It's a film with an environmental message, yet it's also entertaining! Weird, eh? What's more, it's by Hayao Miyazaki and yet it stands up as a story rather than just being two hours of whimsy. Obviously Miyazaki's a magnificent filmmaker, but that's usually in spite of his plotting rather than because of it.
Mind you, this was one of his early films. It's actually pre-Studio Ghibli, although people don't realise this because the studio often seems to be regarded as Miyazaki's pen name or something. It's based on a manga that he'd started writing in February 1982 and would keep up for a further ten years after this film. The movie's based on its first sixteen chapters, which is roughly a quarter of the total. Unsurprisingly the manga's more philosophical, but that doesn't make the film an action-based throwaway, despite its first American distributor's re-edits with the goal of making it just that. If you ever find an 84-minute version called Warriors of the Wind, don't watch it. Miyazaki hated it so much that Ghibli's contract with Disney includes a "no edits" clause and he sent a samurai sword to Harvey Weinstein when he heard about possible cuts to Princess Mononoke.
What's distinctive about Nausicaa is its setting. It's a post-apocalypse movie, albeit after 1000 years have passed. Industrial civilisation collapsed in the Seven Days of Fire, after which the Earth has been plagued by toxic jungles, monster insects and pollution levels that can mean everyone carries a gas mask. However that said, our heroine Nausicaa lives in the Valley of the Wind, which is quite a pleasant place if you don't go near the jungle or annoy the wildlife. It looks like medieval Europe. The people work on the land, dress like peasants and have lots of windmills, although they also have cool jet-bikes that look like surfboards. My subtitles translated them as "gliders", but the word used in the film is actually the German word for seagull.
The toxic jungle in particular is the most astonishing place. Miyazaki goes to town and the results in the opening sequence will leave you unsure even what genre you're watching. Fantasy? Edgar Rice Burrough's John Carter on Mars? It's memorable even by Miyazaki standards, full of puffball designs that were presumably inspired by what you'll see if you leave food in the fridge for months and months, but blown up to amazing size and of course beautiful.
The wildlife on the other hand are gigantic insects. We have great diseased flying armoured larvae things, but they're not even the worst. That would be the Ohmu (literally "king of the bugs"), which resemble some kind of fossilised sea creature but are as big as an aircraft carrier. They're short-tempered and just of them on the rampage could single-handedly flatten a city. There are thousands of these things. Maybe you can see why the people of the Valley of the Wind have come to be in tune with nature. It's really, really important not to annoy the wildlife.
Even that much would be more than enough for most films. What makes Nausicaa's setting even more interesting is that on top of all this, we have geopolitical realities. This world contains different countries, each of which has its own tech level and foreign policy. The Pejite have been invaded by the Tolmekia, who've stolen a thousand-year-old Warrior that they dug up and want to use to establish a military hegemony. The scary thing is that on the fact of it, the Tolmekia talk a lot of sense. They're the most modern of all these nations in their thinking and technology. They have a down-to-earth attitude to getting your hands on superweapons before your rivals can do the same, while their plan for the toxic forests is to burn them down. The people in the Valley of the Wind never did anything like that. They've been quietly living next to it for centuries. However the Tolmekians are also clearly idiots, scary both for their militarism and their technology. There's something wrong about seeing their tanks rumbling down these medieval streets, since we know that's exactly the kind of thing that brought about the Seven Days of Fire in the first place.
All this complexity is great. If anything it's almost a bit too complex, since I was a bit hazy on the subject of the Warrior until we eventually saw it for ourselves. The result is that the story writes itself. You could let loose pretty much any set of protagonists in this world and have fun seeing what happened. In fact there's one main character, Nausicaa, who's occasionally supported by a friend or two.
Nausicaa isn't complicated. In fact she's pretty one-dimensional, having no flaws at all if you don't count "excessive goodness to the point of self-sacrifice". However oddly that doesn't matter, since she also has a set of values that make her almost unstoppable. She believes in peace. She's capable of being badass, in one scene killing four soldiers in hand-to-hand combat, but afterwards her response to having done so is to cry about it. Point a gun at her and she'll say you don't understand and tell you not to be frightened. She's clever, having made a scientific discovery that's probably the most important of the millennium, but her real weapon is having the insight into the world around her even to be capable of imagining doing those experiments in the first place.
Nausicaa rules, basically. She's kind even to animals that are biting her. She talks to Ohmu. What we have here is an SF post-apocalyptic fantasy that works as an action movie, but has an anti-action philosophy. The enemy isn't the problem, but instead you for thinking there's an enemy in the first place. I can't remember ever seeing anything quite like these action scenes before. Instead of cheering on the fighters, you're aghast at these idiots for doing anything so stupid as fighting in the first place. There's a point where the Tolmekians launch a defence against an army of Ohmu, not realising that it's precisely their attacks that are provoking the Ohmu into charging towards them. If they'd just been nice like Nausicaa, they'd have been okay.
The only point in the film which goes against that is the Valley of the Winders' revolt against the occupying Tolmekia, which admittedly is something they've richly earned, but is still something I felt Nausicaa would disapprove of. She'd collaborate! That's the story's message. Miyazaki cheats there with slightly comedic action scenes to please the kiddies, but throughout the rest of the film it's something you clearly want to avoid. People die and the environment gets trashed, which in this post-apocalypse setting is a big deal.
In the end, Nausicaa is extraordinarily brave. I nearly cried.
This is a chaste and family-friendly movie, if you don't mind some cartoon fighting. However Nausicaa is wearing flesh-coloured trousers that make her look a little bit as if she's wearing no knickers under her mini-dress. Oi, oi. She also has respectable breasts.
The obvious point of comparison for this film is Princess Mononoke, another Miyazaki film about environmental catastrophe in a medieval setting. Personally I preferred Nausicaa, which moves at a decent lick and more or less earns its running time. Mononoke rambles. This film won the Animage Anime Grand Prix prize and on its release in 1984 was presented by the World Wide Fund for Nature. It's pretty much screaming its environmental themes, but it manages to do so in a way that works as a story. It has an awesome heroine and it's never dull or preachy. All children should watch it. What's more, they'd even think it was cool.