Tuesday, 9 November 2010

風の谷のナウシカ/ Kaze no Tane no Naushika/ Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

I can’t help it.

I know the historical value of the film. I know that without it, Ghibli may never have been founded and some of my favourite films might never have existed. I know it’s an iconic part of Miyazaki’s canon. But I just do not like it.

Nausicaa is just a bad film. The manga was much, much better – and that wasn’t exactly great.

Okay, for its time, some of the animation is excellent. There are shots when Nausicaa is flying that are just awe-inspiring in their smoothness and daring, and the guy who went on to make Eva did a superb job with the Giant God Warrior. At other times it looks dated or unimaginative, and parallax-style animation is relied on a little too heavily, making everything look like it’s made of big cardboard cut-outs, but that I can forgive. But I really do think that Miyazaki, Takahata and especially Hisaishi have honed their craft considerably since these early days (though I shall have to watch the World Masterpiece Theater series, Conan and Panda Kopanda before I really make my mind up about that), and it was really the Totoro/Hotaro double-bill that marks the beginning of the Ghibli I love.

Still, this was the film that propelled Miyazaki to success. Made by Topcraft animation, it is nonetheless generally considered the first Ghibli film and these days is prefixed by the famous Totoro logo.

I think my problem with the film is much the same as the problem I have with many other Miyazaki films – that he is very good at imagining a setting, but not very good at putting a story into it, which remains true even in his most recent films – Sen to Chihiro in particular. Nausicaa’s setting, this world where nature has risen against humanity, is great, as is the idea of focusing on a small community caught between two larger states at war. But the storyline just lurches about, dragging on and on until its very artificial climax and even more artificial resolution. There’s never any real sense of danger or purpose, and it doesn’t even have the epic global scale of the manga.

Plus I have real problems with the voice cast. The Japanese cast are just so bland, so obvious and flat that I get very bored of them very quickly. I didn’t like the girl who plays Nausicaa when she was in Cagliostro, and she was far more annoying here. it’s as if she was only interested in sounding pretty, and to hell with the performance. The new English voice cast was just as bad (and when a dub cast can only be decried as ‘Just as bad’, something’s very wrong with the original version). Whoever was playing Asbel was plain embarrassing, Nausicaa sounded even more vacuous, Uma Thurman sounded like she was embarrassed by the material and Mark Hamill seemed determined to read the script as you would read a scary picture book to a three-year-old. Patrick Stewart was great, though, and mercifully free of problems with lip-synch because he only had to worry about, in his words, ‘Moustache-synch’. He kept things understated and the casting decision worked well.

I have to say, of all Miyazaki’s movies, this is the one I’m least inclined to watch again. You’d think two armies facing off would be more exciting than a little girl waiting at a bus stop with a strange furry monster, but you really could not be further from the truth.

(originally written 17.09.06)

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