I've saved a treat for our hundredth review. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (can I shorten that to Nausicaa for the rest of the review, please?) has my favourite opening ten minutes of any film. It starts with the titular Nausicaa heading alone into a cavern containing a huge shell from a creature known as an Ohmu. The sense of solitude reminds me of Metroid Prime on the Gamecube. These first scenes are a masterclass in sound effects and music; Nausicaa tapping on a cartridge to empty out the gunpowder is a particular highlight. After this atmospheric start, can this level of quality be maintained? Well, let's see...
The plot becomes a tad more complicated as we progress. Nausicaa comes from a small village of farmers in the Valley of the Wind, a quiet, peaceful settlement. The Earth is dying and a poisonous forest, guarded by huge insects, has grown and the villagers have to work hard to keep it at bay. Entering this simple life come the Tolmekians, intent on war and destruction. Throw into the mix a crashed ship from Pejite containing a dormant Giant Warrior (a big scary fire vomiting creature capable of scouring the planet of everything) and there's quite a lot of story to keep track of.
So, let's have a look at the quality then. I love 2D hand-drawn animation (I'm not adverse to a bit of CGI; take a look at Appleseed Ex Machina or Vexille for instance). The painted backgrounds convey such atmosphere and beauty and give the film a nostalgic quality. When things kick off, the animation shines. A Tolmekian ship exploding must have taken the artists ages to draw and it looks fantastic. There are many more moments like this; anything involving Nausicaa's manta ray inspired glider is a treat.
The music perfectly fits the style of the film. There are pieces that utilise pianos and full orchestras, again adding to the nostalgia. But then you get bits that sound like early Philip Glass. Next, along comes a section of score seemingly inspired by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Finally, up pops a creepy child's singing that reminded me of Deep Red (although not quite as unnerving). If you hear any piece of music from Nausicaa, it immediately takes you back into the world of the film. Here's a sample of some of the music in easily digestible YouTube clip form:
Although it slips up sometimes, Nausicaa is great at showing rather than telling. An early scene sees Nausicaa running up through a building past an insect-like gunship. Nobody mentions it. You don't get some dodgy mechanic saying, "This is the new Mark III Insecty-Shippy-Flying-Thing. It's got some cool weaponry that you'll no doubt see used to devastating effect on some poor unfortunates later on." It just gets shown incidentally and whets your appetite for what is to come.
Nausicaa was made nearly thirty years ago and the fact that its themes are still relevant speaks volumes. The Earth is dying, so what do they decide to do? Burn even more of it. Funnily enough the Earth fights back and tries to wipe out all humans. Maybe governments need to be a little bit more like the tree-hugging, animal-loving Nausicaa. But they can miss out the part where the wind blows their skirt up and flashes their pants. That would be bad.
To answer my initial question, the quality does stay at a remarkable level, it just never quite matches the first ten minutes. To be really picky, the pace of the film is quite slow in the middle sections, but it helps to make it the perfect film to watch on a Sunday afternoon. During any slack periods you can always play the 'Spot a fella from the Valley of the Wind who doesn't have some manner of facial hair' game.
This isn't quite my favourite Miyazaki film. The best is still to come...
If you like this you could also try:
Laputa: Castle in the Sky, The Castle of Cagliostro, Princess Mononoke, 5 Centimeters Per Second, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
(Not normal behaviour, but the walking Ohmu baby is a classic.)