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 adopted at a cabinet meeting Friday a set of guidelines for comprehensively promoting measures to reduce child poverty in Japan, which has grown into a serious problem in the advanced economy. (Jiji Press)
The Hiroshima prefectural police department said Friday that it has identified all 72 people who have been confirmed dead so far in the massive landslides that hit the city of Hiroshima last week. (The Japan News)
The Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said Thursday it has picked anime director Hayao Miyazaki as one of three recipients of its Honorary Award this year. (Japan Times)
The National Police Agency and Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications plan to assign an extra 3,000 officers over the next three years to deal with stalking and bank transfer fraud cases which are increasing. (Japan Today)