It’s no secret that one of Japan’s chief exports is its popular culture, and the films of Studio Ghibli rank high with pop culture aficionados around the world. Ghibli’s twenty-one feature films (the Expo includes Nausicaä, which will be controversial to some purists) offer something for everyone, spanning material from the brutal Grave of the Dragonflies and the modern romance of Only Yesterday, to the fantastic worlds of Totoro and Ponyo.
Tickets to the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo are sold months in advance, leaving many unprepared visitors disappointed. Luckily, for the last couple of years, the studio has had a traveling exhibition, the Ghibli Expo, and it’s presently in Hiroshima. Until September 24, you can walk into the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum, buy your ticket, and proceed directly to the third floor for a huge blast of Ghibli’s signature magic. If Hiroshima’s absolutely world class International Animation Festival in August has left you hungry for more, be sure not to miss it.
One of the first things you’ll find as you enter the museum lobby are some of the marvelous flying machines from the studio’s first (official) film, Castle in the Sky. Suspended overhead, the installation’s careful detail, and moving parts beckon you on to the main exhibition hall two floors up. Once there, the exhibit offers a well-curated mix of displays that should entertain everyone from small children to the most encyclopedic sort of otaku. Kids will love the life-size Nekobus (with its destination sign reading Hiroshima in hiragana), which they can climb into to find a view out the windows of Totoro flying through the air on his magic spinning top.
The completist crowd will love the enormous selection of posters and notices for studio events, many drawn in-house by lesser-known members of Ghibli’s animation team. Another display includes a dazzling collection of goods associated with development and promotion of the studio’s films, including a life-size figure of Ponyo in her half-fish/half-human form. The studio also, apparently, commissions unique wristwatches for each of its new releases, available to studio employees, and those are all on view here as well, along with enough t-shirts to keep you covered for the next decade. Still another section goes into the extensive research behind each movie.
Entomology and aviation, site visits for artistic inspiration, historical research. There’s a lot that goes into these films. There are other sections too, but I won’t give everything away.
Naturally, you’ll finish your visit in the gift shop. From magnets and postcards to more expensive items, you should be able to find some memento to bring home with you, if you like.
The good news about Studio Ghibli, of course, is that the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, who had officially retired after the 2013 release of The Wind Rises, has proven unable to stay away. He and his son Goro are hard at work on at least one more (some sources claim two) feature film, with an intended 2020 release date. Until then, however, the Ghibli Expo may be your best bet to reconnect with the obsessive devotion that this one-of-a-kind studio has won over the decades.
Address: 2-22 Kaminoboricho, Naka-ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima-ken 730-0014
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (until 20:00 on Fridays), now until September 24
Access: Third floor of Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum. A fifteen-minute walk north along Chuo-dori from the Hondori shopping arcade downtown, or take the northbound Hakushima spur of the Hiroden streetcar line, exiting at Shukkeien-mae stop.
Admission: adults 1,400 yen / students 1,000 yen / children 600 yen
Photo by author