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    Posted October 21, 2012 by
    Shanghai, China
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Nerd pilgrimages

    The Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     During his trip to Japan, DFandino says the Ghibli Museum was one of the major places he wanted to visit. A fan of Ghibli films for roughly 20 years, he says his favorite film is "Howl's Moving Castle."

    " I recall watching an edited American version of "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" when I was young. It was one of the very first anime films I ever saw and it helped kindle an interest in both anime and Japan," he says.
    - Anika3, CNN iReport producer

    Studio Ghibli is one of the most storied names in animation, having produced a series of critically acclaimed as well as financially successful films. Their 2001 film Spirited Away won the 2001 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Nestled by Inokashira Park in Mitaka, the Ghibli Museum is part art installation, part museum and part insight into the creative impulse that drives the studio. As a longtime fan of both Studio Ghibli and Japanese animation, a trip to the Ghibli Museum was high on the list of essential places to visit while in Japan


    Obtaining tickets to the museum was a relatively simple affair, which was a relief as I had heard from other travelers that they were often sold out. While tickets are easily purchasable at any one of the nearly ubiquitous Lawson’s chain of convenience stores, the museum strictly enforces a limit to the number of tickets sold per day. The tickets also have specific times for entrance, although once inside a visitor can remain for as long as they like. This works toward ensuring each visitor can explore the museum relatively peacefully, keeping the atmosphere quiet and the trip focused on the experience rather than having to navigate around large crowds. This philosophy is reflected in the museum’s policy towards photography. To retain some of the mystery and wonder conjured by their films as well as to encourage visitors to see the museum with their own eyes rather than through the lenses of their cameras, photography is prohibited inside the museum.


    Arriving at Mitaka Station an hour before the time specified on our tickets, my traveling companion and I easily spotted the shuttle bus we had read about. Bright yellow and decorated with the silhouettes of Ghibli characters, the bus stood out on the quiet streets of Mitaka. Perhaps it was not as unique as the Catbus from My Neighbor Totoro, but certainly more street legal. A short ride later we arrived at the museum. After taking a few minutes to check out the exterior of the museum, designed by animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, we joined the surprisingly short line to enter—no doubt helped by visiting in the middle of winter.


    Once inside the museum the rather utilitarian convenience store coupon was exchanged for a smaller souvenir ticket with an animation cell from a Ghibli film set into the center. My ticket had an image from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind while my companion’s had a frame from Ponyo. We quickly moved through the entrance into the main hall. The museum interior was fashioned like a storybook manor, with iron staircases, walkways and rooms that evoke the sensation a visitor is investigating the home of an eccentric artist rather than a traditional museum. Entering an exhibit room our attention was immediately drawn to a massive zoescope that was an instant crowd-pleaser judging from the rapt attention on the faces of those around us. The zoetrope was comprised of several disks upon which were small figures of Ghibli characters, each in slightly different positions. Using a flashing strobe light, the spinning zoetrope creates the illusion of movement. After watching the zoescope cycle through several performances, we moved on to see what else the museum had to offer. Other exhibits showed the process involved in the creation of a Ghibli film, from production sketches to the photographs and images used for inspiration. Some of the exhibits changed from year to year and during our visit the special exhibition was on the recently released Ponyo.


    A replica of the Catbus, a large multilegged cat with a body like a bus, was the centerpiece of a children’s play area, with a sign clearly stating the Catbus was for children only--obviously the museum was well aware of the thoughts that might creep into many an adult Ghibli fan’s mind upon seeing it. The well stocked gift shop contained a very large array of Ghibli memorabilia and I purchased a few items as gifts and souvenirs, including a small figure of Nausicaä that still sits on my desk to this day. I had hoped to find a poster Our final stop inside the museum was the small theater that was screening one of several Ghibli short films, most of which have never been shown anywhere else. We were not disappointed by A Sumo Wrestler’s Tail, the story of an elderly couple who discover sumo wrestling mice. The theater itself was whimsically decorated, a far cry from the rather sterile décor of modern movie houses, adding to the experience.


    The exhibits and design aesthetics continued outside the museum as well. Atop the main building was a statue of a robot soldier from the film Castle in the Sky, an extremely popular subject for photographs. Around the grounds of the museum were small touches for fans such as a working water pump and a broomstick from Kiki’s Delivery Service lying next to stacked firewood. We decided to have lunch at The Straw Hat Café, the museum’s restaurant, which had a small selection of sandwiches and other dishes as well as the museum’s own specialty beer. The café proved popular enough that we couldn’t get seated inside but the museum did have tents and chairs set up just outside the café with gas fueled heaters to ward away the chill of winter. After lunch we reluctantly left the museum and made our way back to the station. All throughout our visit we never stopped smiling, constantly surprised by one element of the museum or another and we were continually struck by the sense of wonder that permeated the building. Keeping with what I feel is Ghibli’s philosophy, I have omitted many of those details so those lucky enough to find themselves in Mitaka one day can experience it for themselves. The museum more than fulfilled our expectations, giving us an insight into the Ghibli mentality and creative process both through the exhibits as well as through the design aesthetic of the museum itself and left us feeling like we had just visited the home of a brilliantly eccentric inventor uncle–quite probably what Miyazaki and the Studio Ghibli team intended.

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