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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly column where I watch one of the many movies in my personal library, and I rant about it.  Today, we do the anime classic Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and this one is a little bit different.  Usually, when I write these, I watch the film, then when it's done, I sit down and write out my thoughts and musings.  But this one, however, was my stream-of-consciousness rambling that I wrote while watching the film.  It wound up being something a little bit different than the usual entries.  This entry is originally dated February 6, 2012.

I have a rant brewing for my next podcast.  If I don't start putting it to paper, I'll lose it.

So I'm watching the anime clasic Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.  I own it on DVD, but a friend gave it to me on Blu-ray for Christmas, and this is the first opportunity I've had to sit down and watch it.  Notable in anime circles as it's the film that made Hayao Miyazaki into the anime superstar he is. 

As the story goes, and as Miyazaki himself recounts in the Blu-ray bonus features, the story of Nausicaä came about at a time when he was having trouble finding work as an animator.  (He'd been working on various TV show and animated movies since the 60s).  He finally accepted an offer to write his own manga, so the story he came up with was Nausicaä.   The manga proved very popular, and he eventually got offers to adapt it into a film.  He wrote and directed the film himself, and the movie ws so successful that he bought the animation studio that made the movie and turned it into the world-renowned Studio Ghibli. 

It's always been said that if you think the film is epic, you should read the manga.  The manga started in 1982, the movie came out in 1984, and Miyazaki finally decided to end the manga in 1996.  The movie itself is only based on the first volume of manga. 

The film takes place in the distant future...1000 years after a great ecological disaster/world war known as "The Seven Days of Fire."  The Earth has been divided into many remote kingdoms, seperated by a vast toxic jungle...poison to all who enter it except for the monstrous insects that call it home.  Our heroine is Nausicaä, the warrior princess sceintist of the small kingdom known as the Valley of the Wind, and it's her adventures as she tries to make peace between the disparate kingdoms and learn the secrets of the toxic jungle.  The film is about when one kingdom uncovers one of the great weapons of the Seven Days of Fire, and hopes to use it to destroy the toxic jungle once and for all.  Of course, Nausicaä knows this will do nothing but spread the toxic jungle and cause another great war, so she seeks to stop the madness. 

Nausicaä has quite an infamous history of dubs.  The first dub for North America was re-titled Warriors of the Wind, and was brutally edited to make it a more conventional action adventure.  So enraged at the edits, that Miyazaki vowed never to sign an international distribution deal unless it was written in stone that there would be no edits   This particular Blu-Ray is the Disney dub...Disney agreed to the no cuts policy and finally started releasing a lot of Ghibli's works over the past decade. 

Yeah...the Disney deal.  Made headlines in the late 1990s.  Because of the massive success of Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke, Disney signed the deal to bring Studio Ghibli films world wide, and they started with Mononoke.  It seemed everything was go right.  Disney hired renowned fantasy author Neil Gaiman to write the dub.  Because of its adult nature, Disney released it through their Miramax label.  But...it was given a minimal release in art houses.  Mononoke was the #1 film of all time in Japan...the only film that could knock it out of the top spot was the Japanese release of Titanic...but it failed to make even $1 million in North America.  Disney said, "Well, this experiment was a bust," and buried their Studio Ghibli distribution plans. 

But then, Ghibli made a very good ally...John Lasetter, director of Toy Story , the head of Pixar, and a huge Ghibli fan.  In 2001, Miyazaki released Spirited Away, and once again, it was a monster hit.  Lasetter saw it, loved it, and was enraged with Disney.  He went to Disney and said, "You are doing the world a disservice by burying the release of this film!  Please put it in theatres!"  So, Disney said, "Fine. If you're so passionate about this, you're in charge."  Lasetter really wanted to direct the dub of Spirited Away himself, but got too busy, so he got Beauty and the Beast co-director Kirk Wise to direct the dub.  While Spirited Away wasn't a huge box office smash, it did gain enough critical acclaim, and won the Oscar for Best Animated Film, and finally convinced Disney that there might be something to these Ghibli films. 

Disney finally got around to releasing Ghibli's older classics on DVD, and gave their new films (mainly Miyazaki's films) the major theatrical distributions they deserved.  And, with Lasetter in charge, the dubbing has always been supervised by a Pixar alumni.  Lasetter himself finally got to direct a Ghibli dub with 2009's Ponyo

The next Ghibli film to be given a major theatrical release, The Secret World of Arietty, hits North America in a couple of weeks.   Based on the classic British kids book The Borrowers.  Miyazaki didn't direct this one...but he did write the screenplay. 

One notable Ghibli film that didn't get a release was 2006's Tales of Earthsea.  Based on box office returns and critical reviews, it's kind of the Cars of the Ghibli stable.  Directed by Miyazaki's son Goro, apparently the film was the cause of some family strife.  As Miyazaki described it, the traditional system was you started an animation career by working on television, and working your way up to movies.  Miyazaki felt Goro was using the family name to jump ahead.  Tales of Earthsea made the rounds at a few film festivals...I think it's finally being released on DVD as part of the Ariety buzz. 

I hope to go see Arietty in theatres...many years ago in Japan, I had a colleague who got right pissed off when I shared these stories and revealed that Nausicaä never got a theatrical release in North America.  She felt the film is so big and so epic it deserves to be seen  on the big screen.  So, I try to see Ghibli films on the big screen whenever I can. 

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