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Two New Books Examine the Ingenuity and the Art of Hayao Miyazaki

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Hayao Miyazaki is a world-renowned animator from Japan. He directed his first feature The Castle of Cagliostro in 1979, and co-founded the animation production company Studio Ghibli in 1985. Miramax’s release of Princess Mononoke (1997) helped expand Miyazaki’s audience and notoriety. He is the recipient of the only Academy Award for Best Animated Feature given to an anime film, for Spirited Away (2001). Tying in with the release of his latest film, Ponyo, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Viz Media has released two books examining his work: Starting Point 1979-1996 and The Art of Ponyo.

Starting Point 1979-1996

As the title indicates, Starting Point covers the early years of Miyazaki’s career presented mostly from his perspective. The book opens with a series of very engaging and informative articles he wrote in 1979 about his process and techniques for Gekkan ehon bessatsu: Anim?shon, a Japanese animation magazine. They will be particularly valuable to those who wish to become animators even though the business has surely changed over 30 years.

The book contains a number of speeches Miyazaki gave. It was interesting to find him questioning his livelihood in a 1982 speech he gave at Waseda University, pondering whether children at the time needed forty animation programs to choose from in a week. He tells a sixth-grade class of “The Type of Film I’d Like to Create,” about bees from their perspective and gives an acceptance speech for the Japan Cartoonists Association’s Prize where he presents his “theories on the popularity of magna.”

The book also contains interviews; insightful pre-production work such as proposals and directorial memos for Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, and Porco Rosso; and articles about other art and artists like the Fleischer Studios, Fantastic Planet, and the Laserdisc liner notes for The Man Who Planted Trees and Ikiru. Sure to please collectors are even rarer items, such as a comic from a 1994 in-flight magazine for Japan Airlines, drawings from the 1981 Tokyo Movie FC Newsletter, and untranslated scrapbook pages.

In “On Animation and Cartoon Movies,” a section is titled “The only things I’ve been able to rely on are my own determination and ambition.” It serves not only as a declaration of an artist who blazed his own trail, but also serves as a wise life lesson for everyone no matter what their field of endeavor.

The Art of Ponyo

As Miyazaki explains, “Ponyo places Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” in a contemporary Japanese setting. It is a tale of childhood love and adventure” between Sosuke, a five-year-old boy, and Ponyo, a fish that turns human after tasting his blood. Her formerly human father, Fujimoto, is not pleased and seeks her return to the ocean and her fellow creatures.

This fabulous oversized book allows the reader see how the work came to life by presenting “concept sketches, concept art, backgrounds, character sketches and designs, and film stills” and concluding with the voiceover script. The concept sketches are all by Miyazaki working in watercolor and crayon. They are nearly as captivating as the finished film stills, which appear in varying sizes and are very impressive, rich in both color and imagination..

The book presents interviews by Katsuya Kondo, Supervising Animator; Noboru Yoshida, Art Director; Michiyo Yasuda, Chief Color Designer; Atsushi Okui, Director of Digital Imaging. Each one explains their responsibilities to the film and what was required in bringing Miyazaki’s vision to fruition.

In a 1979 article from Starting Point, Miyazaki stated the “one constant theme in my work: ‘To watch good animation, and then to make something that surpasses it.’” That sentiment appears to have been a driving force throughout his career as the unique imaginative worlds he has created clearly demonstrates.

While they have the most to offer an artist or animator, both Viz Media books are fitting tributes to Hayao Miyazaki for fans that want to learn more about him and his work.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • http://writer.fitzhome.com Fitz

    Great article. My youngest really liked Ponyo – might have to pick that book up!

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Thanks, Fitz. There’s also a Picture Book and a Magna Comic that may be more age appropriate

  • Jordan Richardson

    Must. Have. These.