The best books on Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki

Eric Reinders Author Of The Moral Narratives of Hayao Miyazaki
By Eric Reinders

Who am I?

Princess Mononoke blew my mind. And as I read about Miyazaki himself I thought: here is a kindred spirit. I thought I’d try teaching a course on Miyazaki, not sure if I could sustain a whole semester just about his work—and then I found, there’s way more than a semester’s worth to talk about. After teaching about Miyazaki for a few years, I had to write it all down. Some reviews of my book say my essays are personal, and it’s true, for better or worse—it isn’t about Studio Ghibli or the production process or even about Japan—it’s my reflections on these great films. 


I wrote...

The Moral Narratives of Hayao Miyazaki

By Eric Reinders,

Book cover of The Moral Narratives of Hayao Miyazaki

What is my book about?

In Miyazaki’s films, what is “the moral of the story?” What’s the message? What kind of people do we become, when we are watching a Miyazaki film? Why do fantastic stories matter in the real world? This book is a series of personal and philosophical reflections on the 10 major works, from Nausicäa to Wind Rises. Miyazaki’s films suggest how we can find meaning in our work; how to retain our creativity even when are tired of the job; and how we can hold true to our dreams when our dreams are compromised. The films lament the loss of the sacred in modern life but never give up hope. They address problems of growing into a new maturity while retaining the good things of childhood. 

The books I picked & why

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Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art

By Susan J. Napier,

Book cover of Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art

Why this book?

This is an excellent “life in art,” or a series of chapters on the major works in a biographical context.

Napier discusses such questions as: his feelings about the fact that his family profited from the war, making fan belts for fighter planes; his feelings about his father compared to his mother; the relation of the works to his professional life—the studio, his collaborators, his periodic burn-out and work ethic.


Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation

By Helen McCarthy,

Book cover of Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation

Why this book?

This is an excellent general review of the films from Castle of Cagliostro to Princess Mononoke, including plot outline, character studies, technical notes, and appreciations of the films. She is very insightful about the artistic technique. And there’s an interesting chapter at the end about Miyazaki merchandise. This would be a good starting point for a fan. 


Starting Point: 1979-1996

By Hayao Miyazaki,

Book cover of Starting Point: 1979-1996

Why this book?

These are collections of writings by Miyazaki in translation: interviews, essays, production notes, doodles, and even poems. These are sometimes directly related to the films, and sometimes on general themes such as artistic integrity, the environment, and contemporary Japan. You get a picture of Miyazaki: deeply thoughtful, ethically engaged, and playfully child-like. Plus, lots of cool illustrations. The second volume goes up through Howls’ Moving Castle. 


Spirited Away

By Andrew Osmond,

Book cover of Spirited Away

Why this book?

This short book is a detailed study of just one great film, scholarly but without jargon. 

Along the way, he points out many details I had missed. He also demonstrates the connections of Spirited Away to Miyazawa Kenji’s Night of the Milky Way Railway, and other sources and inter-textual references. Very interesting and revealing.


Hayao Miyazaki's World Picture

By Dani Cavallaro,

Book cover of Hayao Miyazaki's World Picture

Why this book?

Whereas my book is about the ideas that come out of the films, this book is on the philosophy of Miyazaki himself, based on his writings and interviews. It is organized not by film or chronology, but by themes, such as Time, Space, Vision, and my favorite, “The Courage to Smile.” She describes the director’s picture of the world and uses the films as illustrations. The book has certain fannish qualities, but is enriched by a creative selection of contemporary philosophers. 


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Japan, Hayao Miyazaki, and animation?

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