Sketches, advice, and a lot of opinions, in this edition of Creations of Chaos, it’s the book of all things Hayao Miyazaki, Starting Point 1979-1996.
Starting Point is a collection of lectures, interviews, sketches, notebook entries, and articles, all featuring Studio Ghibli director, Hayao Miyazaki. Everything in the book includes Miyazaki’s early life as an animator up to the film My Neighbor Totoro.
My Favorite Parts
I would not be surprised if this book is used as a text book for teaching new animators. There is a lot of detail provided about the animation process. Apparently animating running is particularly difficult, especially if a character is running at the camera. I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to watch another animated film without analyzing the running, and as much as I found the drawing and cell painting parts interesting, I loved the story telling advice. Miyazaki compares great storytelling to a Christmas tree. In order for it to be something wonderful, you need a sturdy trunk, good branches, and dazzling baubles. The three main parts must be in balance. If your trunk is too thick, or you have too many shiny baubles, your story will not be wonderful. This is one of those little snippets of advice that will always stick me now that it has been read.
It was fascinating to learn that when Studio Ghibli begins a film, there is no script. They start with an idea that is turned into images. They create the pictures/storyboards, and then work in what they think the dialogue should be. Once they are done, then a tangible script is created. Though the films always have a writer designated, it’s more for legal purposes, creating the actual script is a collaborative effort.
The entire book is filled with inside stories and information concerning all of Hayao Miyazaki’s works such as Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and Kiki’s Delivery Service, and although I enjoyed learning about all of them, the information concerning My Neighbor Totoro delighted my heart. There is a section where Miyazaki shares his notes giving descriptions for the various characters. The descriptions are more beautiful than anything found in a novel.
Miyazaki said he wanted to create My Neighbor Totoro to encourage children to run outside, play in thickets, and peek under their porches. He wanted to make a film that was completely honest, that kids would enjoy. Where a lot of the other sections involving his films talk extensively about the animation, the Totoro sections emphasize the emotions and heart.
In many of the lectures and essays, Hayao Miyazaki talks about what films inspired him. The book caused me to add quite a bit to my must watch list.
Things Left Undone
In one of the interviews, Hayao Miyazaki talks about how he wanted to do more epic water effects in My Neighbor Totoro, but knew it would be too over the top for the story. As he described wanting to show a large typhoon and water ripples, it made me think of Ponyo and how after that interview, in the future, he was able to play with and realize those water effects he dreamed about.
There are also a number of other ideas scattered throughout the pages that never made it to the screen, and seeing that Hayao Miyazaki is now retired, I lamented over the beauty not created. It made me think about other artists. Artists always have a hundred ideas floating around in their heads. I wonder how many ideas float up into the clouds without ever being created.
Reading Your Heroes
There is of course a warning about meeting your heroes, and perhaps the same can be said about reading your heroes. Hayao Miyazaki is a man who is very firm in his opinions. He does not sugar coat. In one part of the book, after another well known animator in Japan passed away, Hayao Miyazaki was asked to offer what I can assume were supposed to be a few warm, lovely words concerning his peer’s passing. Hayao Miyazaki in so many words pretty much said, I didn’t really like his animation, and I didn’t like him.
He offers a lot of thoughts on other films. He rips the French animated film, Fantastic Planet, but states that he was happy that at least he got to see it for free. Much to my dismay, he has similar negative feelings towards The Dark Crystal and The Never Ending Story. Never, ever ask him about any animation that involves small mechanical crafts that join together to form a large robot.
I’m not a huge fan of small talk, and Hayao Miyazaki appears to be the same. I imagine that any conversation you had with him would be complex, intense, and you would learn a great deal. If I ever had the honor of speaking with him, we could converse about Japanese culture, nature, storytelling, but I’d stay away from discussing any films that were not his own.
Anyone who loves filmmaking, animation, or Studio Ghibli, will find this book interesting. I think that the average person just picking it up might find getting through it an arduous task. I enjoyed it, and look forward to reading the second book, Turning Point 1997-2008.