When it comes to modern animation, the conversation has to start with Hayao Miyazaki, one of the most well-respected creators working today. Often called “the Walt Disney of Japan,” Miyazaki’s movies have had a profound impact on animation and storytelling. One of Miyazaki’s most well-known and beloved films, Princess Mononoke, was his first movie to be screened for American audiences. In the film, viewers are introduced to a variety of majestic and terrifying creatures that inhabit the forest world, only to witness the destruction of that world and the horrible consequences that follow. However, Miyazaki’s original concept for Princess Mononoke was much different from the final theatrical feature. Together, Princess Mononoke: The First Story and The Art of Princess Mononoke capture this initial concept and the genesis for story we know and love today.
Princess Mononoke: The First Story is a beautifully illustrated storybook that features original watercolors by Miyazaki. Though it looks and feels like a children’s book, it wasn’t intended to be one: Miyazaki created the illustrations and story to showcase his ideas for film and TV studios in order to find financial backing for the production. Sadly, none of them took Miyazaki up on his offer and he stored these materials away, out of the public eye—until now. Thanks to Viz Media, we have the opportunity to see the earliest beginnings of the popular movie in an oversized print format.
Miyazaki’s original story for Princess Mononoke was about a lost samurai, a young girl, an evil spirit, and a wild and fierce Mononoke. After a long war, a lost samurai encounters a giant Mononoke. Instead of eating the warrior, the Mononoke agrees to let him live in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage. But before the Mononoke can come to claim the daughter’s hand, an evil spirit entraps the samurai. The daughter refuses to wed until her father is free, beginning a journey that she and the Mononoke will ultimately undertake together.
One word of note: some readers may be turned off because the story isn’t fully developed and the characters don’t have names; for example, the daughter is referred to as “Daughter Number Three” throughout the entire book. With the awareness that this was only intended as a means to sell the idea, the book does reveal how Miyazaki put together initial thoughts and how vastly stories can change from the initial concept to the finished product.
The Art of Princess Mononoke will be more familiar to Studio Ghibli fans, as it showcases the story and art behind the theatrical film. It includes interviews, concept sketches, watercolor illustrations of the characters in their first forms, and finished animation cels from the final movie. Readers will treasure and enjoy this superbly produced hardcover book for years to come as they explore in detail the spirits of the forest, their surroundings, and how they came to be. Other nice features of the book include a series of tutorials that demonstrate how the film was made, as well as a production diary that lists everything from milestones to mundane events like Miyazaki’s acupuncture appointments.
As an added bonus, both books include original essays by Miyazaki introducing the concept behind the original story, what it became, and what he wished had been different. While the storybook contains less story and more concept, fans of Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki will enjoy each of these titles and the illustrations within them. I would highly recommend both books to anyone interested in animation so they might examine one way to put together concepts, ideas, and storyboarding.
Princess Mononoke: The First Story
by Hayao Miyazaki
Viz Media, 2014
The Art of Princess Mononoke
by Hayao Miyazaki
Viz Media, 2014