Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Bots are Back - MST3K Lives!

So I'm a bit late in posting this. But the Kickstart not only met the goal of 5.5 million, but surpassed it to bring 6.3 million in. It really was an amazing feat and I have to commend Joel Hodgson and his team for really making getting crowdsourcing to work for this project. 

This means we'll be getting 14 brand new episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 2016. I'm really looking forward to this, especially since one episode is going to feature a Christmas film. As you know, some of my favorite MST3K episodes feature Christmas (Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Mitchell, Santa Claus and Jack Frost all being a lot of fun).

I know some folks are really disappointed that none of the original cast (including Joel) will be back in front of the camera. But the talent Joel has assembled is impressive. I'm really looking forward to what Felicia Day brings to the table as the mad scientist and Patton Oswald as her befuddled assistant. The Kickstarter videos featured the bots and their new voices Hampton Yount (Crow) and Baron Vaughn (Tom Servo). And I have to say they are doing a great job. Finally the new host will be Jonah Ray who has also appeared in the Kickstarter videos and has some very funny interactions with Joel and the bots. 

Joel has announced potential guest stars, guest writers, and even some impressive behind the scenes folks for helping this series come back. He also has made it very clear that the door is open to any of the original cast or crew to come back for cameos or guest writing. Joel feels that some new blood in front of the camera is the best way to bring new audiences to the show. And the whole production will be guided by Joel. HIs creative oversight and obvious passion for the project convinced me that this iteration of MST3K has a real shot of working. I really don't think this show will stray much from the original spirit of the series with Joel watching over it. It may take a few episodes to get everything worked out (as is pretty obvious when you watch Season One or Season Eight of the original series), but I'm hoping that this all turns out giving us more hours of hilarious movie based entertainment. 

I'll keep you posted as I find out more (donating got me on the info club mailing list), but in the meantime... WE HAVE MOVIE SIGN!!!!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Blog Update and MOVIE SIGN!

Hope everyone had a good November. If you haven't followed by Storytelling in All its Forms Blog, I did meet my goal for National Novel Writing Month. I had a great time doing it. But the novel isn't quite finished yet, so I'm going to continue working on it until it is done. I'm thinking I'll be finished in mid-December. So that means no new content on this blog for another month. But you can head over to my other blog if you are curious about my writing process or want to know what I'm listening to while I write. Hint: it involves movie music.

The other thing I wanted to mention is the exciting Kickstarter campaign to bring back Mystery Science Theater 3000! This effort is being lead by the original creator of the series Joel Hodgson. While it doesn't look like the original cast or crew are involved at this point, Joel is assembling a new cast of comedians and writers to bring back the laughs. And he's got an impressive crew signed up so far. 

At this point we are good for six new episodes! So no matter what happens, we'll see those come to light in 2017. But if Joel meets his goal they are looking at a full season of MST3K, and potential for this to turn into a regular series. Now that would make my day. 

So if you love the show as much as I do, check out what Joel is offering to everyone who donates (there are some sweet incentives on there) and see what you think about the cast. To me this is a no brainer. It is still my favorite television series and with Joel guiding the creative side of things, it should be a lot of fun.

Find out more at Bring Back Mystery Science Theater 3000 on Kickstarter.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Writing a Novel This Month - but I'll be back!

I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year. Wish me luck!

That means I won't be posting any new content on this blog for all of November. But I'm planning on coming back in December with some more reviews, musings and meandering. 

If you're interested, I'll be blogging a bit about my novel writing experience at my other blog. Yes I do have another blog that I haven't updated in years, but it is all about writing, so my NaNoWriMo experience fits right in there. So head on over, give me some support and I'll keep you posted on how this whole process goes. I've done it before and it was fun, exhilarating and intense all at once. Just what I need to get the fiction flowing again.

Have a great November, and I'll catch up with you soon!

Check out my Storytelling in All its Forms blog.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ringu (1998)

In the early 2000s we got a whole mess of horror films based off of Japanese and Korean ghost stories. It was a fresh take on horror after the slew of teen slasher films that dominated the 90s. While some folks didn’t like The Ring or The Grudge so much (especially these days when there seems to be a bit of a backlash against the films), I found the movies to be interesting and entertaining. But the film that started it all really hasn’t been topped. I figured it was about time I attempted to write a little about Ringu.

