We've been getting a ton of traffic lately because somebody discovered Hayao Miyazaki's Mononoke Hime image boards from 1980 (thanks, everybody!), and there has been a bit of confusion about this story and what it has to do with the 1997 Studio Ghibli movie of the same name. So I'd like to explain it all as best I can.
The period of 1979-1983 marks the bleakest days of Hayao Miyazaki's career. Future Boy Conan, his 1978 TV series at Nippon Animation, is today considered a classic, but at the time was not a great success. In 1979, he directed his first feature film, Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro, at TMS, or Telecom. Like Conan, Cagliostro is today widely regarded as a classic, but the movie was a failure at the box office. With Yasuo Otsuka, Miyazaki-san oversaw the final dozen or so episodes of the second Lupin television series, and directed two episodes himself, but under a pen name - very telling. In 1981, he worked on the Meitantai Holmes (Famous Detective Holmes, which is what Arthur Conan Doyle's stories are called in Japan), series at Telecom. Sherlock Hound, as it's known in the west, was scrubbed with only six episodes in the can. This would be Miyazaki-san's last work in animation for three years.
Also, during this time, Miyazaki was brought to America along with Isao Takahata, Yasuo Otsuka, and Yoshifumi Kondo, among others, to work on the joint American-Japanese Nemo movie project. It was a deeply frustrating experience for him, and eventually both he and Takahata withdrew and returned home. Probably the only good thing to come out of this experience is that Miyazaki met a young Disney animator named John Lasseter.
Anyway, back to Mononoke Hime. Miyazaki conceived of the story and drew the image boards in 1980, and pitched the story for an animated film. The project was rejected. Miyazaki, after all, had a number of "failed" projects on his hands, and the glory days of Heidi and Marco were in the rear view mirror and fading fast. It was becoming increasingly difficult to win funding for projects. So Mononoke Hime was shelved.
In 1983, Miyazaki published an art book titled, Hayao Miyazaki Image Boards. The 80-page book contains sketches for story ideas, models of flying machines that would eventually be used in later films like Castle in the Sky, and the complete image boards for two unfinished projects - Pipi Longstockings, and Mononoke Hime. This is the first time the original Mononoke (with the large Totoro-ish cat) is shown to the public.
A quick note about Totoro. According to the official art book, My Neighbor Totoro was originally conceived back in 1976 during the production of 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother. Miyazaki drew a number of image boards to flesh out story ideas, but it never really progressed very much. Whether he tried to pitch the story to producers is unknown. But it is known that Totoro was finally given the green light by piggybacking onto Isao Takahata's project, Grave of the Fireflies. This is why the two films were created simultaneously.
Years later, after the success of the Nausicaa rescued Hayao Miyazaki's career and led to the founding of Studio Ghibli, Mononoke Hime was published again, this time as a stand-alone picture book. This book was published in 1993, and it's the version that we now are reading today. The above photo is a 1997 printing that coincides with Ghibli's Mononoke film, which had evolved into an entirely different story than the original version.
Here are Miyazaki's (translated) notes from page 96 of the Mononoke Hime book:
The idea for Mononoke has been laying around on image boards (the first step to creating an animated film) since 1980. The studio didn't accept it so it was never animated.
I gave up on the idea for Mononoke, but I still wanted to make a historical story. But whenever I started to work on one, the idea of beauty and the beast kept coming to mind. Since I couldn't make a decent story come together, I decided to focus my attention back on Mononoke.
With the help of STUDIO GHIBLI's producer [Toshio] Suzuki, who agreed to publish this story, and the staff, who formatted my work for this book, the project was realized.
In the earlier versions, Mononoke was going to be changed back into a human, but I decided against it. The story is slotted to be made into a movie starting in 1994 and some changes may be made, but the ending will remain the same.
After the Mononoke film was released and became a blockbuster sensation in Japan (hurling Studio Ghibli into its "blockbuster era"), Miyazaki noted that he wanted to change the title of his movie, to reflect its change of focus into a pseudo-historical drama. Toshio Suzuki, however, insisted on keeping the original name, and so it stayed. And that's what you see with the photograph of the book at the top of this post. As for any connections between the two Mononoke's...there are a couple. But I'll write about that in a future essay.