Dec 18, 2008

Adventures in Tokyo: Day 5 - Mitaka, Ghibli, and Nakano

Journal entry for Wednesday December 3nd

The excitement I felt when we went to the Miazaki Museum today was the same type of excitement that you experience when you go to Disney World for the first time. You’re so excited you can hardly sleep the night before and then when you finally arrive, your speechless. You can hardly breathe. I remember being thoroughly confused when we first arrived to the museum. I expected to see a grey brick building with glass front doors, and maybe a giant, bronze Totoro sculpture standing in the middle of an open courtyard. But what I found instead was a rounded stucco structure paint pastel colors, with gardens growing out of the rooftops, tucked behind a wall of vines and other foliage as if it were located in secret garden of sorts. Apparently the image in my head failed to consider the magic of Miazaki’s imagination. I was, however, somewhat correct in my assumptions of the Totoro sculpture. He was the prominent character in a diorama displayed behind a glass window towards the front of the museum entrance.

Entering the Miazaki Museum was like stepping into Sophie’s Hat shop in Howl’s Moving Castle. The museum itself has this cozy, quaint little cottage in the middle of the woods feeling that you only read about in fairy tales and storybooks. I was thrilled to discover that my ticket into the museum had three original frames of film from Castle in the Sky attached to it. After leaving the main entrance, we descended a staircase and entered the grand foyer that opened up to reveal the three stories above us.

            We turned quickly to enter a room off to the side that showcased some fun little exhibits that only increased my excitement: a few shadow boxes, a case of sculptures, and my favorite attraction, the sculpted zoetrope. Attached to the zoetrope were sculpted, sequential poses of various Miazaki characters doing simple actions: riding a unicycle, jumping rope, and a Totoro bouncing up and down for example. After taking animation one this past quarter, I can certainly appreciate the difficulty of animating a action through drawings and keeping proportions consistent, but keeping proportions consistent over a series of sculptures gave my a new found respect for the artists at Studio Ghibli. I was content just looking at sculptures in the zoetrope, until the zoetrope turned on, and I almost fell to the floor. As the zoetrope spun, a strobe light turned on, and the characters began to move! The strobe light allowed you eye to see the animation of the sculptures. I was mesmerized for the next ten minutes.

We moved up stairs and really got into the meat of the exhibit. The first room on the second floor exhibited a brief history of animation in Japan, while the second room displayed examples of the typical working environments of the animators: large wooden desks contained utensils, paints and paper, bookshelves off to the side, and plenty of reference material. The room had painted wall illustrations that made the room feel as if it were a large animation studio. A few of the desks in the room were cut in half and attached to the wall to further the intended illusion.

I lost it my composure in the next room. The one aspect of Miazaki’s films that I cherish most is the beauty of the layout paintings. These painting simply inspire me. They strike a chord deep in my artistic soul, and I come alive, I’m energized, and my creativity starts to sing. They represent everything that I love about art, animation and storytelling. When I walked into this room, I found the room was covered, floor to ceiling, with the most beautiful layout paintings I have ever seen in my life. The luscious detail, the vibrant colors, and the dynamic compositions were too much for my feeble mind to handle and tears feel down the side of my cheek. I wept right there in the middle of the exhibit. Dixie gave me a tissue.

I’m sure my roommate Sean would have died to see the next room: a replica of, I believe, Miazaki’s steam punk intensive personal study, filled with an assortment of books, trinkets, and gadgets all set in front of a large, open hearth. It was reminded heavily of Ubaba’s quarters in Spirited Away. Rough layouts, storyboards, and inspirational materials lined the walls.

I wanted to buy the bookstore. There were too many wonderful things that needed to be purchased. My original plan was to purchase all of the Joe Hisaishi soundtracks to the Miazaki movies but instead discovered the beauty of the layout books. I ended up purchasing a book that contained rough layouts for most of Studio Ghibli’s films, a book of concept paintings by the supervising layout artist of the Miazaki films Oga Kazuo, and the art book for Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, Miazaki’s latest movie that’s set to release in American fall 2009. I had to get the Ponyo on the Cliff book. It contained the paintings that I cried over in the exhibit. I did however end up buying two soundtracks: Porco Rosso and Ponyo on the Cliff. I would have bought more, but the CDs were fairly expensive. I’m sure I’ll find them cheaper when we go to Nakano tonight.

There was a giant cat-bus in a play area for children. I wanted to join in the fun but was not allowed for obvious reasons. I did however enjoy watching the cute-as-hell Asian children step all over the cat-bus’s face as we passed by.

We ascended a spiral staircase up to the roof were we stopped to take pictures in front of a large robot from Castle in the Sky. I had trouble working Natalia’s camera, and a line started to form behind me. I apologized in my broken Japanese. Two teengage girls behind me started giggling. Fortunately Dixie was able to get a good picture for her because I failed miserably.

We went back downstairs to stand in line for a special film presentation that came free with our ticket. We stood on what seemed to be a rounded patio that sloped into the wall at the edges. The patio as well as the rest of the museum was very heavily Gaudi influenced. Zane, Dixie and I enjoyed watching a group of small children running up the slope of the wall. We couldn’t help but laugh when the kids came sliding back down as they reached the crest. One of the little girls landed on her stomach and slid face first down the slope, her cheek grading against the stone slabs. I thought tears would follow, but she stood back up as if nothing had happened and continued the process with her friends.

