When it comes to animated fairy tale or love stories, at least here in the west, Disney seems to have cornered the market. Everything ends happily ever after and no matter what good triumphs over evil. What would Shakespeare or the Ancient Greeks think of this? For every day there is a night. Love stories are as much about the pain and hardships of being authentic towards your true feelings. And in 1986, the year Studio Ghibli debuted Castle in the Sky, another film would show the strife and complexity of love, war and honesty. The beautiful shojo masterpiece known as Windaria.
Ask me what is the best animated film from Japan during the 1980s and I will always pick Windaria. Early Ghibli films are great, Akira was amazing and Macross: Do You Remember Love is my version of the Super Bowl, but Windaria is something special. Something very, very special. A product of my beloved Kaname Production, this 1986 gem is a film that is overlooked to the point of being a crime. I see it as an allegory of not following one’s truest desires or feelings and letting the environment dictate your life. It reminds me of a quote from an obscure movie about the composer Gustav Mahler, “Do things out of love and not duty, Duty destroys, duty always destroys.” And we see this concept through the eyes of two pairs of lovers caught up in a land on the brink of an impending war.
The first set of lovers are the more idealized in the tradition of fairy tale story telling. Princess Ahnas of Itha lives in a seaside paradise. She is carefree and beautiful, but she is also worried. Tensions with the neighboring kingdoms of Paro are begining to escalate. And this becomes a personal issue because she is in love with Jill, the prince of Paro. Neither of our young lovers want to see war and hope to create a bridge of peace, but much like Romeo and Juliet their star crossed love has a difficult road. And when the respective royalty on both sides pass their authoritative powers on, our couple has to decide which decision is of more importance. Is it their love and their hopes for the future, or their duty as members of the royal court to uphold their honors as heads of state?
Complimenting our royal duo is another young couple of more common origins. Izu and Marin are farmers in the neutral territory between Itha and Paro and their lives revolve around selling of their crops. primarily to Itha, and giving respect to their land by praying to the giant tree in their land known as Windaria. The one problem is with Izu, as he desires to be something more than a common farmer. His insecurity and angst shows his feelings that he is not good enough, but for Marin this is not the case. She loves him for who he genuinely is and cares nothing of what others expectations are. Despite this, Izu decides that he must do something to prove he is special and gets involved in the upcoming war. Just how this will this affect his relationship with Marin in the end?
Windaria is a tale of love and responsibility and in many ways is as I have stated above, the inverse of what a traditional Walt Disney film is. Our heroes have to face consequences for their actions and everything does not tie up nicely at the end. It is one of the saddest films I have ever seen, even on a par with Grave of Fireflies, but a little different. Even with all the tragedy, Windaria stands as one of the most beautifully made films in anime and what makes it that way is the gentleness that rides under the current of the madness. What we have is a cautionary tale, much like the true telling of The Little Mermaid, and often times the lessons we learn the hardest often are the ones that eventually make us open our eyes to see the beauty of what you truly have. Never forget the beauty of what you have in front of you and take care of yourself and your environment, because they are interdependent.
I will always hold Windaria high in my regard for the beauty of the story, the music, the haunting yet serene beginning sequence and the tear filled ending. Films like this only come to fruition on rare occasion and their impact is second to none. And lastly, thank you Kaname Production for producing this film. I have always loved the work you all have done and Windaria is a magnun opus you should be most proud of.
afternote: This has been released in the west as an edited film known as Once Upon a Time. I am not here to judge, but from what I have heard and read it is not a genuine retelling. Just be aware in case you come across a copy of this film with an English dub.