Reiko (Nanako Matsushima) is a journalist researching an urban legend about a cursed videotape. Who ever watches the tape dies in seven days. When Rieko finds out that her niece may be a victim of the cursed tape, the search becomes personal. She does find the tape, and watches it. From that moment on she feels death closing in. Rieko reaches out to her ex-husband Ryuji (Hiroyuki Sanada) for some help. She hopes his experience with the supernatural may help unravel the mystery.

The two begin a search for the origin of the tape. Some of the visuals point to an incident that occurred nearly fifty years ago. Then her son Yoichi (Rikiya Otaka) watches the tape, and is under the curse as well. Can Reiko discover the source for this evil and put a stop to it? Or will the madness continue forever in an endless Ring?

Good Points:
  • Creates and maintains a wonderful atmosphere of dread
  • Works like a mystery, constantly drawing the viewer into the search for answers
  • Just when you think its over, the movie takes a dark twist

Bad Points:
  • Non-Japanese viewers may find the folklore based curse to be silly or nonsensical
  • No blood and a menace you almost never see may disappoint some viewers
  • Moves at a very deliberate pace

When Ringu is firing on all cylinders it is one creepy film that worms its way under your skin. It plays upon our need for order and understanding, and how those things can be thrown out the window by a supernatural force. The horror comes from our inability to understand what is happening, even as we get more clues and the mystery seems closer to a resolution. Combined with an overwhelming atmosphere, solid performances and a score that jabs and slinks in equal measure, this is one of my favorite horror films.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 5
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music: 4
Direction: 5
Entertainment: 5
Total:  4

In Depth Review
Once seen, it can't be unseen.
One of my favorite elements of a horror story (in any medium) is the creation and sustainment of dread. Most films go for the quick scare, the gory revelation and the building of suspense. And yes, I love all those elements. But few films create that feeling of impending doom. It is something that requires a careful manipulation of all the elements of film, as well as careful manipulation of the audience. But when it is achieved the result is a film that stays with you, because you were truly afraid. You knew something horrible was going to happen, it had to happen, and when it does, your fear is realized.

Ringu nails it. This is a dread-making machine. It does have a few jump scares and a few moments of tense suspense. But the overall feeling it is trying to generate is that slow building fear. This isn’t an easy task, but I feel director Hideo Nakata manages it very well and on a limited budget.

One of the key elements of creating dread is to give the viewer characters they connect to and like. It is hard to feel dread for annoying teens or antiheros. Ringu gives us a divorced mother, Reiko and her son Yoichi. We first meet Rieko when she is interviewing some schoolgirls about the urban legend of the cursed videotape. She is professional and polite but also puts the girls at ease, so they have no problem talking to her. As she attempts to trace the origins of this bizarre urban legend, we realize she has the curiosity fitting for a journalist.

Finally we see her interacting with her son. You can tell she spends long hours at work, and Yoichi is used to taking care of himself. But the two obviously look out for each other. Her love and regret come across clearly in these early scenes. And little Rikiya Otaka is really cute. We like Yoichi immediately.

Mother and son dress for the start of their dark
We see them preparing for Rieko’s niece’s funeral, and that does something else. We see these two characters interacting, we get to know and like them. But Ringu surrounds them with death right off the bat. The funeral is somber of course. But Rieko starts to hear rumors that her niece may have been killed because of the cursed videotape. And we realize that this house where the funeral is taking place Is the same one from the opening scene – where two girls were so frightened that one died and one went insane.

With that set up, we follow Rieko into her investigation of the cursed videotape. Like the audience, she is trying to make sense out of the ridiculous. Just typing the phrase cursed videotape feels silly. But that is how the seeds of the horror are planted. How can watching a videotape kill you? There is no known way it could, and horror all boils down to the unknown. This curse is frightening because it really shouldn’t work, but the death toll says otherwise.

What is at the bottom of this well, and do
you dare find out?
Ringu focuses on unraveling the mystery of the images on the videotape. What are we seeing? Who made this? What does it all mean? The mystery element is intriguing, because we see parts of the tale coming together. The supernatural is introduced with a woman who claims to have powerful extrasensory perception, and her fate in the 1950s. But Nakata mixes history with folklore, as we learn that ocean dwelling demons may be tied up in this story. This element was dropped in the Hollywood remake, The Ring.

One element that wasn’t changed for the remake was the concept that the viewer of the videotape had seven days to live. This clever plot element adds to the overall dread. Each day that passes from the moment that Reiko watches the tape becomes more oppressive. This is reflected in Nanako Matsushima’s performance. She starts to lose her composure. When she stops for a few moments during her hunt, the realization comes back, and we can see in her eyes the desperation. That desperation turns into a hollow resignation by the last day.

