Book Review: ‘Hayao Miyazaki’

Hayao Miyazaki catalogue, copublished by DelMonico Books and distributed worldwide by D.A.P. Artbook. (Cover art, left): Imageboard, My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Hayao Miyazaki, © 1988 Studio Ghibli
Hayao Miyazaki
Published by the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, in collaboration with Studio Ghibli in Tokyo.  Co-published with DelMonico Books and distributed worldwide by D.A.P. Artbook.
Hardcover, 288 pages.
List Price: $49.95 for non-members, Museum Member Price: $44.96.  Available through the Academy Museum Store website.

[A pdf of this book was provided by the Academy Museum for review purposes without restriction on thoughts or opinions.]

In conjunction with the September 30th, 2021 opening of the long-awaited Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, the museum’s publishing program has created a debut catalog for one of its inaugural exhibits, Hayao Miyazaki.

HAYAO MIYAZAKI Photo by Nicolas Guerin

The book documents the exhibit which illuminates the history, thoughts, and process of the famed animation auteur through a look at all his major works, most of which were done under the auspices of Studio Ghibli, which he co-founded.  This marks the first retrospective for the filmmaker ever exhibited in North America and contains hundreds of pieces of production artwork never previously seen outside of the Studio Ghibli archives.

Imageboard, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), Hayao Miyazaki, © 1984 Studio Ghibli

The pictures range from impossibly cute mystical characters to gorgeous backgrounds to painstakingly detailed aircraft and illustrate the labor-intensive process Miyazaki uses to bring his masterpieces of animation to life.  Unlike the more committee-oriented approach most Western animation studios take, Miyazaki commonly conceptualizes, writes, and storyboards his whole film himself before getting the rest of the studio involved.

Imageboard, Porco Rosso (1992), Hayao Miyazaki, © 1992 Studio Ghibli

The book also contains a number of informative texts from scholars, critics, and associates of Miyazaki, including one by Pixar Chief Creative Officer and Director Pete Docter.  While those by Academy Museum Exhibitions Curator Jessica Niebel do an admirable job of explaining the various art pieces and how they fit in the filmmaking process, Docter’s article “Fantasy in the Familiar” talks more about Miyazaki from an animator’s perspective.  He describes his impressions of the studio from when he went to visit Miyazaki in Japan, and his admiration for the effective way Miyazaki grounds his fantastical stories with characters who respond believably to unbelievable events.

Miyazaki’s attention to detail is attributed to his great powers of observation and memory which allow him to reproduce so many aspects of life convincingly.  This is also touched on by producer and Studio Ghibli co-founder Toshio Suzuki’s forward “Hayao Miyazaki’s Powers of Visual Memory” which also paints a more personal picture of the animator.  Brilliantly talented, opinionated, and somewhat irascible, Miyazaki is described as a person intensely concerned with both the state of his work and the world at large.  Concerned with the welfare of his studio employees (he would hire animators as long-term staff versus contractors like most studios did) he tended to also be as demanding of them as he was of himself–as many high-achieving creatives throughout history have been.

Background, Spirited Away (2001), © 2001 Studio Ghibli

Cologne-based journalist and film critic Daniel Kothenschulte takes a wider look at Miyazaki’s oeuvre in “The Rise of the Miyazaki Medium” with particular attention to how his work and that of Western animation reflects and influences each other.  Miyazaki’s opinion of Disney animation seems to tend towards admiration for the technical and artistic breakthroughs it made throughout the years, with The Old Mill, Snow White, and Pinocchio being highlights, while running lukewarm on what he considered overly-simplistic storylines and characterization.

Key Animation, Porco Rosso (1992), Hayao Miyazaki, © 1992 Studio Ghibli

Hayao Miyazaki is a beautiful book that gives a lot of informative insight into one of the master animators of our times.  It is well worth the time for anyone interested in animation and the people and processes that create it.

Film Still, My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Hayao Miyazaki, © 1988 Studio Ghibli

The exhibit Hayao Miyazaki will open with the Academy Museum on September 30, 2021–timed tickets can be purchased in advance at the Academy Museum website:

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Jeanine resides in Southern California, pursuing the sort of lifestyle that makes her the envy of every 11-year-old she meets. She has been to every Disney theme park in the world and while she finds Tokyo DisneySea the Fairest Of Them All, Disneyland is her Home Park... and there is no place like home.

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