Friday, April 18, 2014

Japan Trip XI: The Ghibli Museum

I've already reviewed two Ghibli movies this year, and I have several more to go before I feel truly caught up. Can I truly call myself a Ghibli fan?

Well, yes. Yes I can. You don't need to be completely familiar with all of an artist's work to be a fan. Just as many people are fans of George R. R. Martin despite having never read Armageddon Rag or watched the Beauty and the Beast soap opera, I would consider myself a Ghibli fan based on my love of Kiki's Delivery Service alone.

The museum is located at the edge of a park in Tokyo. It's an oddly-shaped building, and from outside you can see a spiral staircase leading up from a balcony to the roof, where there's apparently a garden.

In fact, most of the buildings associated with the Ghibli museum had plants growing on top of them. It was a lovely place.

As we entered, we each received a pamphlet (in English!) and a ticket to the theater.

The pamphlet was filled with a few things--a map, I think, and rules about the building. I don't remember much about the pamphlet, but I do remember it mentioning that the museum has no parking spaces, and the museum prefers if nobody drives there. It kept with the studio's environmentalist message.

The ticket included a small strip of film, depicting frames from one Ghibli movie or another. Mine was from Howl's Moving Castle, I think, which I have yet to see.

The entrance led down some stairs into the central room, which was pretty fascinating on its own. The pamphlet encouraged visitors to get lost in the building, and I could see how they might. From that central room you could look up and see stairways and balconies three stories high, each leading off into different rooms. There were also odd windows and ledges in between floors, and a small, caged spiral staircase leading from the first floor to somewhere between the second and third floors.

Our first order of business as a group was to get in line for the theater, which our tickets allowed us to enter only once. Upon entering, they punched a hole into the ticket, allowing you to keep the film strip intact.

The theater, more than anything, is the attraction that's most likely to keep people returning to the museum, even if they've been there before. It plays one of several short Ghibli films exclusive to the museum--they can't be seen anywhere else.

Ours was a cute picture about a couple of children--one a human, the other an anthropomorphic rabbit--as they meet in a field, compete for the rights to a walking stick they find, and eventually become friends. There was very little dialogue in the film, which was good since there was no translation. It was easy to follow the story thanks to expressions and gestures that translate fairly universally.

After the film, our group separated in order to explore the museum. There was may more there to see than I can ever really describe here, but I'll run through some highlights:

There were rooms filled with exhibits that used light and motion to create the illusion of animation. It was really fantastic, and impossible to describe. Pictures certainly couldn't convey how cool this room was, which is fine since photography was not allowed inside the museum.

There were rooms dedicated to educating people about animation, film, and lenses using interactive exhibits.

There were rooms that recreated the studios where Hayao Miyazaki worked, showing tons of books, concept art, tools, toys, and all sorts of other things.

There was a room with a big replica Catbus, which only children were allowed to enter. The thing was literally crawling with kids around it, inside it, and on top of it having what looked like a great time.

On the roof was a giant stone statue the robot from Castle in the Sky, which had a line of people taking pictures with it.

There on the roof, as we looked out over the rest of the museum and the surrounding park, Laura started getting emotional, apparently remembering how much she loves these films. It was admittedly pretty overwhelming being there.

There were a few other things to see there--courtyards, sculptures, and such. The gift shop was absolutely packed with people, and it featured tons of interesting gifts. In the end, I walked away with a plush black cat I've named Phil Hartman.

Really, trying to describe this place is a little like trying to describe House on the Rock--I can try, but the words will always fall short, so the best I can do is give you impressions of how cool it is and hope that someday you'll be able to see it for yourself.

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