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.
The annual "kanji" Chinese character of the year in Japan went to "ring" on Thursday, after Tokyo's successful bid to host the 2020 Olympics, often referred to in local print media as "five rings." (Straits Times )
Two death-row inmates were hanged Thursday in the fourth round of executions since the launch last December of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government, Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki said. (Japan Times )
South Korea has condemned Japan for publishing a video in 10 languages challenging its sovereignty over a tiny group of islets at the heart of a territorial dispute, demanding Tokyo remove it. (channelnewsasia.com )
Japan's Supreme Court has upheld the petition of a female-to-male transgender man to be recorded on the official family registry as the father of a boy born to his wife after the use of semen from a donor, it was learned on Wednesday. (Jiji Press )
A 12-year battle for justice took an enormous financial, emotional and physical toll, says Catherine Jane Fisher. But for the Australian teacher of English and mother of three, it's time to savor a landmark court victory. (womensenews.org )
The number of shoplifting cases accounted for nearly 10 pct of all criminal offenses recognized by Japanese police, with the rate increasing, a National Police Agency survey showed Wednesday. (Jiji Press )