Shots like this one, with darkness creeping in from
the sides, would strongly influence Boogiepop Phantom.
One of the other things that director Nakata used to his advantage in Ringu was a visual style that enhances the feeling of oppressive doom. Visually the movie is very muted. The sky is often overcast. Many of the buildings and locations seem drab and washed out. Even the ocean is shown as dark black, steel grey or turbulent churning but lifeless blue. We only see sunny scenes a couple times in the film, and usually when some measure of hope is glimpsed in the plot. I wouldn’t be surprised if the creative team behind one of my favorite horror anime series, Boogiepop Phantom were inspired by the visual style of Ringu.

Nakata also uses pacing to help build the dread. No one would ever call Ringu a fast paced film. The movie uses long takes, slow pans and lengthy tracking shots frequently. We also have plenty of scenes were the characters remain motionless on the screen, often lost in thought or reflection. This pace builds on the fear creeping below the surface. It feels like we are waiting for the horrifying event to occur, and we know it will. Any minute now… just around the corner… or maybe not. The pacing creates a great contrast to the few moments where fast cuts and sudden motion is utilized. It becomes unnerving.

The voice you hear now, you'll hear again.
Adding to this is some clever sound design. We hear some pretty strange stuff on the cursed videotape. But Nakata starts to use those sound effects in subtle ways outside of the videotape scenes. Rieko starts to hear the horrible scraping sound. We start to hear the voice chanting about goblins in the deep. It is almost as if the uncanny world of the videotape is bleeding into reality. Or is the impending doom working so deeply on Rieko that she can’t help but hear those sounds.

Prolific and skilled composer Kenji Kawai provided the music for Ringu. Kawai has done some wonderful work on anime and live action films with Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in theShell, Avalon, Patlabor). Here he does some fine work, especially with the creepy portions of the score. He keeps things musically interesting, but always building, giving momentum to the scenes, even when things seem to be moving slowly. His work reminds me quite a bit of Christopher Young’s approach to haunting and slow burn horror scores such as The Uninvited or The Grudge. Of course Kawai gets to throw in a couple of musical stingers for the jump scares and sudden revelations. They work well enough, but seem to be overplay their hand a bit. Those moments may have played better with no music at all. That said, there isn’t a lot of music in Ringu, but what you do get is pretty effective.

The mystery draws our protagonists and the viewers
in. Can we solve the puzzle?
This film lies in a strange place in the genre of horror films. While you could argue that the strange figure we see creeping out the well in the cursed videotape is a ghost, you could also say that it is the curse itself, not the ghost that is the real antagonist. Sadako (Rie Ino’o) is at the heart of the story surrounding the videotape. Her anger is potentially what curses the videotape. But we never get a reason why she focuses her fury into those images. We don’t know why she sets this horror into the world, not focusing her rage on those who harmed her. No, this curse ravages any unfortunate person who happens to watch the tape.

That is where the heart of the dread lies. Reiko, Yoichi and Ryuji don’t deserve to be cursed. Reiko is seeking answers sure. But she is doing it gain closure about her nieces death. Ryuji is cursed by attempting to help his ex-wife. But perhaps the most bizarre is little Yoichi, who ends up watching the tape because his dead cousin tells him to. We never know for sure, but it is possible that Sadako takes the form of the cousin to tempt Yoichi to fall into her curse. But why pick on the poor kid? What did he do wrong?

Its just a story right? A story can't hurt you.
One of the other interesting elements of the film is that it all starts with an urban legend. This is intriguing because this concept really seems to be a big element of horror anime in the late 90s and early 00s. Boogiepop Phantom uses its fractured storytelling to weave tales into tales, and some of these are urban legends about the angel of death herself. Paranoia Agent has the story of "little slugger" at its dark heart, and who or what he is depends on who is telling the story. Even the movie Cure deals with storytelling as the tale of the mass murderer gets out. Serial Experiments Lain has several plot points and concepts relayed by friends telling stories that seem to spread into a life of their own. This idea isn't unique to Japan, Candyman has a similar concept at its heart. I just wonder why all these films and anime series share this link and all came out around the same time.

