Thoughts on Hayao Miyazaki's Starting Point

After running around and hassling every bookstore I could find, I finally came away with a brand-new copy of Hayao Miyazaki's memoirs, Starting Point 1979-1996. The book was released just yesterday by Viz Media, which publish all the Studio Ghibli books, so you can order it online at Amazon if you're feeling too tired to harass your local bookstore. But the bookstores should definitely be stocking this, seeing that Ponyo's arrival is next Friday.

I'm stating the obvious when I tell you that Starting Point is a spectacular book. Every Ghibli Freak in the English-speaking world should already be scoring their own copy, and maybe a couple more for gifts. I know I'll probably end up buying several copies for family and for Marcee. Consider it your responsibility as a Miyazaki fan to make this book a success, just as we're all going to work hard to ensure Ponyo becomes a success.

Viz Media should be congratulated for publishing Starting Point in the USA. Even though most of Studio Ghibli's movies are available here on DVD, most people are only familiar with Miyazaki's most recent work like Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, or My Neighbor Totoro. There's going to be a lot of head-scratching and confusion at all the discussions and essays about Horus and Heidi and Conan, and names like Otsuka, Kotabe, and Takahata.

The date on the title also gives away a bit of a secret: Starting Point was actually published in Japan in 1996, one year before Mononoke Hime was released and became a blockbuster phenomenon. I'm sure many fans will want to read Miyazaki's insights on that movie, or Spirited Away, and they're going to be disappointed. This anthology was written for a Japanese audience that followed Hayao Miyazaki since the '60s days at Toei Doga. And how many of the pre-Ghibli works are available commercially here in the States?

Ghibli Freaks - and you really have to earn that title, I think, you can't just be casual and half-asleep about it - will know all the films and series, from fansubs and imports. This is really where The Ghibli Blog pulls its weight....if I can be so bold. It's a great service that we're able to read about these older films and tv series, to be able to download fansubs and buy commercial DVDs. Thank God for the internet, that's all I have to say on the subject. Ahem, enough tooting my own horn, hah.

Anyway, my whole big point is that Starting Point is not a starting point at all, but requires a certain amout of familiarity with Miyazaki's long career. However, this should not discourage anyone; in fact, just the opposite, I think. If you're a new fan, you will discover a whole new realm for the first time, and you'll want to explore. Have I mentioned the Download and Buy sections on this blog?

Starting Point is an essential book for Westerns to understand Miyazaki. This really is the first anthology to seriously explore the man and his art, to really dig deep into his insights, his worldview, his history. I don't think most people, and particularly movie critics and scholars, look beyond the surface level of his films. They love Spirited Away and Ponyo and Totoro, yes. But there's still the expectation that these are nothing more than sophisticated kiddie cartoons and nothing more. I think this book is going to open up a lot of minds.

In fact, I'm very curious to see how this changes people's view of Studio Ghibli, of Hayao Miyazaki. This could be crucial in inspiring critical thinking. That remains my deep hope - this book will inspire, truly inspire readers to examine and think and question, to become active partners in the creation of the art.

My favorite segments from Starting Point so far: "The Power of the Single Shot," Miyazaki's discussion of Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru; his thoughts on the Fleischer Brothers; a controversial essay about Osamu Tezuka published after his death ("I Parted Ways with Osamu Tezuka When I Saw the 'Hand of God' in Him"); essays on his marriage; and a humorous essay on Isao Takahata, dubbed, "Descendent of a Giant Sloth." Takahata gets his revenge with his Afterword, and it's even funnier. I swear those two are the Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock of our time.


Parka said...

Nice review. I'll definitely be getting the book.

Michael Burns said...

I tried to pick it up from the Borders in Emeryville on my way to work - their computer showed one in stock - but after waiting 15 minutes only to be told "I can't find it," I decided to have my friends at Barnes & Noble order a copy for me. I'm appaled that nobody in either Emy or Sacramento has this in stock.

Doug said...

Got mine via Amazon yesterday (i preordered it). What a nice surprise on my doorstep. I'm steeped in another book so I didn't even leaf through it yet. Nice to have this one waiting for me next!

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Hayao Miyazaki remains a largely unknown figure to Americans, and Japanese anime is a small niche market. Books on the subject are very rare, apart from Susan Napier and Helen McCarthy's fine works.

I don't know what others' experience has been, but it has always been difficult for me to find the Art of...Ghibli books, and finding the 4-book, then 7-book Nausicaa manga required bouncing around countless locations. These books are just not stocked, which is unfortunate.

The best thing you can do is to tell your local bookstore that you want to see Starting Point in stock. Inform them kindly and politely that you will wish to buy copies for friends and family, and recommend the book to others.

Ideally, Hayao Miyazaki's book would be boldly displayed in the front of the Borders or Barnes and Noble, with the other new releases. Part of that is the responsibility of the publisher, especially now that Ponyo is about to be released in theaters. But we have a part to play, too.

Keep your spirits up, everybody. Consider this your warm-up exercise before the major push for Ponyo next week. "War is Over...if you want it."

Michael Burns said...

I worked at Barnes and Noble for six years. Miyazaki and Ghibli related books were always front and center in the film/animation/manga sections of the store, and we always had the "Art of..." books in stock. Having said that, I haven't worked there in almost a year, and I don't think my friends at the store are keeping it up like they used to.

James said...

Starting point is definitely on my "to buy" list.

There's another book out I've found on amazon called "Studio Ghibli: The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata" by Colin Odell and Michelle Le Blanc. I was wondering if you've read it.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

I have seen this book online, but I haven't read it yet. If it is a book that goes to depth, I would be happy to buy a copy, but if it's simply a list of their movies with a handful of words to describe each movie, then I would probably become frustrated and quit.

For me, the issue has always been to find others who understand and appreciate these great films. But the answer I always get back is a shrug and, "Uhh...I dunno." I hope that isn't the case with their book, but if it's a good an informative book, then you should definitely pick it up.

Anonymous said...

its strange but, for some reason i pre-ordered this book and it came a week early then its release date. The book is vary insightful and helpful for me personally.

Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks for sharing your thoughts on the book. I'm sick of how often it was being delayed by the publishers. Thank goodness they finally released it. Ever since I heard about Starting Point being translated into English, I've been eagerly anticipating it. I can't find the book anywhere in Australia, so I bought it from Amazon. Can't wait to read it!
Looking forward to Ponyo come August 27! Thanks, Christian

Doug said...

I've been working my way through this book and am finding it quite fascinating. I'm just a fan, but I think this book would be esp. useful to an animator or those involved with the craft as it delves into how things are done in the industry in Japan.

Its nice to get a better understanding of the man. I had this vision of him as the cranky old man type based on the few interviews I've read of his that were translated. However, Starting Point gives the reader a much broader view of the man; his humor, where his opinions come from, and how he and his studio really have charted their own course in the world of anime. I'm really digging it.

VinnyLT said...

I'll pick this book up as soon as i can. Wanted to ge it for Christmas but something came up. Looking forward to it.

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