- Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art by Susan Napier
For over 50 years, Miyazaki Hayao has been inviting audiences into his astonishing animated worlds. These worlds have ranged from the fantastical and far future to the historical and everyday life. Each has been populated with human characters and creatures that are by turns surprising, inventive, and instructive. Susan Napier's new biography of Miyazaki invites the reader into these worlds, using the director's life and history to frame a discussion of what she terms "Miyazakiworld": "the immersive animated [End Page 213] realm that varies delightfully from film to film but is always marked by the director's unique imagination" (p. x).
Napier's exploration of Miyazakiworld is warm and inviting, and her narration of Miyazaki's worlds is accessible and compelling, never shying away from potential controversies or contradictions within Miyazaki's work. She even notes that "Miyazakiworld" can vary across time and place, noting a particular thread in his films that she describes as "Miyazaki's cherished Euroworld" (p. 247), revealed in his tendency of setting films in fantastical versions of European cities, which he mixes and matches to create a fanciful, often historical setting for his stories. Napier demonstrates how Miyazaki created many of his film worlds based on his own European travels, thereby connecting the director's world building to his experience of real places. As this example suggests, Napier is at pains to show how Miyazaki has related personally and professionally to the worlds depicted in his films. She constructs her account through reference to a wide range of Japanese primary and secondary source materials, English-language scholarship, and even a personal interview with Miyazaki. In taking this approach, Napier draws together a huge body of materials into a coherent narrative that spans from Miyazaki's birth, to his entry into filmmaking at Tōei Animation, to the formation of Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki's multiple retirements over the past 20 years.
Miyazakiworld is unquestionably an important book and a significant step forward in the nascent field of anime studies. Napier's 2000 monograph on anime titled Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke was one of the first scholarly steps in the creation of anime studies, and since that time her work has continued to enrich our understanding of anime at home and abroad. The field of anime studies itself has been developing along with Napier's career. It began with the work of fan-critics, finding an intellectual home in area studies and then moving beyond this into film, television, media, and animation studies more broadly. It has been dominated by textual analysis, the best of which is found in Napier's books, but the field has now blossomed to incorporate everything from studies of media franchising to media philosophy.1 However, to date, Napier's Miyazakiworld offers us the first academic biography of a Japanese animator. As such, this book's publication sets the standard for future work of this type.
As a biography, there is much to admire here: from Napier's careful attention to key moments in Miyazaki's life and her reflections on how they have shaped his filmmaking aesthetics and themes, to the way Miyazaki's personal relationships with others have shaped his studio over time. She tells [End Page 214] surprising stories about Miyazaki's temperament, especially his tendency to explode and then apologize. However, this is not a traditional biography. Although Napier has interviewed Miyazaki, this biography does not have the kinds of scandalous revelations about the director's personal life that one might expect from a more standard or populist work. Instead, Napier uses discussions of Miyazaki's life to enrich her analysis of his films, and to give us a sense of how Miyazaki's worldview has changed over time. While at times this process leads Napier to read the director into his characters in slightly psychoanalytical fashion, she always maintains a careful distance from and skepticism about her subject.
The true strength of this book is Napier's engaging written style...