But thematically it does make some sense why Reiko and Ryuji get cursed. Sadako is filled with fury over the way her parents treated her. Yoichi is pretty much a latchkey kid. Reiko cares for him, but she is obviously spending so much time at work that she doesn’t see much of Yoichi. The first time we see Ryuji, it is as he walks to Reiko’s apartment on a rainy day (on his way to see the tape). He meets Yoichi on the sidewalk and the two just look at each other. No words are exchanged. It is almost as if two strangers meet, except for the brief pause they share. Obviously they know each other, but don’t have anything to say. It’s surprisingly cold when we look back on it (when we see it the first time, we don’t know the two are related). The relationship is obviously broken. Sadako could understand this, and would curse Ryuji.

As the dread creeps in it saturates the visuals.
Here I am looking for an answer to the puzzle of Ringu, but that is what makes it frightening. There are no real answers. Each element we sort out only leads to further questions. By the time the film ends, Reiko believes that the only way to break the curse is to copy the tape and pass it on to someone else. Essentially the victim must spread the curse to be spared. Everyone must face the dread if they want to live. But is this even a guarantee? The glimmer of hope we get at the end doesn’t’ comfort completely. We all keep waiting to hear that horrible screeching grinding sound that signals Sadako’s approach.

I obviously really enjoy this movie. I love the atmosphere it generates, the cold horror it snakes into the viewer and the mystery that hints at logic, but also hints anything but logic. But Ringu is not for everyone. If you can’t get pulled into the world the film creates, it can come across as boring and even kind of silly. I know some non-Japanese viewers who find the story of Sadako ridiculous and the whole concept of the cursed videotape to be laughable. I know plenty who found the Hollywood adaptation more accessible and frightening.  It has been a long time since I’ve seen The Ring, but I do remember it having some very effective moments. But it lacked the real unsettling quality that the Japanese film provided.

When you see this, your seven days are up.
The uncanny and dread are two elements of horror that are difficult to convey. But they are the elements that appeal to me the most in horror films. When a movie gets it right, then you actually feel the fear the characters experience. Or even better (or worse) you have a nightmare inspired by the film. Ringu did that for me. I had a pretty intense nightmare after viewing this film, so Ringu certainly made an impression. It still gets a yearly viewing around October, along side similarly creepy films like the original version of The Haunting and Perfect Blue. The great thing is, you can watch the film on DVD and won’t have to worry about dying in seven days. I think Sadako detests digital technology.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Sinister (2012)

Ever since I watched Misery and later read the book, I was afraid of becoming the writer in a horror story. They never seem to catch a break. Even artists and writers in Lovecraft’s fiction usually come to bad ends. Is it because writers tend to have open imaginations that cause them to be susceptible to the uncanny and horrific? Or is it because they are so darn needy that they people get sick of their whining and decide to off them? But I kid my fellow writers… a little. So it was with some trepidation that I watched a story about a writer who discovers a terrible secret in his new home.

Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is a struggling writer who has just moved his family to a new home. He got the house for a steal and his hoping to write a blockbuster true crime book based on a murder that happened in this new town. Well more specifically in the back yard of the new house he just moved his family into. And more specifically, the whole family was hung from a tree in the back yard and the daughter went missing. So yeah Oswalt isn’t a little creepy for doing that.

During the move Oswalt finds a box in the attic that contains a super 8 projector and some home movies. He pops one of them in, and watches as the previous family has a good time… and then witnesses their death! The rest of the films area similar showing happy families being brutally killed. Oswalt finds clues uniting the deaths and starts digging deeper. With this source material he knows he’ll have a best seller for sure! But ominous things start happening. His son starts having night terrors. Oswalt starts hearing and seeing strange things in his home. And then he finds evidence that these murders may be tied to a cult worshiping a child-stealing creature. Is this delusion starting to break Oswalt’s grip on sanity or is there something more Sinister at work?

Good Points:
  • Atmospheric and filled with a sense of impending doom
  • Hawk gives an excellent performance as the complicated Oswalt
  • Those murder films are disturbing and creepy as hell

Bad Points:
  • The overall mood is so dower and dreary it may turn some viewers off
  • Works as a slow burn, those looking for quick thrills will be disappointed
  • The revelation of the reason for the murders just didn’t quite click for me

This is a dark film, both visually and thematically. The whole movie is saturated with a shadowy creepiness that is unsettling. Hawke does a fine job creating a man we can sympathize with, even if we don’t like him. But what works is the combination of the mystery of the murders with the sense of doom that hangs over Hawk and his family. By moving into this house he has invited the evil into his family and that evil begins working. While I found the reason behind the evil to something less then compelling, I will say that the overall it is a disturbing and creepy ride. Not a fun horror film, but certainly a chilling one.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 4
Acting: 4
Script: 3
Music: 4
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Suspect Zero (2004)

The premise of this film sounded interesting, and it had a solid cast too. But for some reason I never heard of it. I also enjoyed the director’s previous film Shadow of the Vampire, a fun and demented take on the making of Nosferatu. So I figured a serial killer film featuring Ben Kingsley was going to be good. But was I just falling into the cleverly laid trap by a criminal mastermind?