I didn’t realize they were going to show us a museum specific short film relating to one of the Miazaki films. Apparently Studio Ghibli created four that the museum rotates every month. We were lucky enough to see the My Neighbor Totoro short film, where Mae goes on an adventure with a young cat-bus. You know a film is good when you can understand exactly what’s happening even though the film isn’t in your native language, and that was the case with this short. The cat-bus in the original film is a character that really isn’t explore to great depths, whereas this film not only introduces the young cat-bus, but also introduces a cat subway, a cat-boat, and a British cat double-decker bus. It was such a fun film to watch. Mae feeds a giant, old cat-train a piece of candy and his reaction is priceless. The ingeniousness of the films creativity made a recipe for pure excellence.

On our return trek to the subway, we decided to take the scenic route through the park behind the studio Ghibli Museum. What an excellent opportunity to take photos. The park was centered on a lake which just happened to contain yet another shrine. Red trees beautifully framed a traditional red Shinto shrine backlit by the gorgeous highlights of a golden Japanese sunset. So being the artist that I am, I pulled out my camera and began playing the setting until I was able to capture the perfect picture. Tokyo is great, but you don’t get to see the personality of Japan in a jungle of concrete and billboards. The personality lies in the rural societies. Mitaka is strong combination of natural settings and a more authentic Japanese community. As fun and exhilarating as Tokyo is, I definitely prefer the quaint setting.

I soon realized that in my fever to photograph the lakeside setting, I was left behind, along with Martaa and Mark Shultz. After navigating our way out of the park we ran into another half of our group that was also left behind. Thankfully we all had a Tokyo city atlas handy. It took a few minutes to find our way back to the subway, but it also gave us a chance to enjoy the scenery as the sun set.

We finally arrived at Nakano with high expectations. I mean when Ray Goto talks up a place for 10 weeks it’s hard not to be excited. Thankfully Nakano did not disappoint. It’s probably the largest shopping district in Tokyo, fully equipped with over three floors of all the crap that you could possibly want. I’m talking books, antique toys, hand-painted animation cells, clothes, jewelry, video games, CDs, DVD, and list could possibly continue for several pages. We arrived hungry, so decided to find something to eat before going on a shopping spree. Mark Shultz, his wife, and a few others decided to grab sushi at the rotating sushi bar. Zane, Dixie, and I, not being huge fans of sushi, found a small buffet just down the block. I think it was a Chinese buffet. We weren’t really sure, but the food was good, and it was decently priced.

We ended up chatting for a bit, but after eating a decent meal, we began to explore the shops galore. Our first find was a bookstore where we discovered yet more Miazaki books that I was tempted to buy. Luckily I restrained myself from the temptation. The photography section was quite extensive. They had book after book of reference materials thoroughly dedicated to specific types of scenery such as European architecture and forest settings. Interesting however they were not tempting enough to buy. One of the most impressive aspects of Nakano was the variety of new and vintage toy stores. Zane found a few things to purchase for his father while I found a sweet sculpture that I might have to get Chris for Christmas. I still can’t find Fooly Cooly merchandise, which makes me sad. For about an hour we explored the multitude of shops and stores on the three floors of the marketplace. It’s definitely the most impressive district that we’ve been to so far. I ‘ll probably return later next week. Eventually, as our backs wore out and our feet started to ache, Zane, Dixie and I decided it’d be a good idea to sit and rest for a bit before navigating the subway back home.

We found a nice brick ledge to sit on, just outside the main entrance to the Nakano shopping center. We took out our sketchbooks and began to draw. Throughout the course of our drawing session, several indivduals were interested in our drawings. Our first visitor was a polite middle-aged businessman. We chatted with him about our stay in Tokyo and the purpose of our trip. He suggested to us a few interesting sites near the fish market that we should visit to give us a more authentic look into traditional Japanese culture. I can’t wait to take some good reference photos. The second man, an architect, was particularly interested in the gestural qualities of our sketches and seemed eagar to offer suggestions to aid young aspiring artists. He gave us a few of his architectural drawing utensils! A beautiful fountain and a large graphite mechanical pencil were among the numerous donations. He took a picture of us, and then printed three healthy sized copies for us. He gave it to us as a souvenir for our trip to Tokyo. People here in Japan (most of the time) are very friendly and hospitable. I really appreciated this man’s kind-hearted devotion to us in the brief moments we had to interact with him. I guess artists tend to universally look out for each other

We continued to sketch shortly after the architect left, and after a few moments of attempting to find a good subject to draw, we happened to see some random guy dancing J-pop-style moves a few feet from where we were sitting. He had been smoking there for a while just minding his own business, then plugged in his headphones, and started…dancing. Mind you this is no street weirdo. This is a guy wearing a suit and tie. We were slightly weirded out by this brave public display, so naturally we started to draw him. I didn’t get any fun sketches, but he did catch us drawing. Hopefully he didn’t hear our violent snickers over his music. He came toward us, and we ended up having a good conversation with him. I’ve had an extreme need recently to express my esteem for Japan with a native and this turned out to be the perfect opportunity.

After a wonderfully inspirational day at the museum and Nakano, we got lost in the subway. Not too lost but things were a little hairy for a while. After we realized that we were on the wrong subway line, we got off at the next station and began to coordinate our return to Nakano. That’s when Dixie lost her subway pass, and Zane’s nose started bleeding, a good note to end the day on don’t you think. Well everything worked out just fine. We got Zane some newspaper, Dixie found her pass in her pocket, and a bilingual Japanese woman helped us get on the right train after we returned to Nakano. Turns out we were in the right section of the station but didn’t realize that two lines were running at the same time on one track. We got on the yellow line when we should have waited for the blue line. But all is well. I feel like such an adult.

Now I have to wake up at the butt crack of dawn tomorrow to go to the fish market. Ugh! But apparently it will be worth the lack of sleep and the several mile hike. I’ll believe it when we get the

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