Ever since I first heard of this film, I wanted to see it for myself, with exceedingly high expectations for a film that had such evocative potential. Now that I’ve had the good fortune of seeing it, I can say with confidence that didn’t disappoint in any way. In fact, I’d say this is one of my favourite films by Hayao Miyazaki, if not my all-time favourite, and there are several reasons why.
Right from the beginning, the film’s setting evokes the post-apocalyptic blend of sci-fi and fantasy previously explored in Ralph Bakshi’s classic film Wizards, and in some ways, the two are quite alike, but there is a significant thematic difference between the two. While Bakshi’s Wizards dealt with the divide between nature and technology, Miyazaki’s Nausicaa deals with environmental disaster, the value of life, and the futility of war. The story concerns mankind’s effort to survive in a world dominated by a vast, poisonous jungle swarming with giant insects, but rather than seeking to destroy the jungle, Nausicaa attempts to understand it, and help mankind to co-exist with it.
This is perhaps Miyazaki’s thought-provoking subversion of the usual fantasy narrative, where the aim is for the hero to destroy a great evil threatening the land, and this alternative approach is simply brilliant. It’s also worth noting that there’s no evil to speak of in this film. There are characters with questionable ethics, but no villains. The primary conflict of the film is motivated not by malice, but rather by fear, which begets paranoia, anguish, suffering, and resentment. By walking into the jungle with peaceful intentions and an open mind, Nauiscaa attempts to dispel the myths that fuel violence, hoping that peaceful understanding can heal her community. In a way, this reflects the age-old wisdom of dealing with other creatures – if we don’t attack them, they won’t attack us. The characters themselves are brilliant and engaging, each with their own defining traits, and in the English dub, boasting some terrific voice acting from a talented cast.
Miyazaki films typically excel in terms of visuals, but in that regard, this film easily surpasses the bulk of his work. From beginning to end, the film displays an innovative and compelling visual style that truly gives the sense of a strange world cursed by environmental disaster. The various environments, creature designs, and costume designs are some of the best I’ve seen in fantasy films, to the point that I kind of envy the artist who drew them all. The last jewel in the crown of the film is the ability to create an immersive atmosphere. The aforementioned visuals help, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the film’s music. The electronic compositions echo the style of the time it was made, and they fit the film’s tone very well. It also seems to remind me of the old Final Fantasy games, as do some of the costumes. With its compelling characters, brilliant fantasy world, and great narrative heft, this film endures as one of the greatest examples of high fantasy that the silver screen has to offer.
- Score: 95%
- Grade: S