Studio Ghibli: 5 Ways Nausicaä Is Miyazaki’s Best Film (& 5 Ways It’s Spirited Away)

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Although both Nausicaä and Spirited Away are beloved Studio Ghibli movies, which one is Hayao Miyazaki’s best film?

With the Studio Ghibli streaming collection exclusively available on HBO Max, an entire generation of viewers can enjoy Hayao Miyazaki’s films easily and conveniently. While many Ghibli fans are probably more familiar with My Neighbor Totoro or Kiki’s Delivery Service, they also get a chance to watch his more underrated early films, like Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.

And while all of Miyazaki’s films are great, there are arguments to be made that Nausicaä could be his greatest film, but how does it stand up against Miyzaki’s world-renowned Spirited Away? Here are 5 ways Nausicaä is director Hayao Miyazaki’s best film and 5 ways it’s Spirited Away.

10. Spirited Away: Blend Of Traditional And Computer Animation

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a beautiful film and a triumph of animation. Unfortunately, the classic look of 1984 (the year it was released in Japan) may be lost on younger viewers who are used to children’s media dominated by computer animation. While Hayao Miyazaki’s films will likely never completely follow the computer-animation trend in one of his feature filmsSpirited Away is a gorgeous combination of traditional hand-drawn art of the characters and most of their surroundings, with enchanting computer-generated backgrounds.

9. Nausicaä: Famous English Voice Actors

While Pixar mainstay John Ratzenberger’s voice can be heard in Spirited Away, the rest of the cast are more familiar as famous voice actors, like Chihiro’s Daveigh Chase being the voice of Lilo in Disney’s Lilo & Stitch or Lin’s Susan Egan, who is perhaps best known as the voice of Megara in Disney’s Hercules.

8. Spirited Away: Whimsical

Being centered around a sullen, modern kid like Chihiro, Spirited Away makes for a more whimsical, fantastical story as she works for Yubaba to save her greedy, porky parents from becoming dinner. Even with such high stakes, the movie manages to stay light, heart-warming, and pretty adorable with all of Chihiro’s little sidekicks she picks up along the way. Nausicaä, on the other hand, is set in a poisonous, post-apocalyptic world, and while it is hopeful and insightful, the subject matter is still pretty heavy.

7. Nausicaä: Strong Political Themes

Nausicaä’s futuristic world, which was decimated by powerful weapons, was a dark omen for those growing up in the wake of atomic bombs and the Cold War, making the film highly political. The film marries greed, war, and the poisoning of the earth together in a way that, in the 1980s may have seemed like a hypothetical future, but right now in the 21st-century, it is a real threat with real-life consequences of putting power and profits over people’s lives and the planet.

6. Spirited Away: Kid-Friendly

While being kid-friendly isn’t a prerequisite for a great animated film, it certainly can help. With its plotline resembling beloved western children’s stories like Alice In Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, Spirited Away, despite all of its layered themes and sometimes scary imagery, is much easier to introduce to younger viewers than Nausicaä. 

And while Nausicaä has her little fox-squirrel companion, not even Teto can compare to the bevy of iconic side characters of Spirited Away, like Noh-Face, Boh, or Haku in dragon form.

5. Nausicaä: An Epic Film

Enormous insects. Toxic air. A dormant warrior weapon that once set the world on fire. A one thousand year legend come true. Everything about Nausicaä is on a grand scale, which makes sense as Miyazaki drew inspiration from Frank Herbert’s science-fiction novel Dune and the mid-20th century mercury poisoning of Minamata Bay in Kumamoto, a prefecture of Japan. The film is truly an epic and is highly ambitious in Miyazaki’s original world-building and detailed design. The Toxic Jungle alone puts it above Miyazaki’s other films.

4. Spirited Away: Wider Audience

While Nausicaä is important to Miyazaki’s catalog, it’s actually a pre-Studio Ghibli film and wasn’t properly dubbed into English until 2005, well after Spirited Away had stolen the hearts of millions and many major awards. For many English-speaking viewers and movie-goers, it was their open the door to Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki, and for some, even Japanese cinema. Nausicaä is exceptional, but, as mentioned before, it is fairly underrated. So not only does Spirited Away have a wider audience, but it’s also rated slightly higher on IMDB.

3. Nausicaä: Miyazaki’s Best Heroine

Miyazaki’s films are filled with a variety of amazing young heroines who always manage to do what’s right and save the day. While Chihiro is certainly a great protagonist, as she went from timid and whiny to self-assured and mature, there’s just something about Nausicaä.

In terms of bravery, intellect, compassion, leadership, and inspiration to everyone she meets, Nausicaä is a top tier Miyazaki protagonist. She leads with her heart and her brain, proving that the Ohmu are not the enemy of humankind.

2. Spirited Away: Oscar Love

While the vast majority of Miyazaki’s films are critically acclaimed and adored the world over, it wasn’t until the 2000s that Hollywood noticed his work. Not only is Spirited Away the only Japanese film to win an Acadamy Award for Best Animated Feature, but it is also the only winner in the category to not strictly be a computer-animated film. These are two impressive feats for Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, especially when you consider the Best Animated Feature category less than twenty years old.

1. Nausicaä: Miyazaki’s Personal Views

Miyazaki has incorporated his personal morals and beliefs into his films throughout his career, such as a strong environmentalist sensibility, imaginative flying machines, and anti-war sentimentOut of all of his films, Nausicaä encompasses these Miyazaki signatures most transparently, what with Nausicaä’s glider, the Toxic Jungle’s self-inflicted danger, and the doomed ambitions of the Pejites and the Tolmekians. Spirited Away‘s classic Miyazaki themes are more passive, like cleansing the River spirit in the onsen (bathhouse) or the Kohaku River’s fate.

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