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.
On Sunday, July 5 2015, the United States and Japan will battle for the championship in the World Cup Final soccer match. Contest time: 6 p.m. central/7 p.m. eastern. Read any preview for the Women's World Cup final between the United States and Japan, and you will see words like revenge, retribution, or payback. (sounderatheart.com)
Japan on Saturday pledged $6.1 billion in financial aid to the "Mekong Five" countries as it pushes infrastructure exports and courts influence in a region where rival China has an increasing presence. (arabnews.com)
rown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, who are visiting Tonga, attended the coronation of King Tupou VI of Tonga held at a church in its capital, Nukualofa, on Saturday. This is the first time in two years that Crown Princess Masako has engaged in official duties overseas. (The Japan News)
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee is expected to put off to Sunday its decision on whether to add sites related to Japan's Meiji era industrial revolution to the World Heritage list, government sources said Saturday. (The Japan News)
A drug control division of the health ministry on Saturday announced the arrest of a former executive of public broadcaster NHK for the importation of so-called "dangerous drugs," reports the Sankei Shimbun (July 4). (Tokyo Reporter)
Nearly 40 percent of single people in their 20s and 30s do not want a romantic partner, according to a survey by the Cabinet Office released in June. The survey was included in a government white paper on Japan's notoriously low birthrate that also found 46.2 percent of singles claiming that relationships were "bothersome." (Japan Times)
The 71-year-old man who set himself on fire on a Tokaido Shinkansen train on Tuesday told his sister he might kill himself during a phone conversation about 10 days before the incident, The Yomiuri Shimbun was told by the sister. (The Japan News)