There are no heroes or villains in the work of Studio Ghibli - just magic, everyday wonder, and love. As the revered Japanese animators release their new film, From Up on Poppy Hill, Robbie Collin is spirited away.
The first thing you notice when you disembark the train at Mitaka station, on the western outskirts of Tokyo, is the smell: a strange, sweet, twice-addictive blend of fresh pastries and cigarette smoke that drifts from the coffee shop just beyond the ticket barrier. But the second thing you notice is a stuffed toy sitting on the tourist information desk, and that is when you know you have come to the right place.
The toy is a Totoro: an owl-like forest spirit with grey-blue fur, pointed mushroom ears, a Siamese cat grin and an Easter egg physique. He (she? it?) is almost certainly the best-known creation of Studio Ghibli, a company of 300 artists, writers and musicians who, from their base in the Tokyo suburbs, are quietly producing the most beautiful animated films on the planet.
My Neighbour Totoro, Castle in the Sky, Kiki's Delivery Service, Grave of the Fireflies: Ghibli films spin tales of witches and robots, and whisk you to fantastical worlds and war-torn wastelands, but they could not be more spiritually distant from the brash and pulpy cartoon series we tend to associate with Japan in the West. In a Ghibli film, a robot could be a gardener on a floating island; a witch a young girl who runs errands for a baker.
Often, the studio looks westwards for inspiration: books by Mary Norton, Diana Wynne Jones and Ursula K Le Guin have all been adapted into Ghibli films, and their stories can be as influenced by European folklore as they are by traditional Japanese culture.
Japan plans to slash by half the amount of juvenile bluefin tuna taken from the Northern Pacific starting in 2015, compared to the 2002-2004 average, a Fisheries Agency source said Saturday. (Global Post )
The Tokyo District Court on Friday sentenced former Aum Supreme Truth cult member Makoto Hirata to nine years in prison for his involvement in a high-profile 1995 kidnapping and other crimes committed by the doomsday cult. (The Japan News )
Fewer than 40 pct of residents and commuters in Tokyo take specific measures to prepare for a possible huge earthquake beneath the Japanese capital, despite high awareness on disaster prevention, a Metropolitan Police Department survey showed Friday. (Jiji Press )
The man under arrest for fatally stabbing one man and wounding three others during a 10-minute rampage in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, on Monday night, told police on Thursday that he wanted to hijack a plane at Haneda airport and fly it into Tokyo Skytree to take revenge on society. (Japan Today )
The 24-year-old suspect in the murder of a man on a street in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, on Monday is believed to have posted a profile online in which he identified himself as a "celeb NEET," meaning a celebrity without a job, according to local online news site J-Cast News. (Japan Times )
The proportion of single nonregular Japanese male workers in their 20s who have girlfriends stood at 18.7 pct in 2012, against 30.7 pct for regular employees, a government survey revealed Thursday. (Jiji Press )
Police in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, on Wednesday night arrested a 24-year-old unemployed man over four knife attacks within 10 minutes that left one man dead and three others injured on a street. (Japan Today )