To Western audiences, Japanese animation still largely means the feature films produced by Studio Ghibli and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. And Western animation scholars also focus on Miyazaki and Ghibli extensively – just some recent examples include two of the four volumes published so far in Bloomsbury’s Animation: Key Films/Filmmakers series, the articles in the April 2018 “Introducing Studio Ghibli” issue of the East Asian Journal of Popular Culture, and a chapter on “excess and abnegation in Spirited Away” in the essay collection Devouring Japan: Global perspectives on Japanese culinary identity. And now, one of the world’s most prominent English-language academic publishers is adding to this list.
Napier, Susan. Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.From the publisher:
“Japanese culture and animation scholar Susan Napier explores the life and art of this extraordinary Japanese filmmaker to provide a definitive account of his oeuvre. Napier insightfully illuminates the multiple themes crisscrossing his work, from empowered women to environmental nightmares to utopian dreams, creating an unforgettable portrait of a man whose art challenged Hollywood dominance and ushered in a new chapter of global popular culture.”
The first English-language book on Miyazaki – Helen McCarthy’s Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation, is now almost twenty years old. So, an update is definitely welcome – especially one by an author such as Napier, the Goldthwaite Professor of Rhetoric in the Department of International Literary and Cultural Studies, Tufts University – and probably the one person in the U.S. who can justly claim the title of “anime expert”. Her 1993 Panic sites: The Japanese imagination of disaster from Godzilla to Akira was the first article specifically on anime published in an English-language academic journal that I have been able to identify, and other major articles/chapters she has authored include “Vampires, psychic girls, flying women and Sailor Scouts: Four faces of the young female in Japanese popular culture” (1998), When the machines stop: Fantasy, reality, and terminal identity in “Neon Genesis Evangelion” and “Serial Experiments Lain” (2002), Matter out of place: Carnival, containment and cultural recovery in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2006), and “From spiritual fathers to Tokyo Godfathers: Depictions of the family in Japanese animation” (2008). Napier’s best-known work is Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation, the first English-language book on anime from a major publisher, originally published in 2001, and updated in 2005 as Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle, and she has repeatedly taught a Special Topics seminar on Miyazaki and his works at Tufts.
The approach that Miyazakiworld takes is largely evident in its subtitle – the book examines the twelve films that Miyazaki directed – from Castle of Cagliostro to The Wind Rises, as well as the Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind manga, as a whole, and highlights the commonalities between them, the common – even shared – themes and images. Napier makes a particular effort to specifically connect the works themselves to Miyazaki’s own personal history and experience and to point out the many sources from both Japanese and Western literature and other media that have inspired him. In this, she draws on the full range of available English-language writing, but also, on Japanese scholarship and commentary, and most importantly, on actual interviews she was able to conduct with Miyazaki himself – so, in this way, Miyazakiworld is also invaluable as a primary source.
Miyazakiworld has already received positive reviews in Publisher’s Weekly and, interestingly – and unusually for this kind of book, in the Washington Post. And at this point – and especially given its very reasonable cover price in the era of $100 academic monographs – I think it is likely to become the go-to English-language work on Miyazaki, the one that is used in classes, cited, referred to – and most importantly, read by anyone who is interested in Hayao Miyazaki and his work.