The Studio Ghibli Museum: Where animated characters come to life

By Joshua Zimmerman

There is something about the animation work of Hayao Miyazaki that captures the imagination. The artwork, the stories, the myth all combine into timeless works of animated cinema. Much of this comes from the core concepts and ideals that Hayao Miyazaki uses when making his films. In many ways the process is just as interesting as the final result. But to see how his mind works you have to take a journey to the outskirts of Tokyo and visit the Studio Ghibli Museum.

Located in the Tokyo suburb of Mitaka, the museum sits inside the lush Inokashira Park. If it weren’t for the many signs near the station pointing the way, most people wouldn’t even know it was there. From the outside the museum seems like an animation come to life. Designed from sketches by Miyasaki himself, the idea behind the museum was that it too was on display and part of the magic.

Now before you start planning a trip out to the museum, know that you just can’t show up and buy a ticket. So popular is the museum that visitation is tightly controlled. Only by purchasing a ticket well in advance, for only 1,000 yen from a kiosk at a local Lawson, can you actually enter the museum. Without a ticket you’ll be turned away at the gate.

The inside of the museum looks like something out of a 19th century European castle with high ceilings and an open air feel. Designed to have no specific route, it’s easy to become lost in one of its many exhibits.

As part of its standard exhibits are rooms filled with original sketches and artwork from the many Studio Ghibli films. The entire setup shows the process of turning sketches into full-length animated films. Everywhere you turn there are fun filled hands-on props to show how the movies come together. Even adults can’t keep their hands off them.

During my recent trip to the museum I was able to see a new exhibit on the movie Ponyo. Besides the usual hands-on experiences such as flipping though sketches, rough drafts of images, and large models was the surprisingly massive pile of sketches used for the rough draft of the film. Nearly 200,000 pages in total.

The longest line in the museum was for the robot guardian that sits on the roof. A life-sized model of one of the robots from Laputa has become a well sought after photo opportunity.  Children and parents alike waited in line to get a photo taken with it, trying to take a little bit of the magic home with them.

If you have any interest in the Studio Ghibli films, I would highly recommend visiting the museum. Not only does it bring out the childlike magic in everyone, but it also gives you a newfound respect for the work that goes into creating these wonderful animated films.