When Studio Ghibli released the animated movie Spirited Away in 2001, it was a big day for Japanese anime. It won the Oscar for “Best Animated Feature” and even knocked Titanic off the top of the Japanese box office charts. What really added to the charm of Spirited Away, and what probably did a lot to win over the Western audiences, was the beautiful look of the film, created by director Hayao Miyazaki. The characters were well drawn and the background art was just stunning. The whole movie was a joy to look at and it really helped to raise the stature of Japanese anime in the eyes of Westerners.
One of the unfortunate things about Spirited Away (if you can really call it unfortunate) is that the story itself is so great that you don’t really get the chance to sit back and appreciate the artwork. I suppose it’s testament to Hayao Miyazaki and his team at Studio Ghibli that the backgrounds blended so well that you almost took the scenery for granted rather than it shouting at you and distracting you from the story. However, Studio Ghibli have given us the chance to appreciate all that fabulous artwork at our own pace in the book The Art of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.
What the book contains is a collection of concept art, character designs, and background art, as well as some actual still captures from the movie. This is more than just a random collection though. The art is arranged in a chronological fashion so that you can actually follow the story of the movie as you work your way through the images.
Often, the artwork is accompanied by comments from members of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away team, such as supervising animator Masashi Ando and art director Yoji Takeshige. The contributions from Ando and Takeshige add extra value to the artwork as they explain the decisions and processes that created it. For example, they might explain how a character was initially designed one way, but then modified to better suit director Hayao Miyazaki’s vision better.
The Art of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away isn’t just a fan book though. The technical details about colour selection and background art creation will be of interest to students of not just Japanese anime, but animation in general, who want to see how the masters do it. Spirited Away was Hayao Miyazaki’s first fully computer composite animated movie, so it created new challenges for the art team. However, in order to maintain the stunning Ghibli style, all the background artwork was still painted by hand before being scanned and processed by computer.
Anyway, the best way for you to really appreciated this book is to take a look at some more of the images from inside it. Believe me though, my photos on here can’t do justice to the real thing.
The Art of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is a lovely hardcover edition that measures about 12 inches by 8.5 inches, so it’s most definitely what you’d class as a “coffee table book”. However, calling it that somehow makes it seem too casual. Sure, it’s a lovely book to just flick through in a spare few minutes when you want a bit of a lift from the lovely pictures, but it’s really a book that deserves to be sat down with and really read. That’s the most satisfying option in my opinion.
If you loved the movie Spirited Away, if you love Japanese animation, or if you’re an aspiring animation creator who wants to see how one of the best in Japan does it, get yourself a copy of The Art of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. You won’t be disappointed.