Japan Trip: The Ghibli Museum

Even though it’s been almost three weeks since Stacy and I got back from Japan, we’ve been caught up in a vortex of things to do. I’d originally intended to post up photos throughout our trip and then, when it became clear that wouldn’t be possible, as soon as we got back.

Well, better late than never. I’m hoping to post a few different short articles/photos about our amazing trip and I hope you all get a kick out of them.

Stacy and I decided to spend our Honeymoon exploring Japan – specifically Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and Hakone. After the horrible earthquake the country sustained in March we were unsure if we should make the trip but, once things calmed down and friends we had in Tokyo made it clear that things were relatively back to normal, we finalized our plans and set off on another adventure.

This was my third time visiting Japan. On the previous trips I’d intended to visit the famous Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, but both times the site had been closed for repairs/cleaning. This time Stacy worked really hard to ensure we’d be able to get tickets and that it would fit our schedule. Heck, she even booked the Ghibli trip to coincide with my 35th birthday. Needless to say, she is one incredible lady.

The Ghibli Museum is sequestered away from the big city. It’s located on the edge of Inokashira park and, if you didn’t know any better, you might mistake it for part of the park itself. The main building is covered in foliage – vines, trees and beautiful flowers behind gates emblazoned with a Ghibli Museum shield crest adorned with eagles, a boar and a Totoro.

Just inside those gates is an amazing space ripe for exploration. The Museum doesn’t have standardized tours or arrows telling you where to go. There are a variety of stairs and pathways all calling out for your attention. Each one loops back into the main area and sends you off again.

Photography is prohibited in the building and, as much as I wanted to take some stealth snapshots, I put my camera away and did everything I could to take it all in and remember it clearly.

I was surprised at how much space was lavishly devoted to showcasing the process of animation. Film reels click away in dark rooms under the light of the cameras, showing time and time again how many frames go by in the blink of an eye to create the illusion of movement. A complex zoetrope sculpture of the cast of Totoro spins under a strobe light, causing the 3 dimensional characters to jump and move in and around each other. Animated birds reflected off of mirrors fly in a whirling pattern around one of the robots from Laputa as it holds its bulbous elongated arms skyward. Flip displays of animation key frames are there to be analyzed and flipped in succession. Booklets of full of storyboard reproductions sit on a shelf waiting to be cracked open. There’s a pure joy in the animated art that permeates the whole place in a way that’s hard to describe.

On the second floor it continues in a similar vein. Two rooms are dedicated to design and concept art, but they display almost just as many sources of inspiration that the Ghibli staff draw from as much as they do their own studio’s art – architectural guides, turn of the century plane schematics, old European fashion photos, elegant paintings of faerie tales and nature. That creative spark is bursting at the seams and it’s a fascinating look at the variety of places the artists at Ghibli look to for their ideas. There’s research to be done and these wonderful movies that delight the world don’t just appear out of nowhere.

Among the technical information and joy of film making are spaces for kids to play and run around – child-sized doorways into nooks and crannies that aren’t meant for adults. A near life-sized cat bus for children to climb on and sit inside. Tiny window displays placed at a smaller height that can be opened to reveal paintings or dioramas.

The Museum shows a special short film that has never been put on home video or screened outside of the Museum and this film changes from time to time; 10 minutes of original feature-quality animation only for visitors. Stacy and I saw the new ‘Egg Princess’ short and it was a delightful little fable that felt very much like Spirited Away in its style and execution.

On the roof of the museum are more plants and a life-sized statue of a Laputa robot. Behind that is a winding little trail that leads to a greater Levistone from Laputa as well. Tactile artifacts from one of my absolute favourite films.

The Museum strikes a wonderful balance between the familiar forms of the Ghibli films and its own whimsical exploratory sense of self. It takes the Ghibli mythology and crafts it into a maze of fun spaces and experiences. The displays aren’t obsessed with the pomp and circumstance of trying to convince you that this is art – it just revels in the fact that it is and you can’t help but enjoy that. It carried a simple inspiration that will stay with me from here on.

If you get a chance to travel to Tokyo and are an artist, animator or fan of Ghibli films, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Arrive early, then explore, relax and enjoy.

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