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.
Eight students in Osaka Prefecture suffered broken bones during a three-year period at a public junior high school while practicing or performing kumitaiso, the gymnastic formation known as a human pyramid. (Japan Times)
Satoshi Omura, a distinguished professor emeritus of Kitasato University, has won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with William Campbell for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites, Sweden's Karolinska Institute announced Monday. (The Japan News)
With the My Number law taking effect Monday, the government kicks off the controversial personal identification system to unify the administration of every resident's state services and records, and will start sending numbers out to tens of thousands of households. (Japan Times)
Niigata Prefectural Police on Tuesday raided headquarters of the troubled Yamaguchi-gumi organized crime group as a part of an investigation into a baseball gambling case, reports the Sankei Shimbun (Oct. 6). (Tokyo Reporter)
Police arrested a former maintenance worker for Schindler Elevator KK on Saturday on suspicion of deliberately stopping one of the company's elevators near Tokyo and obstructing the company's business. (Japan Today)
A strong low-pressure storm with heavy winds and rains hit Japan from Thursday night to Friday, causing injuries, transportation disruptions, evacuations, blackouts and school closures mainly in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido. (Japan Today)