BY NEIL FAUERSO
For the first time since its release more than 20 years ago, Nausicaa, Hayao Miyazaki’s animated magnum opus, is available (in a pristine DVD transfer) in the U.S. For those unfamiliar with Miyazaki’s work, this is undoubtedly his masterpiece. Even with a more primitive form of animation, Nausicaa is quite simply one of the most imaginative and fully realized sci-fi films ever made, its dense post-apocalyptic landscape rivaled only by The Road Warrior or A Boy and His Dog.
Nausicaa takes place several thousand years after nuclear war and environmental wreckage have crippled the human race, creating a large and expanding sea of decay. Princess Nausicaa, who knows the sea of decay and the insects within better than anyone, is threatened by two rival tribes who want to destroy her tribe and the extremely fragile insect ecosystem. Once again, humans are faced extinction.
The wonderful thing about Nausicaa is how broad its appeal is. While not for very young children, any child eight and above will be enchanted. The sweeping visuals, sense of urgency and adventure, and vivid characters and sets are comparable to Star Wars (I’m serious). But this is also an affecting film for adults. Nausicaa deals with violence, pollution, greed, and power with such a pure sincerity and empathy that it is more relevant today than when it was first released. Miyazaki’s sense of both goodness and moral ambiguity, and his compassion (there are never any truly bad characters in his films), are comparable to that of Renoir, Altman, or Herzog.
Although Nausicaa is a DVD release, I maintain that it will be the best family film of the year. It is arguably the greatest animated film of all time, or at least in the pantheon of greats (Akira, The Incredibles, any other Miyazaki films). Beautiful, complex, passionate, and realized, it is what Waterworld, Dune, and the Matrix trilogy spent so much trying to be and failed. It is perfect.