Thomas Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart) is an FBI profiler who has been having a rough time on the job. His last case ended up falling apart because he let his emotions carry him away and vital evidence could not be used to convict the killer. Since then Mackelway has been suffering from headaches and strange hallucinations. Then he receives a letter from a man who claims to know what is going on in his latest case.

Mackelway begins to suspect that this man, O’Ryan (Ben Kingsley) may be a serial killer. Mackelway’s partner Fran (Carrie-Anne Moss) sees that Mackelway is starting to slip into an obsession with catching O’Ryan, but there are other troubling signs. The murder victims seem to be less then innocent. On top of this Macklway’s visions may be connecting him in a strange psychic way to O’Ryan. At the center of the mystery is the deadly killer known only as Suspect Zero.

Good Points:
  • An intriguing concept lies at the center of the film.
  • A very effective mood and some atmospheric scenes
  • A couple of moments with Kingsley really creep under your skin
Bad Points:
  • Feels like it was longer and was edited with a chainsaw
  • Some of the acting feels too broad
  • While it comes together in the end, the final moments don’t deliver a punch
Ugh, what a frustrating film this was. I can see a really good movie buried inside, but the final result is so fragmented, so off kilter and so choppy that it is hard to recommend. Some of the visuals are really unsettling and creepy. Sometimes the performances are really handled well, especially when Kingsley is keeping things low key and intense. But other times characters seem to be ranting and raving with no build up. And that is my biggest problem, it feels like all the tension building scenes were chopped out, leaving us with the procedural moments and the finales, but none of the middle material. If you are into serial killer movies, this makes an OK rental. But it feels like it wanted to be like the disturbingly unique Cure, but missed the boat.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 3
Script: 3
Music: 3
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 2
Total:  3

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)

When I first heard about this film it was still called Bill and Ted go to Hell. I thought that was just a statement by a grumpy movie theater owner. Little did I know that Bill and Ted were coming back to the big screen for a sequel. Did anyone ask for this? Not that I’m aware of. But Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a lot of fun, so maybe this one will turn out Ok. Or maybe it will be bogus in more ways than one.

In the future where the rock group named Wyld Stallyns has achieved world peace and Bill Preston (Alex Winter) and Ted Logan (Keanu Reeves) are considered musical geniuses, things are most excellent. But the angry, bitter, and nefarious De Nomolos (Joss Ackland) hates the 24-hour Mtv music video that the world has become and hatches a scheme. He creates two robots that look just like Bill and Ted. He sends them back to the early 1990s to kill Bill and Ted and ruin their impact on society. Nothing can go wrong with his perfect plan.

Soon enough the evil robots from the future find and kill Bill and Ted! But the story doesn’t end there, because the Grim Reaper (William Sadler) arrives to take them. Bill and Ted manage to escape his clutches and begin a journey that takes them to the depths of hell, the heights of heaven and even facing an alien scientist called Station. Pam Grier, George Carlin and Amy Stock Poynton all join in the fun as our clueless heroes experience their most bogus of journeys.

Good Points:
  • Takes the fun premise of the original and goes in a new and unexpected direction
  • Sadler pretty much steals the show as the Grim Reaper who can’t catch a break
  • Stays fun and fast paced throughout

Bad Points:
  • Bill and Ted are pretty much the same doofuses we met in the first one
  • If you are looking for more fun with historical figures you’ll be disappointed
  • The ending is… well, it’s kind of a cheat actually

Bill and Ted’s adventure this time around is just a silly and fun as the previous one. In fact, in terms of creativity, it is actually more impressive. Having these two jokers interact with death, Satan and God is all pretty fun. But it is the Grim Reaper’s presence that really makes the film memorable. Up to the point where he shows up the film is less entertaining. But you can also tell that Winter and Reeves are having a lot of fun playing the evil (but very stupid) versions of themselves. The movie is bursting with fun visuals and crazy ideas, but it also feels less cohesive than the first one. I had a good time with it, but I like the Excellent Adventure a bit more.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 3
Script: 4
Music: 3
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Score Sample: Nightbreed

