If you came here expecting an unbiased review, forget about it. I have the manga, I have a battered old VHS copy of “Warriors of the Wind,” and I’ve been waiting for a DVD release of this movie for ages. I love this old movie, and for the most part the DVD provides a valuable and rewarding experience.
Let’s back up a bit, shall we? Cut to the mid-80s, and picture me holed up in a neat old house along a back-country road well outside of a tiny little town in Washington state. I was, oh, 16 or 17, and we had cable. Back then, “cable” consisted of about thirteen channels in all… USA, HBO, TNN, Cinemax, CNN, your local affiliates and probably WGN for some bizarre reason I’ve never fully understood. HBO and Cinemax, back then, were all about rotating rapidly through a small roster of films every month. This is the same way I ended up seeing stuff like “The Pirate Movie,” “Megaforce” and “Superfuzz” over and over and over again. (Shut up. I know. Just, shut up.)
Now, I’d gotten hooked on Robotech and had all three of the “Art” books. (Come to think on it, I still do. Heh.) I knew what “anime” was, in general terms, but I didn’t think much more of it than simply, “Anime is where Robotech came from. Cool.” Then HBO put into rotation a movie called “Warriors of the Wind.” I watched it. Then I watched it again. In fact, during one particular two-week stretch of summer break when my stepdad left me to my own devices while he was back east doing job training, I watched that movie almost every time it came on. Somewhere in all of that, I taped it (on his clunky, two-piece VHS deck). (I still had that tape up until just a few years ago, when I picked up my retail copy of the movie.) Suffice to say that I got to a point where I didn’t necessarily need the sound on to follow all of the dialog.
(A possibly-amusing side note: To this day, I still expect to experience a tape-glitch artifact during the scene where the Ohmu is watching Nausicaa from a distance after she’s herded the Giant Gadfly most of the way back to the Toxic Jungle. One of these days I suspect I’ll get used to not seeing and hearing it, since it’s been years since I watched that old HBO-spawned tape. Even during my DVD viewing last night, knowing full well it wouldn’t be there, I found myself surprised at its absence. Weird, huh?)
I tell you all of this partly because I like reminiscing and partly so you understand that I have a strong attachment to this bit of film. This works in the DVD’s favor in almost every way, but actually detracts from it in one surprising area.
Here’s the nutshell-synopsis: Young Princess Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind comes into conflict with various other tribes of what’s left of humanity, in a time set 1000 years after some kind of holocaust has covered the globe with destruction and unleashed a “toxic jungle” that houses poisonous plants and giant insects that will attack humans at the slightest provocation. It’s her belief that the jungle can be lived with in relative harmony, if people would simply stop trying to annihilate it and treat it as nothing but an enemy force. Plot ensues, shots are fired, hostages are taken, bugs run (and fly) rampant, and so on. If you’ve seen “Princess Mononoke,” think of this as the early draft, with somewhat clearer battle lines and more straightforward plot threads.
For a twenty-year-old piece of anime filmmaking, it looks surprisingly good on DVD. Sure, you can see evidence of age from time to time, and it’s certainly not the sort of spit-and-polish computer-aided anime we’ve grown used to in the last few years. It is, however, undisputably a masterwork of its craft.
In case you didn’t know, the previous English dub version, the aforementioned “Warriors of the Wind,” is generally regarded as a travesty of epic proportions. Part of that is because of the amount of material cut (more on that in a minute), and the other part is because of the dub work. (Okay, there’s also the incredibly misleading cover art. Hoo boy. Incredibly misleading, I say.) Because of the general opinion about the previous dub, I decided that my first viewing, or more accurately my first listening, had to be of the new English dub. It sports an all-star cast, blah blah blah. For the most part, they do well, but I have some quibbles.
“Ohm”? The only explanation I can imagine for that is that someone told someone else somewhere along the line that trailing “u” sounds tend to be nigh-silent in Japanese, or something. It’s supposed to be “Ohmu,” dammit. I gave a little twitch every time I heard “Ohm.” I also had a problem with “peh-jyte,” where in my mind it’s been “peh-jee-tay” all along. (Okay, smarty pants, how would you pronounce “Pejite”?) Name pronunciations, I suppose, I’ll eventually get used to, but really now. Then again, at least they didn’t actually change 90% of the nomenclature like the previous dub is oh-so-guilty of doing.
No, that’s not the really surprising part of the new dub. What gets to me is how much less character comes through in the voice acting compared to the “Warriors” dub. Keep in mind that “Warriors” is generally considered to be a poorly-acted, poorly-scripted mess… and there were times when I found myself missing the verve and wit put into that other dub. Lines that were moderately clever in “Warriors” come off as lifeless, if more faithful, scraps of dialog in this new “Nausicaa.” The new voice work is servicable, but rarely inspired. This is rather sad because there are some very good-sounding voices at work here. I’ll give Patrick Stewart credit for making a very good Yupa, and Uma Thurman as Princess Kushana turned out to be a great choice, but nobody else really distinguishes themselves. Not that anybody does a bad job. In some ways, it’s a compliment to generally-recognizable folks like Mark Hamill and Edward James Olmos that you aren’t pulled out of the movie by thinking, “Hey, I know that voice!” But… I don’t know. The dub lacks something, and that’s a shame considering how little it had to work to have been truly better than what came before.
How does the movie sound otherwise? Generally, it’s quite marvelous. The musical score is certainly “very 80s,” which lends a kind of quaint atmosphere to things for a viewer nowadays. It’s still perfectly enjoyable, though, and the more so because now we have the whole movie to see and hear.
This segues nicely into talking about all of that restored footage. During the scene of Nausicaa’s boarding the Torumekian airship as a hostage, in the “Warriors” version it goes from her walking up to the plane, and then with a sudden piano chord she’s waving from the doorway. That always seemed a bit jarring and odd to me, and now I know why. In the real movie, there’s a touching little scene involving three little girls who don’t want Nausicaa to go, and she promises that she’ll return soon. During that scene, there’s piano music… and the chord at the end flows naturally from that scene. Ah! This makes much more sense!
That phrase, “This makes much more sense,” came to mind so many times last night that I lost count. It’s amazing to notice just how much of the movie was cut for the “Warriors” release. Big scenes, little scenes, tiny bits out of the middle of otherwise-servicable scenes… wow. Chop, chop, chop went the editors of the previous release. I won’t bother trying to cover even half of what’s “back in” this release, because I could be here for another hour just bringing them back to mind. Suffice to say that this movie makes a whole lot more sense than what you may have seen before. And if you’ve not seen “Warriors of the Wind,” well, spare yourself. Really.
I’ve been rambling for a while now, and I think it’s time to wrap up. So, what do I think of Disney’s treatment of “Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind”? Overall, I give them high marks for a good-looking release, with a workable-if-underwhelming dub but (of course) the original Japanese track for those of us who tend to prefer that sort of thing. There aren’t any genuinely interesting extras, but I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t care much about that. What I want is the movie, in as good a form as I can get it. This DVD delivers that, at least.
If you are into animation at all, you owe it to yourself to try this disc out. If you’re an anime fan and haven’t already seen it, well, why the hell haven’t you? It’s Miyazaki, for heaven’s sake! If you like a nice little man-versus-nature ecological-disaster tale, you should enjoy this movie. In fact, the only people I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this movie to are those who dislike animation in its entirety. (It’s okay, we can still be friends, I suppose. Heh.)
Again, in case you had any doubts: I love this movie.