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.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has held a meeting with his top financial diplomat, as well as the Bank of Japan's governor, amid a report the "architect of Abenomics" had called for a Group of 20-wide response to the market rout. (cnbc.com)
Tokyo Electric Power, whose Fukushima Daiichi power plant was the scene of a nuclear disaster nearly five years ago, may get approval to resume nuclear power generation at another facility as soon as this summer, as Japan's nuclear safety agency is moving toward giving the "all clear" to the utility's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture. (Nikkei)
North Korea on Friday declared the scrapping of its comprehensive investigation into the issue of Japanese nationals abducted to the country decades ago, in retaliation against Tokyo's decision to impose sanctions on the reclusive state following its recent nuclear test and missile firing. (Jiji Press)
A lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who announced plans to take paternity leave has resigned over revelations that he engaged in an extra-marital affair while his wife was pregnant, reports TBS News (Feb. 12). (Tokyo Reporter)
Dubbed the "Black Widow" after the mate-eating spider, Chisako Kakehi awaits trial: Initially arrested on suspicion of murdering eight lovers for insurance payouts, her case is notorious in Japan as much for its body count as the shortcomings of the investigation. (scmp.com)
The Kobe District Court on Friday sentenced the daughter-in-law of a woman, who is believed to have masterminded a series of murders in the western Japan city of Amagasaki, to 23 years in prison. (Japan Today)
Los Angeles alternative rock outfit Red Hot Chili Peppers and Icelandic post-rock trio Sigur Ros were among acts named Friday to perform at the 20th anniversary of Fuji Rock Festival in July. (Japan Times)