Ghibli Park Celebrates “Totoro” And Other Miyazaki Movies

One of the first offenses at Ghibli Park was hoisting a one-year-old child onto the polyester tummy of a forest spirit creature. Another took him under a barricade and took refuge in a furry bus with cat eyes on his headlights.

“He’s not following the rules,” I told my wife as the staff overseeing the Catbus playground looked on with concern.

“He’s making fun of it,” she said. But we didn’t stop him.

Ghibli Park, which opened in a suburb of Nagoya, Japan in November, pays tribute to the quirky and captivating films of Studio Ghibli, co-founded by Hayao Miyazaki in the 1980s. We took our 2 toddlers because their favorite movie is My Neighbor Totoro. The film was made popular by a 1988 Miyazaki film starring a spirit creature and his sidekick Catbus.

As parents, we thought it would be fun to let our 3 and 1 year old sons experience the world of Totoro. And as longtime Ghibli fans, we were curious to see what the place was like.

American tourists may wonder how Ghibli Park compares to Disney World. Not really. It feels very low key, no rides, no exotic animals, no giant turkey legs, no animatronic American presidents. The best point is to take a walk while feeling the atmosphere of Miyazaki.

Also the park is not finished. It was grafted onto an existing city park and opened late last year, but as of early July, only three of the five planned ticketed sites were open. When I booked his June visit, he only had one building available to international visitors who booked through the park’s website, a building called “The Great Warehouse of Ghibli.” . (He was able to book two of the other sites through a Japanese travel agency, but I learned about it much later from a Japanese speaker.)

Miyazaki biographer Susan Napier of Tufts University, who visited Ghibli Park in April, told me she felt it was “a work in progress.” She also called the ticketing process, which includes long lines for lotteries and online, “complicated and unenjoyable.”

Perhaps this is why Studio Ghibli itself seems ambivalent about promoting Ghibli Park. In Japan, it posted an ad encouraging fans to “take their time” to visit.

A fictional theme park that honors Nintendo, Pokemon and two other iconic Japanese creative brands will almost certainly resemble Disney World, said Matt Alto, author of the 2021 book. rice field.pure invention: How Japanese pop culture conquered the world. But he added that the park’s diffuse layout and understated marketing were hallmarks of the studio co-founded by Miyazaki, a director who never hid his anti-capitalist political stance.

Ghibli Park is not a place to “turn your head off,” Alt said. “It demands a level of intellectual engagement that most parks don’t.” A little mental stimulation felt good when I booked my visit in March. While my sons stopped to pick acorns, I imagined them walking around the grounds in the dappled sun and contemplating Miyazaki’s films. Just like the two sisters who star in “Totoro”. (British-American boys love the acorn scene, so they learned the Japanese word for nut, acorn, before the English word.)

In fact, we arrived just before the three-hour afternoon slot at Ghibli’s Great Warehouse, and our mental capacity was limited. Our parental nerves were frayed by the hour-long trip from Nagoya and the general struggle of moving a tiny human in a diaper to an unfamiliar location.

Our morning in Nagoya was already tainted by waking up at 4am and the unbridled public display of infantile emotions. on the grounds of the 17th century Nagoya CastleFor example, our 3-year-old son, nicknamed T, burst into tears when he learned that the castle was closed for renovations.

To ease his mood, we took the emergency step of buying him and his little brother (nicknamed B) an ice cream cone for his second breakfast. That stopped the crying, but the build-up of fatigue made my visit to Ghibli Park more dangerous. Is a trip to meet our favorite magical creatures worth all the time, money and energy it entails?

Ghibli Park could see a surge in domestic tourists this summer as Miyazaki released a new movie in Japan this month. But for my family, the pilgrimage was just to see Totoro and Catbus.

“Totoro” follows two sisters, 4-year-old Mei and 10-year-old Satsuki, who take up residence in a spooky house in the Japanese countryside with their archaeologist father. Their mother is confined to a nearby sanatorium, suffering from an unknown illness.

After Mei wandered into Totoro’s lair inside a giant camphor tree (and fell asleep on his stomach) and met Totoro, she and her sister encountered Totoro a few more times and learned about its mysterious powers. Learn more. Before long, her mother’s condition seemed to take a turn for the worse, so she called out some important favors from Totoro and the wild-eyed catbus.

Professor Napier said “Totoro” represents an aesthetic that runs through Ghibli’s catalog, which tends to be more obscure and subtle than Disney’s. She described it as “the immersive, understated magic of humans connecting with other things.”

“It’s the world you like,” said Napier, who is writing a book comparing Ghibli and Disney, of Miyazaki’s animated world. “But there are also many unexpected complications, and sometimes frightening things.”

