The Ghibli museum in Tokyo is one of the most memorable museums I have ever been to. I don’t say that lightly – I’ve been privy to hundreds of museums ever since I could walk, and probably even a few before that.
That being said, it probably helped in part that I loved the subject matter, I’ve seen most of his films and I love the worlds he creates. It seemed to be more of a journey into his world and less of what museums sometimes are to me: a place to look at stuff. I went from room to room ready to uncover more about his process and to see my favorite film characters.
The museum allows a set number of people in for two hours and you aren’t allowed to take any pictures inside, which is a shame, but makes you want to immerse yourself even deeper in the experience.
From the first look at the structure of the building and stained glass windows with his characters at the entrance, I knew it was going to be a special and unique place.
As you enter the museum you get a ticket to see a short film playing inside the museum’s theater that has never been released to the public. Your ticket is a couple frames from actual film once used in theaters from one of his many films.
I was planning on going straight there, but the first room on the right caught my attention and my body followed. It was a dimly lit room, but all across the room lights flickered from various films and animations. Playing throughout the room was a hauntingly sweet melody, I have no idea what it was, but for me it seemed to be the musical interpretation of wonder, whimsy, and imagination run wild. As I entered the room there was a giant house facade, each window was for a different Ghibli film, represented by a still frame from the film along with the title and releases date. At the bottom of the house the windows were shuttered and you could open them to peer into dioramas of different scenes from various films.
Next were several animated wheels – like a flip book – they would pause long enough for you to see the individual drawings on the wheel, then burst into top speed and brought the animation to life before your eyes.
Next came a huge carousal that was like a 3D version of the previous flip books. I found a picture online, which was helpful because it would have taken me forever to explain 🙂
This carousal would do the same pause then run cycle. Once it started spinning it appeared that each layer of characters were running opposite directions from the one on either side of it. I loved it, and I think I stood there for 5 minutes watching it come to life over and over again.
In the corner they were showing a really short film that I will call Ever-Lution. There weren’t very many signs in English so I don’t actually know the title of the film. It started as two organisms racing and playing in the ocean and each one proceeds to evolve into something else to help win the race. They one up each other from organisms to fish to reptiles to dinosaurs to birds to monkeys, each time changing so deftly that you don’t always realize what’s going on until the transformation is complete. They continue changing back and forth until they lose each other and you are following the one that changes into a little boy. He climb higher and higher up a mountain until he reaches the top where there is a little girl waiting for him. I’m not sure, but like to think that she was the other organism he lost along the way and they found each other in the end. Besides the film being fluid and captivating, the way it was physically presented was so cool (Which in a general sense sums up why I loved this place). It was projected on one main screen, but as you walked around the side you see that it’s running through an overly complex system of wheels. As you look through the maze of film and wheels there are random places they have put lights and business-card-sized screens behind the running film so you can see the film in action at different parts. So there’s the main screen and also 4 or 5 small ones placed throughout the maze of running film.
The last feature in the room in a film that is a series of vignettes that end and start in the same way so they can repeat over and over without really knowing whether they are ending or beginning. In the center of the whole room there was a large cylinder with vertical slits all around it. Inside is the figure of one of the robots from Howl’s moving castle looking up and there are blue birds all around him. The slits are moving around so the birds appear to the flying endless upward in circles around him. It was beautiful and matched the feeling of the room’s music perfectly.
This is a still picture of the robot and birds
As you can probably tell, that was my favorite room. I probably spent 45 mins of my two hours in there. It was like getting lost in his world of characters and creativity.
When I did finally leave that room I followed a tight winding staircase up to the top floor to take a view of the garden roof top.
Another winding staircase lead me into what I assume were recreations of their work-spaces.
The walls were literally covered with hand drawn character sketches of Kiki the witch, Seita and Setsuko from “Graveyard of the Fireflies” and Princess Mononoke, among many others.
The room was chock full of stuff and the details were amazing. His desk was surrounded with tons of books, the vast majority of which were fairy-tales from all over the world. It lead into another room which detailed more of the process of turning ideas and character sketches into painted cells and eventually an animated film. There were also storyboard books for all the Ghibli movies that you could look through. I can’t imagine anyone leaving there not wanting to draw and live in a world surrounded by the creations of yourself and others.
Lastly I headed down to watch the screening of the short film in the museum’s movie theater.
Like all his works it was full of detailed characters inside a fully imagined world. Every time I tried to write out the plot, it didn’t really do it justice. But it follows the clear logic that witches are evil and humanized eggs are adorable and deserve their freedom, along with come to life men made of bread!
Those were my favorite parts of the museum, but there were many other rooms. The whole building was like going on an adventure and you never knew what would lie behind the next door (maybe if I could have read the Japanese I would have had more of an idea…) There were couple rooms I didn’t really understand because it was all in Japanese and it was almost all text. It was either the history of fairy-tales in general around the world, or the fairy-tales that most influenced Miyazaki’s. Oh yes and there was a giant catbus for children… what is a catbus you say…
Once you leave the museum you can get some cute snacks at the attached cafe. Giving you one last chance to see or eat your favorite characters 🙂
I was so sad to leave the museum, but it’s nice to know I can visit anytime via his films