Host Hayao Miyazaki has cultivated a global fan base over his 50-plus-year career. His beloved animated films have inspired fans around the world to visit the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan to see the work of Miyazaki’s animation studio up close.
While traveling to Japan is always on my to-do list, I got to see a collection of original works by Miyazaki here in America at one of Hollywood’s newest film landmarks, the Academy Museum of Motion. Pictures.
The museum opened its doors last September, unveiling a “collection of cinema-related objects and technology” over seven floors. Exclusive exhibits feature films across the ages, components of filmmaking, and an interactive ‘Oscar experience’, where visitors can accept their own Oscar.
In addition to the wider cinematic experience, the Academy Museum has installed the temporary museum retrospective “Hayao Miyazaki”, in honor of the eponymous Oscar winner.
Miyazaki won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards in 2003 for his film “Spirited Away”. He also received an Academy Honorary Award in 2014 for his contribution to cinema.
Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation studio co-founded by Miyazaki, is known for its stunning animated films, including “My Neighbor Totoro”, “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “Howl’s Moving Castle”.
The “Hayao Miyazaki” exhibition takes visitors behind the scenes of its lively classics in a well-organized experience for all ages. Each room is filled with video screens, concept drawings, animated memorabilia, and interactive experiences, including the surround sound of classic Studio Ghibli sheet music.
The exhibit takes the wonder of 2D animation and brings it into the third dimension. Iconic Studio Ghibli moments come to life, including life-size recreations of the magical glowing mother tree from “My Neighbor Totoro” and the Stone Spirit statue from “Spirited Away.”
Jackeline Alvarez, an Academy Museum employee, was parked near the Sky View facility, a circle of grass where visitors could lie down and watch in the clouds a reel of the animated sky from Kiki’s Delivery Service “.
Before starting his work at the museum, Alvarez knew little about Miyazaki. Her friends were fans, but she hadn’t seen any of his movies.
“I walked into the exhibition before it opened and was fascinated by the work on display,” said Alvarez. “As a painter, the exhibition moved me a lot. I appreciate the mastery of his profession.
The exhibit is packed with hand-painted animated frames and background artwork, concept sketches, production design drawings, and original movie posters from all of the 10 Ghibli films made by Miyazaki.
After browsing the exhibition and admiring the design and art, Alvarez became hooked. She immediately started browsing the Studio Ghibli catalog and is now on the same page as her passionate Ghibli friends.
“I definitely became a fan,” Alvarez said.
The exhibit is also special for longtime Miyazaki fans. Tianna Phan was introduced to Miyazaki films in her childhood.
“’Totoro’ was the only movie my mom put on growing up,” Phan said.
Phan continued to appreciate Miyazaki until adulthood. She was thrilled to see a Miyazaki exhibit on display in Los Angeles, as she visited both the Ghibli Museum and the Animation Studio in Japan.
According to the Academy Museum, the exhibition collection of more than 300 pieces was borrowed from the Studio Ghibli archives, including pieces never before seen outside of Japan.
One of those rooms was a wooden animation desk used at Studio Ghibli. The office used an “open floor plan” with no walls or other vision blockers, designed to encourage animators to collaborate with other studio members.
These articles showcase Studio Ghibli’s vision and values. The exhibition celebrates not only the art of Miyazaki, but his innovation in the direction of animation. Visitors can read the director’s notes to understand how Miyazaki guided the animation process.
Take “Ponyo”, for example. Miyazaki wanted the art in the water fantasy film to be drawn using “slightly distorted lines” to evoke the fluid motion of the ocean.
Another note from the director explained that “during [“My Neighbor Totoro’s”] production, Miyazaki wrote poems for his team to provide insight into the atmosphere, characters, settings and themes of the film.
One of these poems was written on a wall in the exhibition. Instead of a simple description, Miyazaki used a poem to translate how he wanted the tree spirits of “My Neighbor Totoro” to act and behave.
“Spirits of the Kodama Tree
Just when they seemed to appear
They burst out laughing and are already gone
Just when they seemed to be walking at my feet
They were already in the dark in the distance, laughing
When we talk to them, they shyly run away
When ignored, they come closer
You little children, children of the forest
Ah, for you this forest that you live in is so funny »
As visitors read the poem, stenciled versions of the Tree Spirits painted on the wall next to the poem faded under black light, allowing Miyazaki’s vision of the Tree Spirits to come to life in real time.
Details like the painted Tree Spirits added a sense of magic to the exhibit, but guests praised the collective experience.
“I think just seeing the sketches and the whole animation process is wonderful,” said Laina Quintanilla, a regular at the museum.
While “Hayao Miyazaki” is a temporary episode, there is still time to see the director’s work. The exhibit will remain at the Academy Museum until June 5, so there is still time to plan a trip to LA.