Well it is October again, and that means I need to post some kind of spooky or chilling music on this blog. I've been providing samples of Goldsmith and Young the last couple of years, but one man who is really a specialist in the gothic and macabre sound I've missed completely. Time to rectify that. Danny Elfman has been working in the film industry since the mid 1980s. And while I will always love his work with the rock group OIngo Boingo, his film scores are really something else. He is most famous these days for his amazing partnership with Tim Burton, but I wanted to spotlight something a little different here.

He worked with Clive Barker on a horror film early in his career, and its got that Elfman sound but feels a bit more savage and fun. Check out this suite of cues for Nightbreed.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

After completing Castle of Cagliostro director Hayao Miyazaki shifted his focus to writing and drawing a graphic novel. It took place in a post-apocalyptic world and featured a young woman named after a princess in Homer’s The Odyssey. The manga turned out to be a big hit, and eventually he was approached to adapt his work for a big screen feature film. Miyazaki decided to place his hopes on Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. If it was a success, he would use the profits to start his own animation studio, if it wasn’t… well Lupin III was still cranking out episodes.

According to legend, the earth was nearly destroyed in the seven days of fire. Mankind unleashed their most horrible weapons and only succeeded in collapsing civilization. They also created a forest of corruption. This dense fungal forest is toxic to humans and breeds enormous insects that occasionally go on rampages and destroy human settlements and spread the fungus further and further across the land.

In the secluded Valley of the Wind, a group of humans manage to carve out a wind powered society. The princess, Nausicaa (Sumi Shimamoto) spends her time exploring the fungal forest and helping her people. But when a huge airship from a distant land crashes in the valley everything changes. The airship was transporting a disturbing cargo – a huge pulsating living creature. Then Princess Kushana (Yoshiko Sakakibara) arrives with her troops to retrieve this object and captures Nausicaa to use as a hostage. It is only a matter of time before Nausicaa escapes and begins her path to save her people and possibly learn the secret of the forest of corruption and humankind’s place in this dying world.

Good Points:
  • Amazing visual design: everything from costumes to creatures
  • Glorious flying sequences that pull you into the wonder and action
  • A thematically rich story with memorable characters

Bad Points:
  • Nausicaa is rarely wrong about anything
  • Joe Hisaishi’s score is a bit rough in places
  • Feels a bit familiar, because it inspired so many later films and television series

Miyazaki brings a fully realized world to life, with so much visual depth and detail that it is staggering. The story is layered with themes, but the plot is fairly simple. The characters are fairly stock, but you could argue that this is the first film to introduce many anime character tropes. For me, the animation and visual style are what makes this film so memorable. It is an amazing sophomore effort and well worth seeking out for any animation, science fiction or fantasy fans out there.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 4
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music: 4
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

In Depth Review
Nausicaa faces the darkness of her journey.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is a tricky film to write about. On the one hand it is one of the most influential anime of the 1980s, and often considered one of Miyazaki’s greatest works. On the other hand it has some flaws that come from a burgoning filmmaker who wasn’t sure if this was going to be his only shot at bringing his own material to the big screen. So he goes for broke and sometimes it doesn’t quite gel.

My other issue is that the graphic novel is really one of the best I’ve ever read. Miyazaki had time to expand and fully explore the world he created with nearly over a decade to write and draw it. The film covers only a quarter of the material the manga does. And once you read the manga with all the complexities, characters and themes, I’m sad to say that the film seems a little shallow in comparison.

The detail on the airships is impressive.
But for anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of reading the graphic novel, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind will impress. There is no way it can’t. The visuals are amazing at nearly every level. Given the fact that Miyazaki had two years to design and create his vision leading up to the film version, there is a depth of detail to the world that is mind-blowing. This is right up there with Akira and Ghost in the Shell when it comes to world making details. But in some ways Nausicaa may be more impressive because it isn’t building off of a world we know, but forging a world that is familiar and yet alien.

We recognize things like tanks, swords, airships and gasmasks. But Miyazaki takes influences from various historical time periods and fuses them to make his own world. I called the civilization wind powered, but that isn’t really correct. There is a strong feudalistic feel the culture, but they have airships powered by some kind of reactors. The tanks look like pre WWII models. The armor and weapons of the Torumekians looks like something from 1400s Germany.

