Starting Point

Starting Point is often technical, and frequently curmudgeonly, as one might expect from a collection of essays, articles and speeches by the Oscar-winning Hayao Miyazaki. The book spans a critical two decades, beginning when he was a busy but unknown anime director, and ending as he prepared to release his acclaimed Princess Mononoke.

A welcome change from press-release puffery and anodyne publicity interviews, Starting Point offers an unwavering glimpse of Miyazaki’s white-hot intellect and ardent creative beliefs. A recurring theme is his seething hatred for television, the medium that paid the bills during his twenties, while leeching much of the creativity from the anime world. Miyazaki is fiercely critical of the production line system instituted in the 1960s, and rues the day anime stopped being an organic, evolving process, in which artists would snicker over storyboards like comics, before working them up into sketches. By the time he left TV in disgust to make Castle of Cagliostro, animators were just the guys who painted and traced, relentlessly working on a sausage-machine of production, with creativity left to nobody but a paltry handful of senior staffers. And even they were trapped within the confines of budgets, advertisers, and stuffed shirts whom Miyazaki has no qualms about calling stupid.

But that’s half the fun in a beautifully produced, intensely brainy collection of rants and raves from the undisputed master of modern Japanese animation, rendered even stronger by a peerless translation from Beth Cary and Frederik L. Schodt. If one must quibble, a bitty compilation like this, brimming with reportage and incident, really ought to have an index. But even so, this is a mandatory purchase for the serious anime fan.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This review first appeared in SFX Total Anime #3, 2010.