The Art of Studio Ghibli

Although a Hayao Miyazaki fan for a few years now, I have only recently discovered The Art of… series from the Studio Ghibli Library. These books contain concept art and alternative sketches for many of the characters and locations from the film, and reveal the complex process of blending CGI with traditional animation, a technique used predominantly in more recent Ghibli creations. So far I have picked up The Art of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away and The Art of Howl’s Moving Castle, both of which offer interviews with the animators and artists along with high quality images. The level of detail found in the matte paintings is astonishing; the photos below give some idea (photos courtesy of Parka 81).

I have been an avid fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s work ever since I saw Porco Rosso several years ago. Although initially the films may appear to be directed at a younger audience, they offer plot complexities and a visual style distinct from  many Western offerings.

The polar opposites of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ so dominant and neatly defined in many American animated films are confused in the work of Miyazaki.  Seldom is the villain of the story vanquished with any sense of finality, and equally the hero characters are often shown to be flawed. There is something reassuring about this humanity, that the individual is not so easily cast as good or evil, but as a combination of positive and negative impulses. In Howl’s Moving Castle for example, the Witch of the Waste begins as an evil and cantankerous character, but slowly becomes a benign, senile and pitiful crone as her powers ebb away. This is a significant deviation from the book that inspired the film, Diana Wynne-Jones’ novel of the same title, and provides a kind of redemption for the arch-villain of the story. Here we see the Witch mid-transformation…

Perhaps the most prevalent and potent force in almost all of Miyazaki’s films is nature. It is cast as a positive force in the world, but at once terrible if mankind dares to provoke it. In Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, the first Studio Ghibli release, large parts of the world have been rendered uninhabitable ‘toxic forest’ by way of an all consuming human war. The enormous mutated insects are aggressive but misunderstood, only attacking when provoked by heavy handed human intervention. It is a message continued in Ponyo wherein the sorcerer Fujimoto, initially appearing as the villain of the story, is in fact attempting to redress the balance of the sea bed. His deep mistrust of human beings stems from the careless attitude with which they have treated the world around them, and the ensuing flood is perhaps a thinly veiled reference to the state of the world today. A waterlogged world is also present in Spirited Away…

I would be very interested to read the reactions of other Miyazaki fans so leave a comment if you have a spare moment. I hope I have managed to pique the curiosity of those unfamiliar with the work of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli – I recommend Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind to begin with, and I can guarantee that you will not regret it. The Art of… books from Studio Ghibli are available here.


One response to “The Art of Studio Ghibli

  1. This wiki page gives a good summary of Miyazaki’s themes:

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