One example of the gas masks used in the film.
I also like how the technology and culture also shows the necessity of working with the environment to survive. When we first see the sword master Yupa (Goro Naya), he and his avian mounts are wearing unique gas masks to avoid inhaling the toxic spores. The gas masks a constant reminder of how tenuous the human grip on this world is. Nearly every character has some kind of breathing filter or apparatuses on their person… just in case.  In addition, Nausicaa mentions that her people use cast off chitin from the giant insects as tools and other useful elements. This influences the visual design; a more alien and yet organic look to much of the Valley of the Wind.

An enraged Ohmu chases our heroes.
Then there is the fascinating creature design. The giant insects, especially the mammoth Ohmu are truly a wonder to behold. The Ohmu have a real heft and weight to them that makes their rampages even more horrible. Miyazaki would use the same visual principle for the giant boars in Princess Mononoke. The flying insects are equally impressive. I also like little Teto, the fox like critter that Nausicaa adopts. The explosion of creativity of these creatures would be unmatched in Miyazaki’s films until we get to the myriad of sprits in Spirited Away.

The simple fact is that you can watch Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind any number of times and always find some new detail to wonder at and explore.

Ship to ship battles are frequent in this world.
The action is also impressive. This is the film that Miyazaki’s love of flight really shines. Nausicaa takes to the air countless times, often on her compact and quick glider. The movie has plenty of battles between airships, with diving into clouds, hiding in the sun and plunging into the depths of the fungal forest. These scenes are fully rendered with no cheats to be seen. It actually puts some modern science fiction ship battles to shame. What makes these scenes work so well is that we feel the thrill of flying, as well as the tension and danger of aerial attacks. Miyazaki’s dynamic framing and motion play a big part in this.

But I would be remiss to mention the other main reason these scenes work so well. Composer Joe Hisaishi’s music adds to the flying scenes immensely. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind marks the first time Hisaishi and Miyazaki collaborated on a film. And it would lead to a fruitful partnership that would span decades. The two would bring out the best in each other, and we see the very beginnings of the wonderful thematic work of Hisaishi in this film.

Nausicaa is always ready to defend her people.
The main theme for the film is heard in the opening credits, and is used several times during the movie. It has a majestic quality, and Hisaishi’s use of piano during the theme became an instant trademark for his scores on Miyazaki’s films. Perhaps his most effective pieces is the childlike lullaby that he uses when Nausicaa bonds with the enormous Ohmu creatures. There is a haunting quality to the tune and the way Hisaishi uses it. It feels ancient and yet with the child’s voice singing “la la la” to it, the tune sounds innocent. It is one of the most memorable musical moments in 1980s anime.

But not all of the Hisaishi’s material works for me. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind uses some unique and very 80s synth sound effects. Some of these are so jarring they actually feel out of place during the film. Other times, the otherworldly nature of the synths works with the strange visuals on the screen. I admit some of it reminds me of early video game music for the Sega Genesis, but it does end up giving the movie a unique sound. Hisaishi would continue to use synths in his scores, and improve on how they are implemented. Here, it just feels hit and miss in effect.

An encounter with a giant insect is about to go wrong.
The sound effects are handled well. Much like the visuals, sound design for the new world is an important part of pulling the viewer in. Gunshots and the airships make familiar sounds that help ground the viewer. But the giant insects, Nausicaa’s unique glider and her insect lures all have unusual sounds. It’s a good balance of new and old that supports the film.

The first time I watched this film was with an English dub produced back in the 1980s (I’ll go a little more into that at the end of the review). So some of my memories of the film are colored by that not quite adequate dub. For this viewing I decided to give the Japanese dub a try and really liked it. Sumi does a fine job with the character of Nausicaa. She is determined, forthright and strong when she needs to be. I also liked Goro Naya’s performance as the wise and deadly Yupa. When Disney released the film on DVD they gave it a pretty solid dub featuring an impressive cast including: Patrick Stewart, Edward James Olmos, Uma Thurman and Shia LaBeouf. For some reason that dub just doesn’t quite click for me. But I think that is my own mental malfunction.

Nausicaa flying off into adventure.
As I mentioned Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is a pretty simple story about a young woman who discovers a secret that can change the world. She has to make hard decisions and sacrifices to do the right thing, even in the face of overwhelming odds. She must break tradition and accepted social rules to save not just her people but all of humanity. It is an overwhelming role. In the graphic novel Nausicaa finds herself sinking under its weight.

