Upcoming Miyazakis

As sometimes occurs, I had just purchased the relatively new Region 2 Japanese DVD set of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausica‰ of the Valley of the Wind (1984) a few days before Disney announced it will release the film for Region 1 along with My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and Porco Rosso (1992) on August 31st.

But after watching the DVD, I have no complaints. If nothing else, it doesn’t have John Lasseter breathlessly offering spoilers for the film you’ve already purchased and are simply trying to watch, as do all the previous Miyazaki DVDs released by Disney. (One can only hope Pixar’s recent break from Disney will spare viewers from this annoying practice in the future.)

The Japanese DVD is a 2-disc affair jammed with extras, unfortunately only the film itself has English subtitles.

I’ve been excited to revisit Nausica‰ as it was the first Miyazaki film I saw (circa mid-’90s) and I remembered it as being extraordinary, even though it was the first feature film Miyazaki directed (based on a manga comic book he published). It has never been available in this country, although a severely edited VHS version was distributed by Anchor Bay entitled Warriors of the Wind.

My first impression upon watching the DVD was how beautifully-drawn and colored the film is. Miyazaki’s imagination is already running at full tilt, and desolate wastelands, lush woodlands, fertile valleys, and underground forests are all rendered with a great deal of epic sweep and detail. The other striking feature of the film is how truly archetypical it proved to be for Miyazaki’s subsequent career. The protagonist is a strong-willed, young, shojo girl, and the film’s ecological concerns, formation of conflicting social groups, and definitions of conflict along the lines of self-interest rather than categories of Good and Evil prefigure such films as Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), Princess Mononoke (1997) (a film heavily indebted to Nausica‰), and Spirited Away (2001). Into this familiar yet environmentally-distinct milieu, Miyazaki firmly establishes his penchant for exhilarating flying scenes, air ship battles, mysterious and diverse animal life, and apocalyptic themes.

Like Yasujiro Ozu, Miyazaki has always enjoyed great popular success in his native homeland but has been relegated to poorly-promoted “specialized” or “foreign” categories of distribution in the States. (Until Spirited Away, that is.) And like Ozu, Miyazaki has maintained his own standards of storytelling and thematic obsessions despite this popularity. In her 2000 book Anime: from Akira to Princess Mononoke, Susan J. Napier suggests Miyazaki is by far the most ideologically-focused of anime filmmakers, revealing the falsehood that popular audiences shy away from entertainment with ideas:

What is Miyazaki’s vision? It is one that incorporates an ethical (some critics would say moralistic) agenda that is expressed not only in terms of narrative and characters but also through his extraordinary animation. More than any other animator dealt with in this book, Miyazaki has the potential for didacticism. However, the exceptional beauty of his imagery creates an “Other” world of immense appeal that transcends a specific agenda, and softens the more didactic elements of his vision. This vision is not only of “what is lost,” as [Miyazaki has said], but also, perhaps most importantly, of what could be.

Nausica‰ is a fully-realized and lovely fantasy that would serve as a perfect introduction or addition to anyone’s appreciation of Miyazaki’s oeuvre. My Neighbor Totoro is in many ways its equal, though its setting is more intimate and modest. I’ve yet to see Porco Rosso.