Warriors of the Wind: Tales From the Overlook Hotel

Since we're talking about Nausicaa today, I thought it would be a good time to pull out everybody's favorite chestnut of cartoon cheese: Warriors of the Wind. This is the 1985 US release of Hayao Miyazaki's classic movie, famously butchered and chopped into little pieces, like murder victims at the Overlook Hotel. It was despised by its creators, hated by anime aficionados, and widely derided for decades to come. Yet, despite all of this, it did build a small cult following of fans who would one day grow up to become diehard Ghibli Freaks.

Warriors of the Wind isn't merely a bad Nausicaa dub with a few edits. Almost one quarter of the movie was removed, including crucial story elements and plot points. Characters names were badly changed ("Princess Sandra"). The title of the movie was completely changed. Most famously, the movie poster featured a roster of heroes from various sci-fi and fantasy movies, none of whom actually appear in the movie. The poor heroine is stuck in the background, wearing a Star Trek miniskirt and looking very confused.

How could such a thing happen? It's important to understand just how different the movie landscape all those years ago. In 1985, Japanese animation was widely disrespected in the US, relegated to the status of, ugh, "Saturday Morning Cartoons." They were regarded as vastly inferior to the classic animated features of Walt Disney "Japanimation" was looked down upon as junk, at a time when "Made in Japan" was still a punchline.

In those days, our exposure to anime was extremely limited. Astro Boy, Speed Racer, Star Blazers. We had access to a small handful of TV cartoon shows that were very strange and very different, more like comic books than the Bugs Bunny and Hanna-Barbara cartoons that filled our screens. Most kids shrugged and changed the channel. A few lucky ones would sit down and watch and become fans. Most parents couldn't be bothered, unless they somehow stumbled onto the violent anime features, at which time they completely freaked out.

In this environment, with this understanding, it makes a good deal of sense why New World Pictures, the US distributor, would take an axe to the Nausicaa film. There was no constituency for the title, no mainstream audience, no homegrown anime community to draw upon. The only market for animation were small children who wanted to see Saturday cartoons on the big screen, and their parents who couldn't understand why they just couldn't be happy watching Road Runner at home for free.

Who else would want to see a movie such as this? What about the sci-fi and fantasy fans? They skew a little bit older, usually teenagers or early college students. Maybe they'll show up if we convince them this movie fits into their scene. And so we'll add characters from Dune and Clash of the Titans and maybe some robots with lightsabers. Who cares? They'll likely just be stoned, anyway. Just hurry up and take their money before they sober up.

It's funny how nobody cops to being involved in this movie project. June Foray was rumored to have played the lead, Princess Zandra (ugh), but she flatly denied it when asked. There's another character who sounds just like Bullwinkle. Another character sounds like one of the Ninja Turtles. It was probably one of those jobs where you walk into the booth and record everything on the first take during lunch break. "Hey, hey, this is talking Krusty." That sort of thing.

It's 1985. What did you think would happen? It would be several years before Akira would be unleashed on the Americans, marking the first real sea change in how "Japanimation" was accepted. It would take many more years of hard work and struggle to achieve any kind of acceptance. Even today, anime remains very much a niche genre. The Studio Ghibli movies have only barely registered on US movie screens -- Hayao Miyazaki's last movie, The Wind Rises, barely earned five million dollars, and the man has won two Academy Awards.

Thankfully, anime is given enough respect today that an atrocity like Warriors of the Wind would never happen again. But it's still a struggle for acceptance.

Have you ever seen the 1985 TV commercial for Warriors of the Wind? Here it is...brace yourselves:


Stephen John Smoogen said...

OMG, I remember seeing that video cover at the VCR store and never put the 2 together until now. Thank you for that moment of cheese.. I am so sorry for the creators to have been put through that.

[The sound effects from the commercial are ... wow.]

Christopher Sobieniak said...

I can never get tired of this!

I believe "Otis Campbell" himself, Hal Smith, played Yupa in this version. There's a few other familiar VA's of Saturday morning among the cast if you can spot them easily (apparently June Foray has said she didn't work on this despite how nearly similar that voice is). I know Cam Clarke did "Milo".

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