful and proficient, and its original Japanese-language and English-dub DTS-HD Master Audio stereo tracks are superb. In fact, the only area that comes up short is the film's supplemental package, and it still has a lot to offer. Whether you've never seen Nausicań or are intimately familiar with its majesty, add this one to your cart, share it with your entire family and prepare to revisit it again and again over the coming years.
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