Margaret Talbot on Hayao Miyazaki

I bring you (admittedly with no authorization whatsoever) Margaret Talbot's marvelous article on Hayao Miyazaki. Having misplaced the original, published in the January 17, 2005 New Yorker, I dredged up this copy from the Internet -- and added some photos.

THE AUTEUR OF ANIME
by Margaret Talbot

he building that houses the Ghibli Museum would be unusual anywhere, but in greater Tokyo, where architectural exuberance usually takes an angular, modernist form-black glass cubes, busy geometries of neon—it is particularly so. From the outside, the museum resembles an oversized adobe house, with slightly melted edges; its exterior walls are painted in saltwater-taffy shades of pink, green, and yellow. Inside, the museum looks like a child's fantasy of Old Europe submitted to a rigorous Arts and Crafts sensibility. The floors are dark polished wood; stained-glass windows cast candy-colored light on whitewashed walls; a spiral stairway climbs—inside what looks like a giant Victorian birdcage—to a rooftop garden of world grasses, over which a hammered-metal robot soldier stands guard. In the central hall, beneath a high ceiling, a web of balconies and bridges suggests a dream vision of a nineteenth-century factory. Wrought-iron railings contain balls of colored glass, and leaded-glass lanterns are attached to the walls by wrought-iron vines. In the entryway, a fresco on the ceiling depicts a sky of Fra Angelico blue and a smiling sun wreathed in fruits and vegetables.

Situated in a park on the outskirts of Tokyo, the Ghibli Museum is dedicated to the work of Hayao Miyazaki, the most beloved director in Japan today, and—especially since his film "Spirited Away" won the Oscar for best animated film, in 2002—perhaps the most admired animation director in the world. Miyazaki's zeal for craft and beauty has set a new standard for animated films. With few exceptions, we seldom know the names of directors of children's films, but if you have seen a Miyazaki film you know his name. He not only draws characters and storyboards for the films he directs; he also writes the rich, strange screenplays, which blend Japanese mythology with modern psychological realism. He is, in short, an auteur of children's entertainment, perhaps the world's first.

Miyazaki designed the Ghibli himself. The museum was partly funded by his movie studio—after which it is named—and is now a hugely popular, self-sustaining attraction. Though the museum is intended for children, who might be supposed not to care so much for beauty per se, it is, in nearly every detail, beautiful.
A reproduction of the cat-shaped bus in Miyazaki's "My Neighbor Totoro" (1988), which is large enough for children to climb on, has glowing golden eyes, and fur both soft and bristly, like a caterpillar's. The museum showcases not only the visual splendor of Miyazaki's films but also what inspires them: among other things, a sense of wonder about the natural world; a fascination with flight; a curiosity about miniature or hidden realms. When I visited the museum this summer, it struck me as one of the few kid-oriented attractions I know that take seriously the notion of children as natural aesthetes—in part because it portrays for them a creative life that they might plausibly lead as adults.

One typical exhibit, "Where a Film Begins," depicts a room in which a young boy dreams up an idea for a movie. The room is supposed to be a study inherited from the imaginary boy's grandfather, and the mise en scéne captures an idealized, slightly antique coziness; a glass jar of colored pencils sits atop a wooden desk, and worn tapestry pillows rest on a library chair. The display conjures a creative young mind's half-glimpsed notions and sudden enthusiasms: models of a flying dinosaur and a red biplane hang from the ceiling; thick books about birds and fish and the history of aviation occupy the bookshelves. As sentimental as it is, this room makes you think with pleasure about the dreamy stage that often precedes the making of art. Standing amid its congenial clutter, a child visitor can easily grasp how it is, as Miyazaki writes in the museum's catalogue, that "imagination and premonition" and "sketches and partial images" can become "the core of a film." Indeed, "Spirited Away," the story of a sullen ten-year-old girl who finds herself transported from an abandoned theme park into a ravishing spirit world, was inspired in part by Miyazaki's own visit to a peculiar outdoor attraction—a Tokyo museum where old Japanese buildings, including a splendid bathhouse, had been carted from their original locations.

Miyazaki is detail-oriented to the point of obsession—he traveled to Portugal just to look at a painting by Hieronymus Bosch that had long haunted him, and sent Michiyo Yasuda, the color designer for his films, to Alsace to scout hues for his latest movie—and so, too, is his museum. For the in-house theatre, which shows short films that he makes especially for the museum (including a sequel to "My Neighbor Totoro"), he hired an acoustic designer to create an uncommonly gentle sound system. Miyazaki wanted the opposite of the "tendency in recent Hollywood films," which is "to use heavy bass to try to pull the audience into the film." He thinks that movie theatres can be claustrophobic, even overwhelming places for young children, so he wanted his theatre to have windows that let in some natural light, bench-style seats that a child can't sink into, and films that make them "sigh in relaxation." Miyazaki fondly remembered the days when cigarette smoke in a theatre could draw your attention to the beam of light stretching from the projector, so he placed the projector in a glass booth that protrudes into the seating area. "I want to show children that moving images are enjoyed by having huge reels revolving, an electric light shining on the film, and a lot of complicated things being done," he explains in the museum's catalogue. Colleagues told him that projecting the films digitally would help preserve them, but Miyazaki relished the idea that, eventually, viewers might see "worn film with 'falling-rain' scratches on the screen."

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