Ga-ga for Ghibli
In Japan, the designation of "National Living Treasure" is given to those people who have helped preserve the cultural legacy of the country. If the title includes those who help expand the Japanese cultural footprint, one should be given to the movie director Hayao Miyazaki. I've sung his praises here before, but the man and his company, Studio Ghibli, simply have never made a bad movie. It's possible that they're incapable of it. By producing movies of such high quality, with exquisitely rendered animation and stories that contain enough complex themes and nostaligic moments for adults to sink their teeth into, while featuring characters easily recognizable by kids, he has taken the art of anime to a higher level. Many of his characters might have an irresistable cuteness. I don't do cute so readily - I know, a shocking revelation - but for me, the heart and soul that he gives them makes watching My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Nausicca or Princess Mononoke, my favorite, over and over again such a joy. I was thrilled to finally get to visit the Studio Ghibli Museum in the Tokyo suburb of Mitaka with Marina, who is far more nuts over the inherent cuteness of all things Ghibli than I. The propaganda encourages you to "lose your way" and enjoy the Museum, which is somewhere between San Francisco's Exploratorium and the Louvre on the interactivity scale. I was rather miffed to have to turn my camera to "ninja" mode to get some of the pictures I wanted. The Museum has great Ghibli kitsch appeal: exclusive movies, a giant Catbus for kids to romp on, models and drawings galore, even a room done up like Miyazaki's personal studio. That room was particularly insane, with an absurd amount of detail thrown in - down to the names of the books on the shelves and CDs near the stereo. Without a doubt, the best part is the exclusive movie that's a sequel of sorts to My Neighbor Totoro, featuring Mei and more Catbuses and Totoros than you could shake a leaf umbrella at. The ticket to get into the theater is three frames from a Studio Ghibli film - tres collectible. The building that houses the Museum was obviously designed by somebody taking a lot of drugs. Doorways designed for children, a la Alice in Wonderland, spiral staircases that constrict in on anyone using them over 40 kgs., giant robot repilicas on the roof, it all fit together, like an Escher painting for kids. And at the entrance to it all is a giant, gray, furry beast with a leaf on its head. I love Tokyo.