A tape cutting event was held yesterday (March 14) to launch Studio Ghibli’s new exhibition ‘The Ghibli Expo: From Nausicaä to Marnie’ inside Fukuoka City Museum. A thirty-year retrospective on the studio’s work from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind to When Marnie Was There, this exhibition is enormous, as everything from the colossal billboard advertisements to the extensive gift shop shows it. These expectations were not disappointed. Fukuoka Now was invited to cover the event, and I drew the lucky card!
After a short walk from Nishijin Station, I strolled through the doors of the museum to be greeted immediately by Ghibli’s one-of-a-kind magic. Suspended, not too precariously, in the center of the hall is a massive and intricately detailed model of the airship seen at the start of Ghibli’s 1986 Laputa: Castle in the Sky (I can hear all you Ghibli fans squeal in excitement already), which rose and fell as the great propellers ripped it through the air.
Takayuki Aoki led the press pack into the first room, and as soon as we stepped through the threshold a collective “awwhh, that’s adorable” rang between us all. Facing us, on the other side of a lavish bar, was a large, cuddly Totoro, eyes and smiles fixed on all entrants. Ghibli paraphernalia of all kinds line the walls and crannies of the cozy room, with a retro television tucked away in the corner adding to the relaxed feeling of the place. The well-varnished bar is a replica of the bar at Studio Ghibli itself, designed by director Hayao Miyazaki as a relaxation spot for employees. We had stepped into Ghibli’s world.
It was here that Aoki-san explained the exhibition’s aims. On display for the first time in Fukuoka was the raw and uncut side of Ghibli. It’s not necessarily the films themselves that reach out to you here, but how the films are advertised and how this advertising, as well as some of Ghibli’s most loved creations, come into being. Covering each available inch of the walls in the next eleven rooms were the tangible relics of films gone by, showing how they had been communicated through the years.
Heading into the next room, careful not to miss the soot sprites playing by the stairs, we craned our necks to catch the panorama of Ghibli posters that encompassed us. Among the hundred or so posters from Ghibli films of the past thirty years, more than a few were rare exclusives never shown to the public before. Keep your eyes peeled near the entrance for the last remaining Nausicaä poster of its kind!
Next on the course was the “producer’s room”, a meticulous copy of Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki’s office, right down to the clutter spread across his desk – speaking to him after the tour he was terrified of how lifelike it was! This space looks at what is actually involved in a producer’s work, from advertising in trains and papers, to planning shots. Mounted on the walls around the office are perhaps the most unexpected treasures of the whole exhibition, original, unedited correspondence about the catchphrases, or taglines, of Ghibli films. Catchphrases play a huge part of how audiences interact with films, giving them a glimpse of the plot, theme and feelings of a picture before it hits theaters, so getting them right is an important part of any producer’s work. This feeling really comes out at you when you see the pent-up passion of Suzuki and Miyazaki’s scrawled notes, arguing over the fate of a number of such catchphrases, pulling them this way and that. Did you know Hayao Miyazaki changed the catchphrase of My Neighbor Totoro to make it look like Totoro could still be out there? Corny as it may be, you leave the room feeling there might be a little magic left in advertising yet.
The next room is the character goods room, and it’s quite the spectacle! Like a larger version of the gift shop outside, it’s crammed with over 3,000 goods of all kinds from Ghibli’s entire catalog, making this room a Ghibli lovers paradise. The usual plush toys, postcards and t-shirts are on display here, but alongside them are a few gems including some original sheet music from Ponyo and the first ever Totoro plush toy.
Taking the winding exit out of the room you’ll come across the famous Cat Bus from My Neighbor Totoro, and a small exhibition detailing the illustrious career and talent behind the studio, with the statue of the 2003 Oscar for Spirited Away on display.
Ghibli’s love affair with all things airborne is well-known, just one look at Porco Rosso or The Wind Rises will tell you as much, so it’s fitting that the next big part of the exhibition is taken up with a deep dive into the construction of the planes which populate Ghibli’s skies. Shots from the films, still drawings and schematics of the aircraft show the thought process and painstaking attention to detail paid to Ghibli’s aeronautic world as biplanes fly overhead and a series of informational panels take you on a journey through man’s relationship with flight.
