I bought Starting Point at the beginning of this year as material for a research paper I was writing on three of Hayao Miyazaki's films. Since then, I have read the entire thing and reread multiple portions of this extraordinary book. It became an invaluable resource for me as I wrote my paper, but it was also a very enjoyable and personal book. Over the course of the weeks it took me to finish it, I felt like I actually got to know Hayao Miyazaki. As I told several people, Starting Point is definitely the best book I have purchased in a very long time, and so far it is the best thing I have read this year. With all the wonderful essays, interviews, directorial memos, and even drawings it contains, I'm surprised there hasn't been more hype about it. It is an absolute must-read for any Miyazaki fan. I can't believe we had to wait more than fifteen years for this book to be translated and published in the United States (it was first published in Japan in 1996).
The book, which is nearly 500 pages long, has been divided into several parts and includes a foreword by John Lasseter (director of Toy Story) and an afterword by Isao Takahata (director of Grave of the Fireflies). The first part, entitled "On Creating Animation" is perhaps the most technical part of the book. Even though many of Miyazaki's thoughts on animation and film techniques were a bit over my head, I still enjoyed reading those chapters and thinking about them. Miyazaki's writing style is simple enough that I didn't feel swept away by too much jargon or overly-technical terms. For filmmakers and those interested in how animation works, this part of the book will be fascinating. The second part, called "On The Periphery of the Work" was similar to the previous section in that it contained chapters about animation techniques. However, Miyazaki mainly writes about his thoughts on various animated films. He also includes some very short essays like "The Tokyo I Love" that almost feel like journal entries. Part three, "People", is full of essays about individuals who have helped, inspired, and even irritated Miyazaki. Two of my favorites are "I Left Raising Our Children To My Wife" and "My Old Man's Back." These are both very vulnerable essays about some of the people closest to Miyazaki, and reading them almost brought tears to my eyes.
"A Story in Color" and part of "My Favorite Things" give the reader a short break from the text with a comic and some illustrations. "Dining in Midair" is a charming and sometimes amusing comic about the history of in-flight dining. Scrapbooks No. 1 - 3 in the beginning of "My Favorite Things" display some pictures of flying machines, tanks, and cars, and also a very short illustrated story called "I Want A Garden Like This." Then we are back to more essays for the remaining part of "Favorite Things." My favorite essay in this section is "My Random Thoughts Notebook Is My Hobby." This one made me laugh because I expected it to be an essay about Miyazaki's random thoughts notebook. However, it was simply a piece full of disjointed thoughts, memories, and observations.
"Planning Notes; Directorial Memoranda" was a nice inclusion and the directorial memos were fun to read. For those who want more details about some of their favorite Miyazaki films like Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, and Princess Mononoke, this section is for them. Although the memos are fairly short, I found them fascinating and enjoyable. However, for those who really want depth and insight into their favorite films, "Works" is the part to flip to. This section has a lot of information on Miyazaki's earlier works, like Lupin III, Future Boy Conan, and Panda! Go Panda! I had not heard of any of these before reading the book, but reading the chapter on Lupin was what convinced me to watch the film Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro, which was excellent. "Works" also has quite a few extensive chapters on Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbor Totoro, and Castle in the Sky. Miyazaki focuses on Nausicaä especially in several chapters, one of my favorites being an interview titled "Nature Is Both Generous and Ferocious."
All in all, this book was excellent and I am very pleased to have it in my library. I have heard rumors that Viz Media might be publishing Miyazaki's later book Turning Point: 1997 - 2008 soon, and I hope that is the case. Much as I enjoyed this book, I would love to read more about Miyazaki's later works like Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Ponyo. In the meantime, I plan to read this book over and over again, and I encourage anyone interested in Miyazaki's works (or even just interested in film and animation) to pick up a copy.