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.