After years of dreaming, planning, scheming, and hoping, my family, as a single entity, finally made it to Asia for a holiday. In our region, school children typically enjoy a mid March “Break”. This usually means families packing up their minivans and driving to Florida or other warm places to help them forget the bleakness of the Canadian winter. This year, however, the spring winds took my family to Asia – Japan and Korea to be specific. I was born in Korea but moved to Canada in 1971 when I was 7 years old. And those of you who have glanced at my past posts know that I’ve been a frequent business visitor to Japan many times over the years. But a family trip to these dynamic places is a completely different experience. There is something remarkable about the discovery experience you get as a pure tourist where issues of punctuality and protocol disappear and you’re left with the experience in its most raw and engaging forms.
Yes, we experienced many cool things ... too many to comment on here without boring you senseless. But one particular event stands out in my mind above all else: the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo. The name Ghibli may not mean much to most of you. If I were to say Miyazaki’s museum, a few may make the connection. If I were to say, “the museum built by the guy who made the movie ‘Spirited Away’” , I think most of you would catch on. My family and I are big Miyazaki-san fans. Ever since we discovered the freshness and elegance of Spirited Away, we began welcoming a whole host of new characters into our home: Kiki, Porco, Howl, and of course, Totoro are as familiar to us as Mickey, Bugs, and Sponge Bob.
Miyazaki-san’s studio is named Studio Ghibli, hence the name Ghibli Museum. It’s tucked away in a suburb of Tokyo in an area called Mitaka – a quaint, intimate, neighborhood that seems a world away from the intensity of Shinjuku though it’s only a 10 minute train ride away. The Ghibli Museum celebrates the characters and stories of the Ghibli films but it also celebrates the pure art and spirit of animation.
For the most part, contemporary animation is as much about computers as it is about art. As a long time Maplesoft employee, I’ve seen first hand, the level of technological wizardry that feeds into modern animated films. The animated film industry continues to be steady customers for us as they explore new mathematical techniques to bring greater realism to animation. This is all great fun and great business but, in many ways, Miyazaki-san seems to be moving in a very different direction. And this was made abundantly clear at Ghibli museum.
Instead of displays that try to impress the audience with digital technological flash, the Ghibli displays were very “old school” if not completely manual. There’s a lot of flipping pages of drawings and crank turning while you peer into viewers reminiscent of those from classic arcades. A lot of fun for nostalgic reasons but the displays that really knocked you off your feet were the full 3D animations. Not in some Avatar-like 3D needing glasses, but pure artistic magic done with countless little physical models (pardon the MapleSim pun), each with a little different pose, masterfully choreographed by a good old fashioned strobe light. Simply spectacular.
The museum is not huge (about four stories with each level having a modest display space) but its impact is huge. The animation displays are carefully woven into a universe of little pocket spaces where you can crawl, hide, and peek. Outside, the gardens and the roof tops continue the experience with some of the most charming statuary and play areas (for little and big kids). The experience brings thoughts of Lewis Carroll’s Alice ... oops sorry ... Miyazaki’s Chihiro. For a couple of hours, you find yourself grinning, giggling, and completely dumfounded by the shear art and cleverness of the space. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed inside the museum (the gardens are OK to photograph though) – bit of a shame but I guess the bright side is somehow you have to physically get there and experience it yourself. Also, reservations are mandatory. In fact based on advice from reference sources, those of you traveling from a far should buy the tickets well in advance.
The Ghibli is a contradiction in so many ways. Its mere existence in the middle of the largest city in the world doesn’t make sense. Its strict rules on who can visit and when, what you can touch and do, doesn’t make sense in a world where maximum revenue is the rule. The entrance fees are actually quite reasonable but the completeness of experience is luxurious – right down to the entrance tickets that are made from actual celluloid from a real movie. The displays are as old-school as you can get, but they do their thing in a way that is entirely contemporary. But that’s Japan right? You think something looks familiar but the Japanese interpretation is absolutely unique in the world, and in the best of cases, enlightening. The Ghibli museum is perhaps the finest example of this rewarding J-paradox that I’ve ever encountered in my twenty or so visits to this country.
Family posing with a friend on the roof of the Ghibli Museum
The official Website for the museum
The official Website for Studio Ghibli (in Japanese)
Traveller’s review of the Ghibli Museum from Tripadvisor.com