I visited the Studio Ghibli Museum today, which is located about twenty minutes by train from Tokyo. Tickets are hard to come by – I made my reservation about two months in advance through a travel agency (see the Ghibli site for details on how to make reservations from the States and elsewhere in the world).
Photographs are not permitted inside, so I will have to rely on my admittedly faulty short-term memory. The room just to the right of the entry-way contains a variety of mechanisms used to create animation, including a circular platform on which are arranged characters from Totoro. It spins under a strobe light, creating the impression of movement. Nearby are dioramas with images of bucolic settings, mostly, and on the opposite side there is a marvelous short film that portrays evolution from primordial ooze to little boy, hitting in between trilobite, fish, amphibious quadrupeds, dinosaurs, bird, rodent, and monkey. The film moves quickly across time, and the most charming moment comes about when the humanoid missing link loses the thick black hair covering his belly and the fur above it morphs into a frayed shirt.
What I found most interesting about the museum was the cluttered work-spaces of Miyazaki, Takahata, and their colleagues – books in piles as well as on shelves, antique photographs in frames, storyboards and other art hanging on the walls. Miyazaki has collected a remarkable variety of books: there are books on Egyptian art, Armenian art, the art of Magna Graecia, Himalayan art, Venice, the art of the Mayas, Rembrandt, a photo history of the US Navy, a study of wooden fighting ships, dance photography, as well as the volumes of the Fairburn System, an encyclopedia of visual reference soon to go out of print. Unexpected discoveries include Toynbee’s A Study of History. Even more unusual is this portrait, hanging beneath what looks like a canvas by Paul Klee.
Miyazaki is drawn to black and white photos, mostly from the Victorian era. Little framed portraits stand on his desk, usually of Europeans – there is one little girl who is holding an umbrella: she is an inspiration for Mei and for the other little girls in his films.
Miyazaki has made a new film, Ponyo on the Cliff, which was released last year in Japan, and will open in August in the US.