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Starting Point by Hayao Miyazaki

One of my recent Amazon purchases was this 500 page collection of writings by Hayao Miyazaki – Starting Point. As tantalizing as the idea of an autobiography sounds, Starting Point is nothing like that.  Rather, it is a collection of essays, speeches, and interviews written or done by Hayao Miyazaki between 1979 to 1996.  After reading it, you will know a heck of a lot more about the man and his views on some very diverse subjects.  On the other hand, if you’re looking for a cohesively structured book to read, you might be put off by the rather loose-fitting organization.

What I mean is that this is very literally a collection of writings – and this results in a lot of jumping around between subjects, a great deal of repetition (people often give similar anecdotes when being interviewed by different people), occasionally informal writing (during interviews), and only a faint chronological order keeping things organized.  On the other hand, if you’re as big of a Studio Ghibli fan as I am, these issues will pale in comparison to the enormous amount of insight you will gain into Miyazaki’s thought process.   If you’re looking to learn more about how his films are made, I don’t know if you will get a more in-depth answer elsewhere.  He discusses animation techniques, storyboarding, and other technical processes for pages and pages.  Also included are film proposals and interviews regarding his works, examined sequentially, though as the book stops in the late 90s, you won’t find any information about anything post-Mononoke.  These final sections are probably going to be of greatest value to Ghibli geeks, as there is nothing more satisfying than hearing from Miyazaki’s mouth his intent and purpose behind various films.  We see, for example, the depth of thought he puts into every film in his proposal for Mimi o Sumaseba (which Miyazaki wrote, then gave directorial duties to the late Yoshifumi Kondō):

It is easy to cynically declare that wholesomeness is a fragile concept, only possible if protected by others, or that true love can never occur in this era without serious challenges. Even if so, it seems to me that it also ought to be possible to express – in an even stronger, overwhelmingly powerful way-how wonderful the quality of wholesomeness is.   In our story there is a boy who loves working with wood. He also plays the violin himself. In the original story his grandfather dealt in antique art, but in the film we transform his attic room into a basement studio and make the grandfather someone whose hobby happens to be repairing old furniture and artwork, and who also occasionally likes to play music. And in the basement studio, the boys dream of making violins starts to take shape.

At a time when most children his age are avoiding the future, our young boy is living purposefully, focusing far into the future. So when our young heroine encounters such a boy, what happens? By posing such a question, what might have started out as a very ordinary shojo manga story can, if properly cut and polished, be transformed into something with a very contemporary quality.   By carefully preserving the purity of the world of the manga, we will be able to pose the question of what it means to live a full life today. By imparting a sense of ordinary reality to a single, idealized encounter, our film will boldly attempt to sing the praises of life’s beauty.

-Proposal for Whisper of the Heart

Beyond his discussions of his own works, we also get some interesting insight into his own life – both growing up as a young child as well as being a parent himself.  His description of his father, essentially a war profiteer, makes it clear that he lived his life without having much respect for his old man.  And yet, as a father now, and even after bringing joy to millions of children around Japan and the world, Miyazaki acknowledges his own failure as a parent, having invested most of his life into his work.  This was all revealed separately by one of his sons, Goro, as well, in blog posts during the making of Tales of Earthsea.

Among the other topics Miyazaki discusses (numerous times) is the state of the anime industry which surrounds him.  It is clear that Miyazaki has never felt any spiritual connection to the broader, television-based anime industry.  Here are two quotes:

In Japan today, animated TV shows filled with all kinds of fancy, robotlike ,mechanical creations are all the rage. I have certainly drawn lots of mecha, or mechanical things, myself. but the general theme in currently popular shows seems to be that the protagonist jumps on a giant machine he couldn’t possible have created on his own, battles the enemy in it, and then boasts about winning. I frankly hate these kind of shows. I don’t care what types of robots are featured. For me, in a truly successful mecha show the protagonist should struggle to build his own machine, he should fix it when it breaks down, and he should have to operate it himself. – Hayao Miyazaki, 1979

the hallmark of Japanese animation became works with a great deal of pretension, where vaporous and extremely deformed characters inhabited distorted and flashily colorized worlds, and where time was infinitely expanded.  Characters had to be depicted with serious expressions or, when they laughed, with cold, nihilistic smiles, because if shown truly laughing their facial designs would fall apart.  Female heroines usually had either, without any particular consistency, gigantic pupils or, when they screwed up, tiny dotlike ones...

He also speaks against the trend of presenting young female heroines as “pets” for audiences to fawn over (which is in clear view today with the large variety of childish, ditzy female characters on display).  Of course, these comments were all made by Miyazaki over ten years ago – one can only imagine the level of disappointment he must feel at the industry these days.

Overall, purchasing this book is really a no-brainer if you’re a Miyazaki fan.  If you’re only a mild Ghibli fan, however, you’ll still find a huge amount of value in Miyazaki’s discussions on animation, the industry, and Japan in general – though that repetitive nature will be a little off-putting.  It isn’t exactly an expensive purchase, however, so there’s really no excuse not to pick it up.

5 responses so far

All comments welcome. Don't mind the age of the post.

5 Responses to “Starting Point by Hayao Miyazaki”

  1. signorRossion Mar 27th 2010

    I might get this book too, but I wish it would contain more thoughts on the Nausicaa manga (one Amazon review stated that it doesn’t contain much about it). I really like this work, since it contains quite some good food for thought, especially in the last pages when Nausicaa argues with the crypt. How much is Mononoke Hime discussed in this book?

    P.S.: You still haven’t watched Kusuri-Uris adventures, haven’t you? 😉 😉

  2. Theowneon Mar 27th 2010

    Because of how loosely organized it is ,its hard to say exactly how much something is discussed. I mean, there’s a fifteen page chapter where he is interviewed about finishing the Nausicaa manga, but it comes up frequently in other interviews too. Overall, the writings on his opinions about other topics make up a greater part of this book than the witings on his own works. And relatively little Princess Mononoke is discussed, since the film wasn’t completed by 1996.

    I haven’t watched a single anime at all since my last review (no time!). Mononoke series is next on my queue =)

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