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 Japanese government has told U.S. company Uber Technologies Inc. to suspend a pilot project for its ride-sharing transportation business in the Fukuoka area that enables ordinary drivers to use their own cars to carry people who need a ride, senior transport ministry officials said Tuesday. (Japan Times)
A herd of seven deer caused flight delays Tuesday evening at New Chitose Airport near Sapporo in Hokkaido, northern Japan, after they were found entering the runway area, the Transport Ministry said. (Bangkok Post)
U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama will visit Japan for three days from March 18, as part of her campaign to promote education for women and volunteer activities in developing countries, the White House announced Tuesday. (Jiji Press)
Microsoft Corp. cofounder Paul Allen said on Twitter Tuesday the Imperial Japanese Navy's World War II battleship Musashi has been found at the bottom of the Sibuyan Sea off the central Philippines. (Jiji Press)
The Cabinet on Tuesday signed off on a bill that would revise the adult entertainment business law to enable discos and nightclubs that offer dancing to operate past midnight as long as they meet interior lighting criteria. (Japan Times)
The Tokyo High Court rejected Wednesday an appeal filed by a former senior member of the AUM Shinrikyo cult against a nine-year prison term handed down by a lower court for his involvement in three crimes. (Kyodo)
Osaka Prefectural Police on Friday announced the arrest of a late-shift taxi driver from Joto Ward for allegedly raping a number of intoxicated female passengers, reports the Asahi Shimbun. (Tokyo Reporter)
A 65-year-old man who was arrested and jailed for causing trouble at a gasoline station in Mitaka, Tokyo, was rearrested after he returned to the same gas station upon his release and threatened the owner, police said Monday. (Japan Today)