Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation
 Helen McCarthy
Language: English Release: 1999
Publisher: Stone Bridge Press Pages: 240
Genre: Non-Fiction ISBN: 1880656418

Preview: Order
(Page previews barred by copyright)
Back Cover
Nicholas Driscoll

Hayao Miyazaki is easily the most famous Japanese animation director worldwide—and for good reason. Miyazaki co-created the legendary Ghibli Studios, one of the finest animation studios in the world, and his visions of fantasy and wonder have captivated audiences (and turned a heady profit) for decades, as well as creating some of the most iconic imagery in the Japanese canon of media, typified by the extreme and enduring popularity of Totoro, a bear-like fantasy creature from Miyazaki's classic 1988 film My Neighbor Totoro. His eidetic fantasies and heart-felt storytelling has become beloved the world over.

Due to his popularity, it should come as no surprise that there have been several English-language books written about his body of work, including a translation of a number of his essays, and the textbook exploration of his craft, Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation by London-based anime expert Helen McCarthy.

The book is split into nine main sections, starting with a detailed biography of Miyazaki, which includes a helpful look into what it takes to create a Ghibli animated film, and such nuggets as the origin of his studio’s name (“Ghibli” is the name of a “strong Saharan wind,” but, more to the point, is also the name of one of Miyazaki’s favorite Italian airplanes—of course). The next seven chapters are each devoted to one Miyazaki-directed film each, from Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979) to Princess Mononoke (1997). The final chapter, then, looks at some of Miyazaki's other works, and the world of Ghibli-themed merchandise—including a tidbit on how Totoro merchandise is so lucrative that all the studio's expenses could be covered on Totoro merchandise profits alone (at least in 1999)!

The bulk of the book, however, focuses on individual movies, which are given in-depth coverage and analysis. Each movie-centric chapter begins with background information in which the origins of and reaction to the film (source material, inspiration, art and technique, critical reception) are covered. This is followed by a section devoted to the characters appearing in the film, in which each character is given a brief bio. Finally, McCarthy provides a critical analysis/commentary on the film, exploring themes and interpretations. Each of these chapters runs about twenty pages long, which is enough space to include copious interesting information and a robust literary exposition. However, given that each chapter includes a “characters” section as well as a “commentary” section, inevitably some of the prose becomes somewhat redundant. Nevertheless, McCarthy is a capable writer, and her research into interviews and source material provide much of interest about each film. Her literary analyses are capable as well, and easy to follow. Obviously, she is a huge fan of Miyazaki, though, so her views tend to give an especially rose-tinged perspective on all of his work.

Unfortunately, the scope of the book is fairly limited. Miyazaki was heavily involved in a number of other films that could have merited inclusion, such as the excellent Whisper of the Heart (1995), for which he wrote the screenplay and directed the fantasy sequence. These films and projects are covered ever-so-briefly in an appendix, but do not receive much commentary. Also, the book is sorely in need of an update. Miyazaki's most famous film in the West today is probably still Spirited Away (2001), but this book was published before the Academy Award winning film was released. Of course, later Miyazaki-directed films like Ponyo (2008) and The Wind Rises (2013) are also not included.

Nevertheless, McCarthy's book is professionally written with energy and interest, and is a fine introduction to the art and work of a fantastic director. The book is also liberally endowed with pictures from the films (though, unfortunately, most of the pictures are in black and white), which provide some good context for the prose. Unlike many Godzilla-related books I have subjected myself to, Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation is a fine resource for fans and critics alike, and merits an easy recommendation.