The Studio Ghibli Museum
Since releasing Castle in the Sky in 1986, the magicians of Studio Ghibli have come to dominate the world of Japanese animation. Spirited Away, Porco Rosso, Howl’s Moving Castle, and The Wind Rises are just some of the studio’s feature films, nearly all of which have been hailed by critics and beloved by audiences the world over. We’ve been Ghibli fans for years, and made it a point to visit the studio’s museum in Inokashira Park.
The museum is exactly what you’d expect from Studio Ghibli. It’s as though one of the eccentric buildings in their films has come to life. A hybrid between theme park, science museum and behind-the-scenes studio tour, the museum is beautiful, with every detail thoughtfully designed, from the tickets to the faucet taps. Fans are going to be in heaven.
Unfortunately, there’s a strict “no photos” policy inside the museum, so we weren’t able to photograph any of the interior rooms, but believe me: they’re all stunning. We were impressed right off the bat; in the very first room, there’s a three-dimensional zoetrope featuring the characters of My Neighbor Totoro. As a strobe light flashes, the stage spins backwards and hundreds of miniature sculptures jump into life.
As you wind your way through the museum, characters from the world of Ghibli walk you through the creation process of the studio’s movies, starting with conception and design, before moving on to the first watercolor sketches and detailed story boards. Hands-on exhibits allow you to page through entire animated screenplays, or spin film through a reel to project an image against the wall.
During our visit, the museum was excruciatingly crowded, which is no real surprise considering Ghibli’s popularity in Japan and around the world. But you can escape the crowds inside by going to the rooftop garden, where a life-sized Laputa robot from Castle in the Sky is stationed. Or you can take a break and enjoy home-cooking at the Straw Hat Café… if you manage to get a seat. You probably won’t.
The best part of the museum might be the Saturn Theater on the ground floor, where you have the chance to see a short animated feature created exclusively for the museum. There are about ten different films in total, but you only get to see one. Ours was called The Day I Bought a Star. It was all in Japanese with no subtitles, but still understandable and just as enchanting as everything produced by Ghibli.
Gaining admission to the Ghibli Museum isn’t as simple as showing up and approaching the gates. You have to buy tickets at least a week in advance. If you’re in Japan, you can only do this at a Lawson convenience store. The machines are all in Japanese, but with luck (or persistence) you can get one of the staff to help. If you’re overseas, there are other methods of advance purchasing; check the Ghibli Museum’s guide for details.
So should you make the effort to visit the museum? Buying tickets is tricky, and it’s not all that easy to reach. But if you’re already a fan of Studio Ghibli’s films, this might turn out to be one of your favorite memories from Tokyo.