An early-ish Hayao Miyazaki effort, Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind followed The Castle Of Cagliostro and was based on one of his own mangas and, although it was produced pre-Studio Ghibli, it opened the door for more classic anime features from the legendary director.
The film is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure in which a princess called Nausicaa, who flies around in a weird little portable surf glider... thing and has a special bond with nature, becomes Earth's saviour in the middle of a potentially devastating conflict. Her people are taken over by the Tolmekian kingdom who are planning to use some weapon to destroy all the mutated giant insects in the land. Nausicaa, whose father is killed in the struggle, sets out to stop this disaster since pissing off the insects would only result in yet another global disaster. The last of which was caused, you've guessed it, by Man's greedy bullshit. As you can tell, this plot's all pretty environment-themed, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, it just means that the film constantly has to walk a fine line between meaningful and preachy, something which many animated features of that type fail to do properly. Wall-E did mostly well, Ferngully and Pocahontas not so much, Princess Mononoke later nailed it and, for the most part, Nausicaa does a brilliant job. The general mood and feel of the film helps give it a dark, mystical, fantastical atmosphere reminiscent of the likes of Legend, The Lord Of The Rings or even Star Wars. This is a beautiful-looking film with some impressive animation and early Hayao Miyazaki touches which have now become classic motifs. The voiceless, visually frightening but complex monsters, the self-sacrificing heroine, the timeless kingdoms: it's Miyazaki making something fresh, big and unique. The film strives to be an epic with a beating heart and soul and that it achieves perfectly.
The character of Nausicaa is about as pure as a character can be: she's courageous, strong-willed, smart, agile and willing to die for a cause she believes in. Good to see another strong female character in a Miyazaki animated feature (take note, Hollywood). Nausicaa doesn't have much in the way of a sense of humour but that's perfectly understandable seeing as her father just died and a whole bunch of crazy shit is going down which might take the entire world to hell with it. Her character doesn't so much develop as it does push further and further, as far as it can which, if she's meant to embody Earth's only clear hope at a brighter future, makes sense. The film's conclusion is far more optimistic than I expected it to be and, honestly, it could have ended either way. And, although I would have much preferred the darker, more hard-hitting ending (same goes with Wall-E, by the way), the one we got works fine. Some might call it a cop-out, and that would be understandable, but the film is so good at what it does overall that it's hardly fair to dismiss the ending completely. Yes it's a little cheesier than it should probably be but hey, this is still a solid, visually stunning film with some very memorable moments and an irresistible all-star sci-fi US voice cast which includes Mark Hamill, Patrick Stewart and Edward James Olmos, among others.
While not quite as powerful or as perfect as Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind is most definitely one to check out. It's a terrific piece of work from one of anime's greatest masters and it deserves to be rediscovered by Studio Ghibli fans and newcomers.