Nausicaa: Valley Of The Wind (1984)
Years ago I was having a discussion about anime with one of my colleagues, and she told me that "Nausicaa - Valley Of The Wind" was her favourite anime. "That's a stupid name", I thought, "I bet its rubbish really". Well, I was wrong and she was right - Miyazaki's first movie under the studio Ghibli banner is a fantasy of the absolute highest order.
Set thousands of years hence, the human race is eeking out an existence around wastelands populated by all manner of alien plants and animals, all emitting deadly toxins. As if this wasn't a hard enough life, the different groups of humans are at war with each other. Nausicaa is a princess in the Valley Of The Wind, a tribe of pacifists who are closer to nature than most others. The movie is a tale of struggle, adventure and discovery - all with a strong environmental message. Those who have played the Final Fantasy games will recognise much here in terms of narrative and art style. In fact, there are quite a lot of similarities with the Final Fantasy movie, though the story here is definitely better constructed.
Miyazaki has always been an imaginative writer/director, and especially here. The world of Nausicaa is fabulously detailed and unique - like the best sci-fi and fantasy, Miyazaki has envisaged a whole history, ecology, sociology and technology... all of which is very well realised in the animation and art. He's also got a good eye for characters, and the various people you will meet in the world are all very well developed. Nausicaa herself is the centre of the story, and a fine embodiment of purity and virtue.
It isn't often you see a movie that is so well developed. Anime is a medium with some unique strengths when it comes to fantasy, and Nausicaa exploits them to the full. Even without the artistic license that animation provides, the story is one that is so strong it could have been placed in any environment and still made a wonderful movie.