Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Ghibli Museum

Before Mike and Tonia left back for Canada, and I left Nick and George to meet up with a buddy of mine who lives in Tokyo, we had one last destination: The Ghibli museum.

Getting there may have taken more time than we would have liked, but once inside all was forgotten. Tickets for the museum had to be purchased weeks in advance, the wait was worth it. While I am not more than passingly familiar with the movies to come out of Ghibli studios, it was still like entering into the mind of a crazed animator.

The museum is a fine arts museum, but you may forget that the moment you step through the doors. Inside you are given your ticket – three cells from one of the studio's movies. And then you are left to wander and explore. A sign admits that there is no set path through the rooms, and that this museum is one best experienced by those willing to explore and have fun. It is, to be truthful, quite the experience.

Wandering into the first obvious room I was met with models of various characters from the studio. A great number of them were made real in various stages of animation. There was a section where you could look at the models and see each individual frame-made-physical. Beside them was a carousel with the models attached in the correct order to be animated. Without warning the lights went dark, the wheel started to spin, and a strobe light allowed for the illusion of movement. At one point it was so real that I caught myself wondering how the skipping rope got around the pole holding the jumping character in the air. Of course there was no rope, it was just part of the static models.

From there I wandered the halls noticing that even the fire extinguishers had been made part of the museum, with ornate helmets and tools linked above, preventing fire code violations while working them into the art.

For those who want to see inside the animators studio, there is a room set up just as one of the the home offices would look, with books strewn around and supplies laid out as if the desk was just left mid-work. Some of the books can be flipped through, such as the scrapbook containing images used for reference during the creation of Grave of the Fireflies. Grave of the Fireflies... A silent tear falls to the floor.

Next is the colourist's office with all his paints laid out, and hand painted animation frames. They are truly works of beauty, and seeing the actual frame is something that makes the whole experience more tangible. To know that every movement on the screen is actually a crisp piece of art... and while some of the movies may not hold up today due to poor colour actualization on the screen, they were all drawn and painted in the same quality used for today's HD films. And they are beautiful.

It's a shame they are lost, destroyed, or sold preventing the old movies from being remade in full HD. Still, that they are sold allows each frame to find an owner, and a place outside of its own personal history. In the gift shop I considered what would need to occur for me to start collecting these five hundred dollar stills.

Aside from the cells, background art is also shown, along with a machine set up to move the background while keeping the frame static. Basic animation at work.

Up on the roof is another giant robot – who is well known, and of great importance. I will need to get my hands on Caste in the Sky and watch it.

The large cat/bus is made plush, and school aged children can climb around it, and play in it.

There are some other rooms dedicated to other works, and one room with a changing exhibit. But once those have been explored, the museum still has more to offer. There is a well under a gazebo taken directly from one of the studio's works. And there is a corner with a witches broom, also a location made real from one of the films. The building itself, and all aspects of it are the imaginings and recreations of things originally seen on screen. And before you leave, you can get your ticket stamped and watch a fifteen minute animation (changing with the season) available only within the museums walls.

It's obvious to anyone who enters that this is the work of those who understand the art form, and care about their target audience. Yes, it's a museum, but I'll forgive you if you forget that once you step in through the doors. I did.

After leaving the museum, which is comparable only to the Manitoba museum in Winnipeg, I headed for the Chinese embassy to apply for a visa. I figured they'd close early, so left in order to get there by three.

Of course they did close early – at noon. I had failed. All that was left now was to go back to my place, grab all my gear, and say say goodbye to Nick and George. From there I went to Ginza to meet my buddy's wife who would show me the way back to their place. It also seemed that she would be cooking dinner. And what a fabulous dinner it was! I can't express how much I love Japanese cooking. It simply is – the best. Well, it's pretty great. It's no Combo C, but I wouldn't want that every day (would I?)

I forgot all about McDonald's, that's for sure.

Also – having access to a washing machine? Perfect!

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