The Battle of the Trains resumed yesterday, however this time against all odds, especially as I had to change trains 4 times, I was victorious. I think this did have more to do with the Universe giving me a bit of a break than my own train catching abilities. That the Cosmos lead me straight to my destination, without putting a single step wrong, for 2 reasons. Firstly, I think it knew I was headed for some serious mental anguish and in all probability tears, if I lost my way just one more time. Secondly, and most importantly, I would not stand for anything, and I mean anything to go wrong on Studio Ghibli day.
So this was it, the one place I had been most excited to see when planning my trip, having to explain to countless people who Hayao Miyazaki is, and why I love Studio Ghibli films so much. How excited I was when my reservation ticket for the day arrived in the mail, wondering that if I built the idea of the Museum up in my head too much that it would disappoint. It did not.
Walking through the canopied entrance, you are first greeted by hand-painted stained glass doors with depictions of Sen, Yubaba and the Radish Spirit (characters from the Academy Award winning Spirited Away). Opening the doors reveals an airy main hall with portals of all shapes and sizes, leading away from it. There are archways, that are cavernous and others so small you almost have to crawl through and a tight wrought iron spiral staircase leading all the way to the top. The theme that the Museum has been built using is "Lets lose our way, together", you can feel this walking around, there is no set path, no set time. The children in the Museum bustle around at lightning pace as children do, leaving me to wander in wonder at my own pace.
The installations here are focused not on the technology that now invades many aspects of childhood today but on the history and wonder that lead the art of animation to be what is. An art form which is not lost here as America surges forward with its quest for greater and more life-like CGI, here the emphasis is still on the importance of telling the story. Part of the exhibition is dedicated to the magic of the optical illusion that lead to animation, and includes flicker books and wheels showing scenes from some of the short films that are only able to be viewed here. Another installation is dedicated to the inspiration and research process that creates the world around the story in each of the films. It comprises of a room set up like an artists studio, the walls are littered with storyboard sketches, and there are scrapbooks of photos, swatches and cuttings. I recognise photos of a place that became Irontown. A large specimen jar sits at the foot of the desk brimming with drawing pencils worn to nubs, measuring the users progress.
Each room holds new interests, there are reams of storyboards bound and covered with the directors notes in the margins, and stained glass and murals at every turn showing more and more of my well loved characters. There is life-sized plush version of the Catbus limited to children, I yearn to be a toddler again as I watch the kids play.
I stop in for lunch at the cafe called the "Straw Hat" in honour of Sophie's store. It is decked in blonde wood panels, folk art flowers, straw boaters on the walls and hat-stands in the corners. It is very kitsch, but maintains a wholesome naivety so as not to be too commercial. It is charming, serving Farmer's soup with barley and iced coffee. The drinking straws are real straw. Lunch is followed by a sumptuous Strawberry Shortcake, meticulously constructed with perfectly fresh cream and juicy berries.
Completely sated, I head down to the Saturn Theatre to view one of the Museum exclusive short films, a saccharine little flick about a puppy called 'Koro' who loses his way. I visit the gift shop for a card, and find a quiet nook to sit down and write to my Grandfather.
Having explored the gardens and Museum, satisfied that I have discovered all I can, and tired from a long day, I bid the Museum farewell. heading back to the trains and hostel bed awaiting me.