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 International Whaling Commission adopted a resolution Thursday calling for tightening its screening of research whaling programs, as Japan hopes to resume hunting for scientific purposes in the Antarctic Ocean under a new program. (Jiji Press)
The average price of residential land in Japan's three metropolitan areas in and around Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya as of July 1 rose from a year before, up for the first time in six years, the land ministry said in an annual report Thursday. (Jiji Press)
A 61-year-old truck driver has been arrested after he hit a group of elementary school children in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, killing one 9-year-old girl and injuring two other children, aged 8 and 9. (Japan Today)
Following the bust of a shopping site selling shoes containing a miniature camera used to take illicit photographs, Kyoto Prefectural Police are now seeking the return of the merchandise from customers, it was revealed on Tuesday, reports the Mainichi Shimbun (Sept. 17). (Tokyo Reporter)
Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko may visit Palau next year, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, to pay their respects to Japan's war dead, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday. (Jiji Press)
A car was partially buried due to small mudslide and three people sustained injuries after a magnitude-5.6 quake hit a wide area of Kanto region in Japan around noon on Tuesday, according to local report. (shanghaidaily.com)
The government had lifted a vehicle ban on National Route 6 through the area where residency is restricted due to the crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant, the first time that stretch of highway has been open to automobiles since the nuclear crisis began in March 2011. (Japan Times)