Miyazaki Studio Ghibli exhibit at Academy Museum is amazing

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Hayao Miyazaki’s films have been the cornerstone of my love for animation and a warm blanket to flip on when the going gets tough. I can mark the seasons of my life with the particular movies I’ve stumbled upon, even though I love them all. 2001 Abducted as if by magic and the years 1986 Castle in the sky were regular covers as I sailed through college, feeling uprooted and insecure, hoping to steal some of Chihiro’s stubborn determination and Sheeta’s courage. In high school, I loved the 2008s Ponyo, thanks to a relationship where we quote the film to each other. In my early twenties, I fell in love with the years 2004 Howl’s Moving Castle, which has become a constant in my life.

The opening of the Miyazaki “Hayao Miyazaki” retrospective at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles is timely. After delays related to the pandemic, the opening ended up coinciding with Abducted as if by magic20th anniversary of. I arrived on the October opening weekend hoping to enjoy some behind-the-scenes sketches and material, as well as experiential artwork – a glimpse into the Miyazaki process that I had never had before, because the exhibition is the first retrospective of his work to debut in North America. I didn’t expect the exhibit to be so touching, even with my lifelong love of Studio Ghibli films. This was my first visit to the museum in two years and it was well worth the trip.

Image: Studio Ghibli

The exhibition gives access to so much, with more than 300 objects on display. There are physical storyboards, reference artwork, and hand-painted character designs and backgrounds of all kinds, beautifully displayed. Scenes from classic Studio Ghibli films are projected in high-quality presentations on numerous screens scattered throughout the exhibition, creating the effect of moving art. Some are even put in triptych. But it is the way in which the curators bring all these elements into dialogue, sorting theme by theme, that gives life to these pieces. They created an exhibition experience that feels like moving through the story itself.

Each of these themes, and the art it contains, feels like opening a secret portal in Miyazaki’s head. The “Create Characters” section is dotted with concept sketches of famous people like Totoro and Kiki, the main characters of My neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s delivery service, respectively. In “Transformations,” I saw storyboards for two iconic scenes – Howl transforming into his monstrous bird-like form, and Chihiro going transparent, approaching the spirit spa – and tons of artwork from art of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.

Although the scenes from the Ghibli movie are screened in a size and quality that seemed standard for a museum gallery, they are presented in an inventive manner. Screens are sprinkled throughout the exhibition, intentionally woven into the larger gallery scheme, challenging standard film alcoves in other museums. Projections are also part of the art installations, such as at the end of a tunnel designed to give the impression of walking in the worlds of Miyazaki. This reflected the generally inventive use of screens by the Academy Museum; because the museum focuses on filmography, the exhibits take a varied approach in the way the images are presented.

A layout sketch for Kiki's delivery service done in pencil, with Kiki lying in the grass and looking at the sky

Image: Eiko Kadono / Studio Ghibli

An imageboard of My Neighbor Totoro, which looks like a sketch of the sisters running towards the viewer

Image: Hayao Miyazaki / Studio Ghibli

It’s one thing to know, intellectually, that Miyazaki has done so much animation by hand, one painstakingly painted cel at a time. It’s a whole different experience to finally see your films in gallery quality, close to their original reference drawings, and truly appreciate the art. I had never been able to watch Miyazaki’s movies in theaters before, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have been able to walk to the screening to capture those details. I was finally able to admire the drawings of the airplanes up close. The wind picks up and Porco Rosso – which have the precision of an engineer’s sketches – as well as the striking density of Princess mononokethe forests filled with Kodama and all the gear of the heavy beast-castle of Howl’s Moving Castle scenes.

Those Yell parts of the retrospective felt like my art book collection had come to life. I’ve always been the closest to Sophie, the drab hatter who wants nothing more than to blend in with the background. She gains self-confidence with the help of a delightfully bizarre found family: the flame demon Calcifer, the young wizard-in-training Markl, and the titular Howl. The film gave me a heroine that I could relate to, in the low-key but fiery woman whose compassion for others helped her win battles and ultimately love herself. And the “Sophie’s Cottage” scene, where Sophie emerges from the castle’s magical gate into a field of stunning flowers and the little Howl cottage offers her – this is one of my favorite animated sequences of all time.

I happened to sit on a projection bench in the “Creating Worlds” gallery at the exact moment this scene was being projected. I saw the field of flowers in exquisite detail, noticed the tiny brushstrokes that went into each petal and felt goosebumps rise in my arms as I dreamed of my own little retirement – and the romantic ideal of someone enchanting a sea of ​​flowers to make a meadow even more sublime. The scene has been an escape for me for so many years.

An imageboard for Porco Rosso, showing an airplane flying low over water in front of a port town.

Image: Hayao Miyazaki / Studio Ghibli

A painted background of a Princess Mononoke tree

Image: Studio Ghibli

Production imageboard from Howl's Moving Castle showing the castle beast from the movie, middle to bottom, mid-step

Image: Studio Ghibli

The rest of the exhibition is filled with moments of equal pleasure. One wall is adorned with dozens of classic Studio Ghibli posters. Miyazaki’s own office is on display, behind protective glass. Interactive artwork and lighting round out the entire experience. I was lying on the sloping floor covered with a green carpet in an installation, where my friends and I watched clouds drift across the sky on a ceiling projection, feeling a bit like Jiro and Naoko in The wind picks up. I walked through a hallway to find the mother tree of Princess mononoke.

I actually entered from the back, so it wasn’t until I got out that I was able to take advantage of the intentional entrance – designed to look like the cave Chihiro enters at the start of Abducted as if by magic, the one who transports her to the alternate world of spirits. Experienced at the end of my stay in the exhibition, it seemed to me just as effective, as a portal that signaled that it was time for me to reenter the ordinary and human world.

Admission to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is $ 25 for adults, $ 19 for those 62 and over, $ 15 for students, and free for children 17 and under as well as museum members. The Hayao Miyazaki exhibition runs from September 30, 2021 to June 5, 2022 and is included in the admission price. The exhibition will not go on tour.


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