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.
Fourteen more people in Japan have been confirmed to have dengue fever, sending the total number of cases to 36 since the first domestic case was reported last week, the health ministry said Tuesday. (Jiji Press)
Tokyo metropolitan police have issued an arrest warrant for the former general manager of the Grand Hyatt Tokyo hotel located in Roppongi Hills, after he allegedly attempted to forcibly kiss a female guest. (Japan Today)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had an audience with Japanese Emperor Akihito at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Tuesday, as part of his five-day trip to Japan to strengthen bilateral ties amid the military rise of China. (Kyodo)
The Criminal Investigation Command of Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force on Tuesday sent to prosecutors papers on an officer for alleged assault and property damage over the suicide of a crewman after the officer's suspected bullying. (Jiji Press)
Hokkaido Prefectural Police on Monday accused a restaurant in Chuo Ward of violating labor laws by attiring waitresses under the age of 18 in bikinis, reports the Hokkaido Shimbun (Sept. 2). (Tokyo Reporter)
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office on Monday decided not to indict Torao Tokuda, former head of hospital group Tokushukai, over a high-profile election fraud case, because he is seriously ill. (The Japan News)