Hayao Miyazaki is considered an animation legend for a reason. Throughout his career, he has made some of the most incredible animated films ever made that has become hugely influential in both the animation industry as well as the film industry in general. Before he launched his own animation studio that became the legendary Studio Ghibli in 1985, he was working on a manga that eventually became his second directorial work entitled "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" and it's a film that seriously astonished me. This is such an incredible animated film and one that has become highly influential in entertainment. I was simply amazed at how fantastic this film is.
In a futuristic post-apocalyptic world, a toxic jungle full of somewhat deadly and mutant insects has blossomed after a war that has wiped out most of humanity. One of the surviving villages is the nearby Valley of the Wind and the valley's princess Nausicaä (Sumi Shimamoto) explores the jungle and examines its creatures including the large insects known as the Ohmu constantly hoping one day the humans and insects can live in peace. One day, a cargo ship from the kingdom of Tolmekia crash lands in the Valley of the Wind carrying something unusual which soon causes most soldiers of Tolmekia, including the princess of the land Kushana (Yoshiko Sakakibara) to arrive where they capture most of the villagers and even kill Nausicaä's father. From there, Nausicaä embarks on a journey throughout the post-apocalyptic world to find out how to stop an eventual war brewing and more destruction among the insects.
It's quite amazing what Hayao Miyazaki and his crew were able to capture with this one film. Despite it only being his second feature film, it really shows just what a master of his craft he was with every little detail put into the film starting down with the story which is simply powerful and emotionally riveting. It's certainly an ambitious story and it's one that really works exceptionally well with a lot of excitement and adventure while sharing a lot of quiet and tender moments which Miyazaki can excel at. It does take a while for the film to really get going as some of the first act can be a bit confusing, but once the cargo ship crashes into the Valley of the Wind and the Tolmekian soldiers arrive, the film hits the gas hard and never lets off keeping the audience on a visually and emotionally exciting ride. There's a lot of exciting action revolving around airships and battles and it builds to an incredible climax and conclusion that ties the whole film together in an incredible way. My favorite moments of the story though just happen to be some of the slow moments with my particular favorite being in the opening where Nausicaä explores the toxic jungle and plants while observing just how beautiful the deadly plants could be. It's such a peaceful and intriguing scene and one that has been influenced in many other films to come. It's also a great example of an animated film tackling the story of humans versus nature which Miyazaki would explore again in "Princess Mononoke" that many other films have tried to explore though there are few that rival the heights of this film. Speaking of which, you can also see a lot of Miyazaki's themes prevalent just in this one film alone as well from his hatred of war, the beauty of nature, and also the love and excitement of flight which he would continue to explore more in his future film. It's also a film that doesn't go for the typical cliches and tropes that so many films have done with stories like this and I really respect it for that.
As far as the animation goes, this film is so visually striking. The film was animated at the Japanese animation studio Topcraft who had also provided animation for some of the works of Rankin/Bass including their feature film "The Last Unicorn" and Miyazaki really brought out the best in the studio with this one film. It's visually stunning right from the opening frame as we see Lord Yupa (Goro Naya) walk through an abandoned and dead village where he sees skeletons of the villagers and a destroyed doll belonging to a young girl and it keeps topping itself from there. I especially loved the contrast of the colors in this picture one moment where Nausicaä's blue dress contrasts with the harsh tone of the orange fires in the cargo plane crash. The design of the film is also really stunning with the incredible designs of the insects and different types of airships that the villagers have being so unique and fresh. Another one of my favorite moments in the film involves a flashback Nausicaä has where the film has golden hues and extra lines are put over the characters to make it feel dreamlike. This leads me into talking about the characters who are all terrific and fully fleshed. The best character is easily the titular heroine Nausicaä who is a great protagonist. She is a heroine that is very strong and has a lot of interesting personality traits right from the start as we see her in the toxic jungle and the development she has throughout the film is powerful. The way her character grows especially with how she matures with handling the wars and her hatred is especially powerful considering she had seen her own father slain before her. The other characters have a lot of maturities built around them especially characters like the mysterious yet respected Lord Yupa and the leader of the Tolmekia, Princess Kushana, who isn't treated as a typical villain but rather an antagonist who simply had bad intentions. Even smaller characters like a blind prophet named Obaba (Hisako Kyōda) and Pejite pilot that Nausicaä encounters named Asbel (Yōji Matsuda) have moments that really stand out.
Overall, "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" is simply a terrific animated film. The story is very exciting and well thought through, the animation is striking and visually creative, and the characters are all fleshed out perfectly and compellingly written. This is a terrific film from Hayao Miyazaki that I highly recommend for any animation fan or film fan out there. It's a film that laid the foundation for Studio Ghibli and little did anyone know that this studio would just get started to make the wonders they would create.