Totoro and Catbus can certainly be a little scary, especially when they show their teeth. But this movie is much more gentle than scary. As Miyazaki once told an interviewer, the work is set in “the pre-television era” and features sublime, hand-painted pastoral images such as pastel sunsets and snails crawling on plant stems. is infused with the feeling of childhood growing up. in rural countryside.

The film also celebrates a child’s sense of wonder. Miyazaki said he created “Totoro” with children in mind and wanted it to be a work that makes people want to pick up acorns, but many critics see the work as a kind of childhood innocence. regarded as a hymn to It’s no coincidence that Totoro and Catbus only look like sisters, not adults.

Perhaps this is why I cry every time I watch the final credits. Hearing “Totoro” reminds me that my sons will never be this young and innocent again.

In their apartment in Seoul, they play with Totoro and Catbus dolls, sleep in Totoro pajamas, and sit on Totoro’s toilet. Their fans are so ardent that during our last trip to London my mother-in-law bought me a ticket to see Totoro staged at the Barbican Theatre.

In Nagoya, before leaving for Ghibli Park, B showed his enthusiasm by bringing a plastic cat bus into the hotel buffet and feeding him whipped cream for breakfast. He also showed the toys to a man in a ninja costume who took a selfie with us outside the castle.

The ninja smiled knowingly and showed that he too was a Totoro fan. “Nekobus,” he said in Japanese, as if it were jargon.

Ghibli Park is located in Nagakute, a small city in the hills outside Nagoya, just a few highway stops from IKEA. To be precise, there is no Ghibli entrance gate. Just wander into a nondescript city park and hunt down the Ghibli sights you booked months in advance.

The Grand Warehouse is a sleek skyscraper the size of a modest shopping mall or sports arena, with skylights letting in plenty of sunlight. Nearby is a grassy lawn, an ice skating rink, and some of the Ghibli stages under construction.

Inside, you’ll find replicas of movie structures, including the towering bathhouse from the 2001 Oscar-winning film Spirited Away, as well as dozens of Ghibli scenes and props made for Instagram. is on display.

The attention to detail is impressive. For example, in an area dedicated to the Ghibli film Arrietty, I saw a giant artificial flower with a drop of plastic dew on it. Nearby was an elaborate replica of the castle from “Howl’s Moving Castle,” my eldest son’s favorite Miyazaki movie after “Totoro.”

“It’s a castle, Papa!” 3-year-old T-kun said happily. I finally have a Japanese castle that never cries.

The problem was that most of the paintings were crowded with Ghibli fans who didn’t have time to speak for their lines with restless toddlers. The only restaurant in this building was overbooked as well. I finally found the kiosk advertising cake, but the staff said they ran out of cake.

After exploring the warehouse for about an hour, we headed to Kodomo no Machi, a playground themed after scenes from Totoro and other Ghibli movies.

Kodomo Town has three rooms. The first is a maze that combines countless Ghibli movie scenes, such as the orange train from Laputa: Castle in the Sky, the bakery from Kiki’s Delivery Service, and more. The boys loved it, even though Daddy chased them in high-high space while banging their heads.

The other room was dedicated to “Totoro” and had a very high ceiling. It was the house where Mei and Satsuki lived with their father. There was a camphor tree over there, and a big Totoro lay majestically next to an oversized acorn. And in the corner sat a majestic, shaggy cat-bus.

It all looked fun, kid-friendly, and engrossing. In fact, it was almost identical to what you would see at Disney World. The boys were in heaven.

“To toe Row! To to low! Mr. B said, standing in a tree, with the same intonation as the movie’s marching band-esque frenetic theme song.

“Hey, Totoro!” said Mr. T, who was observing the giant acorn carefully. “Get up!”

But while Children’s Town seemed designed to foster the child’s sense of wonder that Miyazaki praises in his films, the warehouse staff insisted on a few rules to dampen that atmosphere. told us. In particular, children were not allowed to sit on Totoro’s stuffed toy or let them play for more than three minutes in the cat bath zone. Even if the zone wasn’t crowded, it wasn’t.

The staff were friendly but their rules made little sense to small children like us. I thought that was also a sign that Ghibli Park was still a little rough. As the studio says, please take a slow look.

We reluctantly agreed to the no tummy policy, but B said he only wanted to play in the cat bus. we stayed with him We spent a few months, a good chunk of his life. — waiting for this moment.

Our staff sensed our determination and suggested a compromise. Special extensions may be granted in certain circumstances. Instead of the usual 3 minutes, B could take him 6 minutes.

Make it nine. Then 12. and so on. At 5pm, he was the last and one of the smallest Ghibli fans to leave the building.

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