Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is another one of those anime dealies that I intended to watch maybe ten minutes of when Jennifer put it on and ended up watching the whole thing. While we made little jokes about it throughout, on the whole I'd have to say it was quite good.

It's a thousand years after the apocalypse. Nausicaä is a Marrissa type, in that she's a princess and the world's greatest glider pilot and can communicate with animals and so forth. For this latter talent Jen started calling her "the bug whisperer" because the main animals she talks to are these huge disgusting bug creatures that live in the toxic forest by the acid lake. She also gets along quite well with a small cat-squirrel-thing that spends most of its time scampering around on her shoulders but at one point dives into her cleavage, suggesting that Nausicaä may be a Simon's Rock grad. (Sorry, inside joke.) She lives in a valley which, as the title indicates, is Of The Wind, and is inhabited by men with gargantuan mustaches. This valley proceeds to get caught in the middle of a war between two regional military powers. One of them's led by an ice queen who turns out to be a cyborg (and, ominously, says that her future husband will get an unpleasant surprise on their wedding night, which makes you wonder what sort of appliances she's got under that outfit) and a sidekick whom we quickly dubbed Mankind's Greatest Tool. They seem like the bad guys, especially when they take over the valley, but their enemies with the funky hats are the ones who come close to destroying the valley by launching a stampede of giant bugs. It gets complicated. One thing about this one and Princess Mononoke is that there's a hell of a lot of plot packed into the two hours... they feel like long novels, not short stories the way a lot of movies do.

They also present a much more complex world than the simplistic good vs. evil offered up by America's own children's entertainment, and for that matter, America's adult entertainment and also America's government. True, Nausicaä herself is purely good, and while the Marrissa comparison earlier suggests that this should be annoying, she's actually an appealing character. I liked the way she scampered from place to place. But she's an exception. Take the giant bugs. One of the big threats in the movie is that the giant bugs will stampede and destroy everything in their path (just as in Princess Mononoke the threat of a giant boar stampede was a big plot point). But they turn out to also be capable of great good. I can imagine a mainstream American movie in which the giant bugs turn out to be okay. But I can't imagine a mainstream American movie in which the giant bugs turn out to be okay but are still nightmarish creatures with horrible clacking appendages and creepy tendrils and things. They'd have been prettied up, made cuter, softer. One of the messages of Nausicaä is that no matter how vile something may seem, you should try to reach out to it and understand it. Our current culture, by contrast, does its best to foster the feeling that if there's anything out there you find vaguely threatening you should try to blow it up. Which brings up another point: while I can imagine that a mainstream American movie might have a pacifist message, I can't imagine one that would do it the way Nausicaä does. It's easy to make the case for pacifism by showing the atrocities of war. It takes courage to show exactly the sort of situation usually used to make the case for war — a powerful and seemingly implacable enemy threatening to destroy our loved ones and our way of life — and still argue that violence isn't the solution, that hate is never overcome by hate.

Which is a good thing to keep in mind when dealing with DVDs that don't play in 2/3 of the machines in your house and then turn out to be frontloaded with half a dozen ads and messages and things. Otherwise you might be tempted to send a stampede of giant bugs towards Disney headquarters.

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