Archive for the ‘Animation’ Category

Exhibition: When Marnie Was There (思い出のマーニー)


During our April 2015 visit to Matsuyama on Shikoku, there was an exhibition of dioramas based on the Studio Ghibli film When Marnie Was There at the Ehime Museum of Art (website in Japanese).

Both my husband and I are Studio Ghibli fans. Neither of us had seen the film, or even read the book by Joan G Robinson, but we both wanted to see the exhibition. It was a really rainy day, so perfect for visiting the museum, which is located within the bounds of the Matsuyama Castle moat.

Although it was only a short walk from our hotel to the museum, by the time we got there we were drenched. We left our dripping coats and bags in a coin locker and paused in front of the exhibition information panels in the foyer to take photographs, before heading up to the exhibition floor to buy our tickets.

The exhibition was great, full of animation cels, preparatory sketches, storyboards and a reconstruction of the production designer Yohei Taneda’s studio. Because I’m an archivist working in a museum, I’m always interested in the way paper based objects are displayed in exhibitions so, although photography of the original artworks wasn’t allowed, I sneaked a shot of one of the fixings for a sketch book.


Such a museum nerd. But look at how neat that is.

Anyway. The full scale dioramas of scenes from the film were stunning. They really made me feel as though I was in the scene. There wasn’t any English interpretation available, so I wasn’t able to glean much about how the dioramas had been put together, or how much involvement Yohei Taneda had had in putting the exhibition together.




I was very taken with the life sized reconstruction of Marnie’s bedroom. The attention to detail was astounding. I would like to have known whether the exhibition team made all the “antique” items, or whether they were items that Yohei Taneda had collected as inspiration for his production design and had then given them to be used in the exhibition.


It interested me that 3D models of sets for a 2D film had been made. Again, I wasn’t sure whether they had been made by the production team behind the film to aid with creating the animation cels, or whether they were something made for the exhibition. The work that had gone into them was immense. Some of the dioramas had video projections of scenes from the film embedded in them.


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It was a lovely way to spend the morning. If we’d had time, it would have been good to look around the rest of the museum, but we spent too much time in the shop afterwards and also wanted to go to Dogo Onsen in the afternoon. Next time we are in Matsuyama, we will make time to look at the other exhibits in this museum, and maybe visit some more of the museums Matsuyama has to offer.


Miya-San by Martin Hsu and Bigshot Toyworks

My husband is a stop-motion animator. When we first met, I asked him who his favourite director was and he told me it was Miyazaki Hayao, co-founder of Studio Ghibli, creator of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (and Totoro).

It was our 5th wedding anniversary in May this year. Back in January, I saw a tweet that was doing the rounds about a limited edition 6″ resin figure of Miyazaki designed by Martin Hsu and produced by Bigshot Toys. Thinking it would be an ideal anniversary present, I headed over to the Tenacious Toys website to pre-order it.

This is a gif sent out by Tenacious Toys in one of their production updates.

Miya-San by Martin Hsu and Bigshot Toys, image from Tenacious Toys email update

Long story short, the figure was due to be completed in time for our wedding anniversary, but various delays meant that it was only finally released this week. It arrived today, so has now become a late birthday present.

It has been worth the wait. The finish on the figure is excellent, and the custom packaging is almost as beautiful as the figure itself!

Miya-san is now living in our Japanese beauty alcove, where we keep all the best things we have bought in  Japan alongside other beautiful things like my grandparents’ Noritake vases and a kokeshi doll my friend bought me.


He looks very benevolent among the ornaments and souvenirs.


Studio Ghibli Museum

My husband is an animator. His favourite animé director is Miyazaki Hayao (宮崎 駿), co-founder of Studio Ghibli (スタジオジブリ). When we first met, he introduced me to the wonders of Spirited Away, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke. Then I saw Pom Poko and (my personal favourite) Porco Rosso on tv and I was as hooked as him.

One of our honeymoon treats was to go to the Studio Ghibli museum (三鷹の森ジブリ美術館) in Mitaka, just outside Tokyo.

You can’t just rock up to the museum and buy a ticket on the day. The whole experience is marketed as being something special that you have to apply for months in advance. You not only have to specify which day you want to visit, but which time as well. It is possible to buy the vouchers in Japan through the Lawson supermarket chain but, because tickets are released three months in advance, they have usually sold out by the time tourists arrive in the country and want to buy them. Anxious not to miss out, we ordered our Ghibli vouchers through MyBus, as we were using the same company to buy our JR Passes. It was exciting when they arrived in the post, as it made one part of our honeymoon seem real.

We were staying in Kyoto for most of our honeymoon, so our Ghibli Museum trip was pretty much a day trip from there. I know. It’s crazy. Bullet trains are fast and comfortable, but making a three hour journey to Tokyo and then another 15 minute train journey from Shinjuku along the JR Chuo line was not the best way to approach a visit to a museum. Any museum! If you’re going to visit the Ghibli Museum, do it while you’re in Tokyo anyway. I mean, why wouldn’t you?

