In 2017, Spoke Art opened an exhibition in its San Francisco gallery featuring pieces inspired by the works of acclaimed and Oscar-winning animator, Hayao Miyazaki. A success, they would repeat it in the following years, traveling the show to New York and then Los Angeles, showing hundreds of varied pieces with all this is common: they celebrate a genius whose animated works have influenced artists the world over and captured the imaginations of millions of children turned adults, and adults turned children.
My Neighbor Hayao ($29.95) is a 250-page artbook collecting photos of many of the wonderful pieces on display in the exhibitions. Carefully assembled, demonstrating the artful hand of the gallery and its curator and owner, Ken Harman Hashimoto, this book much resembles the pieces of the man that inspired it—it’s a rabbit hole into a wonderland, a fantastic journey into how artists from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and disciplines interpret the works of Miyazaki as they create their own pieces. Each turn of the page is much like a shift of scenes in Howl’s Moving Castle or Kiki’s Delivery Service: There’s anticipation in seeing what beautiful colors and images will fill the page next, how an artist will take a beloved character and adapt her to his or her own style, and through what canvas or form the work will take shape.
The variety really is stunning. Alongside ink, acrylic, oil, and watercolor are bronze, archival pigment prints, and embroidery pieces. As a novice who is mostly exposed to digital art, seeing anime represented in so many forms is both a thrill and a learning experiencing. Among the more unique pieces are tarot cards from Spirited Away, paper lanterns depicting scenes from Princess Mononoke, epoxy clay figures of Ponyo and No Face, a bronze ring tribute to Kiki, the automaton from Castle in the Sky made from felt, and masks of San and Totoro made from sneakers.
Yet, the book remains accessible to a wider audience beyond art aficionados. On our sister site, Anime Pop Heart, and to a lesser extent here, we engaged in the world of anime fan art. As with writing and the world of fan fiction, many otaku naturally veer toward creating artistic interpretations of their favorite characters; some fan artists have even made the leap into the industry, developing character designs for anime series and movies. Those with large fanbases sometimes produce artbooks, often made available on Amazon or Kinokuniya for western audiences. My Neighbor Hayao is the atypical art book that makes a seamless transition into that same world, one that fans would love to procure for their own collections, particularly since Studio Ghibli so rarely licenses their work; artbooks for Ghibli characters are thus extremely rare in the fandom world, even while the characters and movies are so beloved. And yet, My Neighbor Hayao is also distinct in the very high quality of each piece, the number of artists involved, and as previously mentioned, the type of art featured, making the collection something totally unique for buyers.
That accessibility is what excites me about this work as much as anything. Anime fans who don’t know much about the world of pop art can gain a glimpse of it while enjoying the book. Art enthusiasts who may not know much about anime outside Studio Ghibli may discover more about the burgeoning form of animation. And across all spectra, readers will enjoy the vast array of beautiful and thoughtful pieces, all connected to the master who inspired them, as he has inspired so many of us as well.