But the film doesn’t have the time or inclination to really dig into that part of the story. Instead Nausicaa is presented as nearly perfect. She never seems to doubt, never seems to waver and rarely seems to be wrong about anything. She is guided by her own virtue, and one that lines up with a prophecy mentioned in the early portion of the movie. In this way, she is a true mythic hero, one who must journey away from her home into the underworld of the fungal forest, and return with the knowledge to save humanity.

Nausicaa witnesses the horrors of war.
But this mythic status drains her of humanity (ironically). She seems too perfect, too knowledgeable and too gracious to be much more than MYTHIC HERO. But in a way, the whole film feels that way. It is a legend, with all the tropes and concepts in place. In fact the opening credits play over a tapestry showing what will be Nausicaa’s story already preserved as legend. What is interesting about Nausicaa is that she may be the least interesting character in the film, but she also went on to inspire many other characters who built off her base and grew into something greater.

For me the supporting cast of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind has always been more interesting. Yupa is a fascinating character. We hear a little of his travels and adventures. When he runs into enemies in the film, they all know him by an obviously impressive reputation. You want to know more about his mysterious swordsman.

Kushana unleashes the final phase of her plan
for conquest.
I also really like Princess Kushana. Her rationale for attacking the Valley of the Wind and attempting to harness the power of the terrible biological weapon all make sense once you hear her story. It becomes impossible to hate her, and she even turns into a valiant warrior of sorts. In the graphic novel she really gets to shine further during the political maneuvering of the second half of the saga.

But it really is Miyazaki’s direction that makes the familiar (and maybe overly familiar) story of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind work so well. The film is nearly two hours long, but it flies by as we join Nausicaa on her journey into the depths of the forest. The stunning visuals, the intense action scenes, and even the drama of the climax, that really doesn’t come as a surprise, all work together to make the film both entertaining and thought provoking.

Nausicaa may be perfect because she always seems to find the right answer for the hard questions, but those questions are ones we all must face. How far will you go to save your people? Would you kill innocents for them? Does revenge solve anything? Are humans supposed to control nature, or become supplicant to it? Do we even have a choice? Is hate really the only response to an attack? What if the attack is perfectly justified? Heavy stuff from a man who would later be best known for his child friendly films.

Featuring cast not appearing
in this film.
The film is well constructed, allowing the viewer to be pulled into the world and the story. The editing keeps everything moving along pretty well, which is why it seems a bit strange that the first North American release of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was heavily edited and renamed The Warriors of the Wind. The dub simplified things a bit, and several key sequences were completely absent (causing some major rewriting of the overall plot to occur). This was how I first saw this film, and to tell the truth, I found the movie very odd and kinda creepy (I was probably around ten or eleven when I saw it). The voice actress for Nausicaa (renamed Princess Zandra) always sounded too old for her character. The Ohmu were just plain monsters in this version. And the whole thing relied more on the post-apocalyptic setting then the original version. One of my favorite things about this version was the cover art, which featured a bunch of characters who aren’t even in the movie. Poor Nausicaa is relegated to the far right.

But even in this hacked up form, the visuals enthralled me. It was such a unique looking film that I remembered it, and Hisaishi’s score for the finale scene with the Ohmu for years afterward. When I got back into anime in the late 90s, the film came up in conversation. People were describing scenes that I recognized, but from a film with a completely different name. it was an odd discovery to find out that Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was considered an anime classic.

Nausicaa faces her fate, because it is the right
thing to do and the right time to do it.
I think it holds that title even today. It is the start of many themes, concepts, visuals and storytelling that Hayao Miyazaki would revisit and evolve over the decades. But more than a historical starting point, the movie is just plain entertaining. It shows what a great talent Miyazaki has and he would continue to improve as the years continued. Many consider Nausicaa’s film the pinnacle of his career. I don’t hold it so high, but man was it a great way to announce his presence to the world. His follow up, Castle in the Sky would take the animator in a familiar direction, but with a new twist.

Some more of the outstanding visuals from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

The mysterious swordsman, Yupa... and his
huge, huge mustache.
A small but might tank used by Kushana's forces.
If you see this coming at you... you're dead.
Nausicaa in a gunship over a vast army of rampaging
Kushana observes her ultimate weapon.
The details inside the cockpits is amazing.
Nausicaa gives this review a thumbs up!