We’d booked for 2 p.m. at the museum, giving ourselves a couple of hours to look around before we needed to head back to Kyoto. Our plan was to arrive in Kichijoji around noon and have lunch at the DevaDeva Café, which had really good reviews on Happy Cow. Then we would walk to the Ghibli Museum through Inokashira Park. We managed to negotiate the train journey successfully, but it went a bit pear-shaped after that. I’d copied down the directions to the café and marked its location on a map, so we set off confidently from the station. We’d only been in Japan for 3 days at that point. We had no clue about how complicated the address system is. We tried counting blocks of buildings, but that failed miserably, so we tried wandering in a zigzag up and down the streets around the area we thought the café should be. That also failed miserably. Eventually we arrived at a kindergarten where the parents and teachers were all speaking English, so I asked where the address was. Not one person could tell us.

It was starting to rain at this point and we were feeling particularly lost and defeated, so we trudged back towards the station and the covered shopping arcade we had rushed through on our way to hunt down the café. There we found a Shakey’s Pizza where we ordered two approximations of a margharita pizza with added sweetcorn and headed for the station.

On the station platform we committed a sin. We ate pizza straight from the box in a public space. Although, given the nature of bento and onigiri, it seems likely that eating in public is less of a sin these days than it used to be!

It was getting late by this point, and we didn’t want to miss our timed ticket slot, so we gave up on our plan to walk through the park and took the train from Kichijoji to Mitaka. At Mitaka station, we boarded a Cat Bus. Disappointingly, this wasn’t an accurate representation of THE Cat Bus, but a small shuttle bus painted yellow. I see from the official website that this bus is no longer named the Cat Bus. Perhaps too many people were disappointed…

It was raining pretty hard when we arrived and we headed straight for the information desk, where there was some confusion about what we needed to do. It turned out we had entered through the wrong door, and the lady on the desk was trying to politely scold us about it. Never the less, we handed over our vouchers and showed our passports, and were issued with a ticket. Mine was in the form of a three-cel strip from a Howl’s Moving Castle reel. It is exquisitely lovely and now among my treasured possessions. The ticket gains you entry to the Saturn Theatre, where you can watch the short 20 minute film of the day.

We started at the Saturn Theatre, where the short film we watched starred Mei from My Neighbour Totoro having her own personal adventure with a cat bus kitten and some Morinaga milk caramels. After that we wandered happily from room to room, taking in the deliciously cluttered atmosphere of it all, playing on the interactives and looking longingly into the Cat Bus room.

The museum runs higgledy-piggledy over three floors. At the lower level, which is slightly underground, is the Saturn Theatre, the Central Hall and the outdoor Patio area with its covered well. The Central Hall has a glass dome roof and galleries around the staircase that leads up to the other floors. The middle floor has the two exhibition rooms – one is for special exhibitions, the other for the permanent Ghibli exhibition. When we visited, the special exhibition was a little strange – it was reproductions of artworks by major European artists such as Da Vinci, Matisse and Van Gogh. Visitors were showing the same amount of awe and wonder as if they were looking at the real thing. This fits with something I have noticed about the Japanese approach to history and artefacts – while an original artefact, be it building or object, is a wonderful thing, the Japanese don’t let the lack of an original distract them from appreciating the sense of history that a replica can provide. It’s something that we’re more sniffy about in the UK museum world.

Also on the middle floor, accessible from the Patio area, is the Straw Hat Café.

On the top floor is the Cat Bus Room, where pre-school and primary school children can romp around on a giant Cat Bus to their hearts’ content. We were only a little bit jealous. Across the Central Hall on the top floor is the Mama Aiuto shop.

The permanent exhibition is wonderful. It is themed as though you are stumbling upon rooms from Miyazaki’s life while he has popped out for a moment. All available space is used, from pictures filling the walls, to drawers crammed with objects that you recognise as the inspiration for characters and features in the films. There’s also a section where you can explore the techniques used in film making through interactives such as a rostrum camera with a scene from Porco Rosso.

When we had explored the galleries on the middle floor, we went outside and ended up on the roof, where we took the only photos of our visit. Photographs inside the museum are forbidden. Outside was good enough, though, because there was a giant Laputa robot to stand next to in the rain.

A couple of Japanese teenagers were standing nearby watching us, giggling and saying “Gaijin” a lot. I wonder what they made of us. Given that we were at the Ghibli Museum, you wouldn’t have thought that foreigners were that much of a deal!

We went back inside and raided the shop for goodies, missing out on an opportunity to come home with a DVD copy of Ponyo before its official release in the UK, because we didn’t know what it was. Then we headed back to the train station and back to Kyoto.

It was an exhausting day, but I’m glad that we did it. I’d like to go back, to see whether the short film is different now, and to see what special exhibition might be on. Not this time, perhaps, but the next.

Since our visit to the museum, we have discovered a shop in the Gion district of Kyoto that sells more Ghibli merchandise, including a giant Totoro and a giant Jiji.

If you’re not able to visit the Ghibli Museum and are in Kyoto, the shop is off Ninenzaka slope at the Kodaiji temple end.

Gion Ghibli shop map

It’s a tiny alleyway that’s easily missed, but there’s usually a sign pointing the way. We always spend too much money in there, but we haven’t brought a giant Totoro home yet!

Newsflash! My husband also blogs!

In case you hadn’t picked up on it in my blogroll to the right, my husband also has a blog. R is an animator, so it’s a mixture of things he’s working on and Japanese things.

His latest blog is about a visit we made to the Dwarf Inc. studio near Nakamurabashi, west of Tokyo. Because he’s written a blog, I don’t have to!

Here is a bunch of my pictures from our visit, though.