Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation

McCarthy, Helen. Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation. Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 1999. 239 pages.
ISBN: 1-880656-41-8

I needed this book. Having dabbled in anime, and enjoying good film-making in general, it's no surprise I became a die-hard fan of just about anything produced by Studio Ghibli (of which Miyazaki is the founder). But there's something about owning a paper-and-ink, honest-to-god BOOK on the subject. It's a way of affirming your fandom, I suppose.

So, is it any good? Sure. But it isn't GREAT, and somebody who possesses the genius and style of Miyazaki, as far as I'm concerned, deserves a great book.

The British author, Helen McCarthy, first discovered the works of Hayao Miyazaki in 1989 when two friends, both of them fans of anime, lent her a tape of My Neighbor Totoro. After watching several other films of his, starting with Laputa: Castle in the Sky, she discovered, as have many others, the great ability with which the director can handle nearly any genre. Is was then that she decided to write this book.

To her credit, Helen McCarthy has done a lot towards creating a literary gateway into the world of anime. She has written, among others, Anime! A Beginner's Guide to Japanese Animation, The Anime Movie Guide and co-authored The Anime Encyclopedia. The latter, however, received flak for editorializing in the supposedly encyclopedic entries. There were also a number of factual errors. I suppose this book could be accused of playing favourites as well, since it never points out any flaws in Miyazaki's movies. Of course, it could also be argued that they HAVE no flaws.

Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation starts us off with eight pages worth of color photos. Now, these are the only color photos you're going to find in the book, which is a pity seeing as Studio Ghibli films are renouned for their excellent artwork. Not only that, but some movies are treated with two or more profilings, and others are totally neglected. Finally, the scenes chosen aren't really all that awe-inspiring (with the one obvious exception of the two-page spread of O-Totoro flying over the forest with Satsuki and Mei clinging to his belly).

We're then treated to a pretty decent biography of Miyazaki - his early life and first influences, following through to his first big jobs an eventual founding of Studio Ghibli. Puzzlingly, an 8-page "Guide to Animation Technique" is thrown right into the middle of all this. Why it wasn't given a section of its own is utterly baffling.

What comes next is a profile of Miyazaki's major works from Castle of Cagliostro to Princess Mononoke. Although pleasantly nostalgic, there isn't really any substance here. The "Art and Technique" sections have little or nothing to do with either art or technique, "Characters" hardly goes into any depth, "Story" is, well, the story, and the ending commentary doesn't really provide any sort of meaningful interpretation of the film. Overall, the author simply indulges in gushing over each film, which is all fine and good, just as long as I'm not paying to have it published.

The last chapter, "The Miyazaki Machine", does have some fun tidbits. Otherwise, however, it's essentially obsolete, seeing as it speculates on a future we already know. To give you an idea of when this was published relative to movie releases, Spirited Away was entering early production when it written; Chihiro's name hadn't even been decided upon yet.

All in all, there's not much here to surprise a seasoned Ghibli fan, and even less that can't be found on Nausicaa.net, by far the most extensive English-language Miyazaki fansite on the web. I don't doubt that a better account of the Master and Studio Ghibli can and will be written sometime in the future. Just the same, this is something you won't mind having on your bookshelf if you're as much in love with their work as I am. I don't think you can ever really be "Jiburi ga Ippai".

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