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 Diet, Japan's parliament, on Thursday enacted revisions to the My Number law to link the new national identification numbers to bank accounts on a voluntary basis from 2018 and to basic pension numbers by May 2017. (Jiji Press)
Japan's government and ruling camp are considering unifying liquor tax rates on beer and quasi-beer that now depend on the amount of malt the beverages contain, informed sources said Thursday. (Jiji Press)
The North Pacific Fisheries Commission on Thursday agreed to take steps to curb an increase in saury fishing boats to help protect fish stock in northern Pacific waters over the long term. (Jiji Press)
The town of Taiji in Wakayama Prefecture began its controversial dolphin hunt on Thursday after bad weather delayed the start, according to a local fisheries official, while a separate whaling hunt is due to start at the weekend. (Japan Today)
Police charged 689 people in January-June for the possession, smuggling and use of government-designated "dangerous" drugs, or quasi-narcotics, and related crimes and accidents, the National Police Agency said Thursday. (The Japan News)
Police investigating the murder of a 25-year-old woman in her apartment in Tokyo's Nakano Ward last week, said pieces of a man's skin were found under her fingernails. However, police said a DNA analysis was unable to match it with any of the victim's male acquaintances, Fuji TV reported Thursday. (Japan Today)
Osaka Prefectural Police on Wednesday announced the arrest of a 20-year-old university student for the theft of two sports cars, one of which was used at a racing circuit, reports the Asahi Shimbun (Sep. 3). (Tokyo Reporter)
After a week of speculation, law enforcement said on Tuesday that Japan's largest crime syndicate has chosen to expel 13 affiliate groups, a move that essentially results in the dissolution of the gang, reports the Kobe Shimbun (Sep. 1). (Tokyo Reporter)
Chiba Prefectural Police on Wednesday busted a hostess club in Chiba City for licensing violations, with the business being a source of revenue for organized crime, reports TBS News (Sep. 2). (Tokyo Reporter)