Last, but certainly not least, is perhaps the biggest crowd pleaser of the whole exhibition – the world of the Ohm. Through the next few rooms, designer and sculptor Takayuki Takeya (whose work on the recent Shin Godzilla and Attack on Titan has earned him the title of one of the best creators in Japan) took us through his vision of Nausicaä and the world ‘growing up from decay’ he tried to present. After going through a darkened corridor where a tapestry telling the story of Suzuki’s Nausicaä is hung, visitors will enter a darkened chamber filled with terrifying yet enchanting models Takeya-san has sculpted himself. Amongst the minonezumi, hebikera and myriad of other creatures which litter Nausicaä’s world, the one that stands out most are the Ohm, and coming in at a whopping 8.5 m it certainly stands out here too.
Takeya-san said he put the beetle-like creature and the other beasts in the dark to create an aura of a lived, breathed world, one that’s entirely theirs. ‘To put them in the light would be to take away their world. This isn’t a zoo, and this is their world, not ours,’ he said later in the last room, surrounded by mounted beetles he had used for inspiration. This is the first time these creatures have ever been shown to the public, so don’t miss it!
The exhibition may have been over, but the experience was not! A few steps to the right of the entrance to the exhibition lies a themed gift shop, packed full of Ghibli goodies! Adorable plush toys and models alike are stacked up high, so pick up a Totoro plush (¥1,944) or soot sprite cuddly toy (¥1,836) if you’re looking for something cute for kids (or adults if you’re anything like me). If you’re looking for something on the accessible but still adventurous side, they also sell small Kodama (from Princess Mononoke) and No-Face (from Spirited Away) charms. For something a little more functional, they also have Ghibli hand towels (¥648), postcards (¥150) and clear files (¥200) – a great alternative if you can’t make up your mind on what to buy!
However, of course, it’s not all about the merchandise, and speaking with Aoki-san after the tour showed me that. He said that while he was most personally proud of the Ohm in the creature’s room, he was excited for the opportunity to show the origin and raw underbelly of Ghibli to an international audience. Exhibitions like this one give the chance to project a real, living, breathing visceral impression of the world of Ghibli and its creative process. Like a lot of foreign visitors coming to Japan struggle to read kanji (and English signage is limited), Aoki-san said he hoped that the towering, viscerality of Takeya-san’s models would convey the origins of Ghibli as a Japanese product in a uniquely accessible way.
After that, I walked out the doors of the museum and towards the subway station, but something about his words kept coming back to me. The viscerality of the whole exhibition, its towering monsters, soaring planes, and cluttered desks, burned a sense of admiration and appreciation for the craft of this household name. The exhibition focuses on showing the workings behind the curtain that is Ghibli, but in doing so, it never lets you forget that wanderlust you feel when you watch your first Ghibli film. ‘The Ghibli Expo: From Nausicaä to Marnie’ exhibition runs in Fukuoka until June 23 and I cannot recommend it enough.
The Ghibli Expo – From Nausicaä to Marnie
• 3/15 (Fri.) ~ 6/23 (Sun.)
• 9:30~17:30 (last entry 17:00)
• Closed: Mon., except 4/29 (Mon., hol.), 5/6 (Mon.), and closed on 5/7 (Tue.)
• Adults: ¥1,400, HS & MS: ¥1,000, 4 y.o. to ES: ¥600 (¥200 off for adv. tickets or same day upon presenting a foreign passport or residence card)
• Fukuoka City Museum
• 3-1-1 Momochihama, Sawara-ku, Fukuoka
Kenji Newton (Fukuoka Now reporter) calling all aboard the Cat Bus! A little Ghibli trivia for fans in Fukuoka: in My Neighbor Totoro, the sign on the Cat Bus shows ‘めい’ (Mei) when it was looking for the little girl. But at this exhibition it shows ‘ふくおか’ (Fukuoka)!
Report and photos by Kenji Newton for Fukuoka Now