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Princess Mononoke: The Art and Making of
Japan's Most Popular Film of All Time

a book review by Fred Patten

A hallmark of Japan's Studio Ghibli animation company is a coffee-table art book on the production art of each of its features. This text is a translation by Mark Schilling of Ghibli's The Art of Princess Mononoke which accompanied the film's 1997 theatrical release. Hyperion's edition is similarly timed to accompany Miramax's October 29 release of Walt Disney's English-language version of the movie.

Princess Mononoke (Mononoke Hime; Princess of the Animal Gods) is the Disney/Miramax introduction of the films of Hayao Miyazaki to the art-cinema community. (Disney's previous Miyazaki release, Kiki's Delivery Service, was marketed for children as a direct-to-video film.) To provide contextual information for American cinema buffs, Schilling has added a very helpful five-page 'Introduction' which succinctly combines a biography of Miyazaki, a history of Studio Ghibli, production notes on Princess Mononoke, and a summary of its public and critical reception.

From 'About This Book' (page 24): "This book is a collection of image concept art, background drawings, and cel drawings that tell the story of Princess Mononoke, an animated film conceived, scripted, and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The concept art is by Hayao Miyazaki, while the background art was drawn by five artists, Jisan Yamamoto, Naoya Tanaka, Yoji Takee, Satoshi Kuroda, and Kazuo Oga. The book also contains storyboards and continuity drawings by Hayao Miyazaki and character sketches by animation director Masashi Ando. Studio Ghibli did not image process some of the cel drawings that appear in the book and thus they differ from those used in the film."

In addition to those main features, there are blank-verse translations of poems by Miyazaki which present word-portraits of each of the main characters, a technical chapter on computer graphic imaging in the feature, Miyazaki's own layout drawings for the final scene, complete staff and cast credits, and a speech by Studio Ghibli President Toshio Suzuki, "Studio Ghibli -- Its Past and Present," which presents more detail than in Schilling's 'Introduction,' including a complete Studio Ghibli filmography.

The bulk of the book, pages 25 to 174, is an in depth presentation of the story of the movie through a combination of art boards, image boards, storyboards, background paintings, character sketches, complete cel setups, and CGI images. The reproduction is in exquisite full color. Each image is fully identified. An example: "(Upper left, cel drawing) The men of Emishi village assembled in the meeting hall involuntarily gasp when they see the scar on Ashitaka's right arm. Grandfather is sitting second from the left." (page 42) The art also includes scenes that were omitted from the film and early variant character designs.

The only thing lacking which would have been helpful is photographs of Miyazaki and the other key creators of Princess Mononoke. One can only wish that "The Art of ..." books on American animated features were this comprehensive.

Princess Mononoke: The Art and Making of Japan's Most Popular Film of All Time. Introduction by Mark Schilling. Illustrated. New York, New York: Hyperion/Miramax Books, 1999. 223 pages. ISBN: 0-7868-6609-8. (US$39.95)

[Note: No author is listed for this book, or for any of Studio Ghibli's art books of its films. The studio itself is considered the author so a "by Studio Ghibli" or "by the Studio Ghibli staff" could be justified, but in fact the book does not contain any author credit.]

Fred Patten has written on anime for fan and professional magazines since the late 1970s.

Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to editor@awn.com.