Book Review: The Art of Spirited Away

Authors: Hayao Miyazaki

Translator: Yuji Oniki

Publication Date: 2002 (2011 ed.)

Publisher: Viz Media

Pages: 240 pages

Miyazaki #9

Hello again everyone! Today, we’re going to be continuing the Ghibli book review series with the next entry, The Art of Spirited Away. My life has escaped again and I’m busy trying to catch it, so The Incredibles is still on pause for now – but I do have a week off coming up, so perhaps that’ll be my chance!

We begin with a short bio on director Hayao Miyazaki, followed by an introduction from the man himself, entitled “Chihiro’s mysterious town – the Aim of This Film”. I’ve always appreciated this introspective aspect of the Ghibli art books, as I feel it’s something that gets overlooked in books from other studios; Miyazaki offers some fascinating reflections on the essence of his work and what makes Chihiro so compelling as a heroine, discussing the themes of self-reliance and the power of words that he wanted the film to express.

From here, we move on to “Hayao Miyazaki Concept Sketch Collection”, which is exactly what it says on the tin. One of the most striking sketches, an intricate design of the bathhouse as seen from the ground, is featured as the book’s cover. It’s a really gorgeous chapter, allowing you to linger over Miyazaki’s evocative use of colour and linework to express the mood of each scene and character.

Miyazaki #11

Next comes the meat of the book: “Concept Art, Backgrounds, Character Designs”, arranged in story order. Supervising animator Masashi Ando and art director Yoji Takeshige provide commentary for this terrific chapter, peppering it with their thoughts on the influences and techniques which helped to shape the film. I don’t normally like it when art books fill up space with cels from the finished film, but in this case, the backgrounds are so vibrant and glossily printed that I can make an exception. This is Spirited Away, after all! If I had to nit-pick anything, there are perhaps a few too many double-page spreads devoted to blown-up shots of the characters over summaries of the plot, which could have been better used to feature some more interesting artwork, but that’s hardly a big issue.

Miyazaki #10

After this section comes an interesting chapter, “The Making of Computer Graphic Digital Images”, with commentary provided this time by director of images Atsushi Okui and digital animation supervisor Mitsunori Kataama. It opens with an introduction explaining Miyazaki’s “policy for digital” and how computers were used specifically to enhance the film’s beauty and colour palette. Then, as with previous books, some of the film’s key effects moments are broken down and discussed (there’s even an explanation of how my own favourite shot, the house outside the train window, was made). All of the Ghibli books so far have had this section devoted to the tech behind the films, but it never feels dull or superfluous.

Miyazaki #12

At the back of the book, we then get the full English screenplay – which was adapted by Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald H. Hewitt – followed by the book credits. Once again, I really don’t know why these are included, although in this case it does make you realise just how impactful the film manages to be with so little dialogue. At the end of the section, there are also four more mini bios on Ando, Takeshige, Okui and Kataama, a nice touch, as the other artists can easily be overlooked in the shadow of the director.

This was the first Ghibli art book in my collection many years ago, and it remains one of my favourites thus far. Bright, nicely produced and informative just like its other Viz Media brethren, The Art of Spirited Away is brimming with the same vibrancy and colour that makes Miyazaki’s film so visually extraordinary. It’s a must-have for fans and collectors of his work, so be sure to check it out if you haven’t already!

Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you’re enjoying the book reviews. I swear I’ll try to produce something more substantial when I can, but I’m having fun going through my library for these shorter pieces in the meantime. I’m also thinking of expanding my collection with some new titles, so please watch this space! Until next time, take care and staaay animated!

Buy it on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Miyazakis-Spirited-Studio-Ghibli-Library/dp/1569317771/ – UK

https://www.amazon.com/Art-Spirited-Away-Hayao-Miyazaki/dp/1569317771/ – US

https://www.viz.com/read/studio-ghibli-library/section/45178/more – Viz Media’s page for Ghibli products

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