Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki is renowned for creating enchanting worlds in his animated films.
For the first time in North America, his work is presented in a major retrospective at the brand new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. This week, the organization that hosts the Oscars inaugurated the museum dedicated to cinema.
“He’s a master of cinema,” says Jacqueline Stewart, artistic and programming director of the Academy Museum, who this week became a MacArthur member and received her “genius” scholarship. “Miyazaki is an international filmmaker. We wanted to highlight someone who truly had global appeal and impact. And one of the things that’s really unique about his work is that he actually speaks to the young and the older generations with equal passion and vision. “
The 11,000 square foot exhibit features images of Miyazaki’s children and large-eyed innocent creatures, flying castles, treehouses and lush forests. Visitors enter the enchanted world of Miyazaki through a green fabric tunnel. It is intended to evoke a magical “tree tunnel” inhabited by mystical woodland spirits, a portal featured in his animated film My Neighbor Totoro (1988). The tunnel leads to the gallery’s first room, where scenes from his 11 animated feature films are projected onto the walls.
A wooden desk from Miyazaki’s animation studio and several of his hand-drawn character sketches (he started out as a mangaka) are also on display. There are storyboards and other elements of his films such Princess Mononoke (1997), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) and the Oscar-winning coming-of-age movie Chihiro (2001). Inside the display cases are the two Oscar statuettes of Miyazaki.
Miyazaki has never exhibited his work in the United States before, and much of this material had never left Japan until now. David Rubin, president of the Academy, said the filmmaker did not immediately say yes to showing his work in the new museum. “He had to check. He must have asked his friends here, “is this real? There were a lot of our filmmaker members who spoke to him and said, “You know, we’ll treat your work in a way that you’ll appreciate.” We will honor your work. “
Jessica Niebel, the curator of the Miyazaki exhibition, says she worked with the filmmaker’s Studio Ghibli and the Ghibli Museum in Japan to bring all the materials together. She says Miyazaki’s animated characters are complex, with fully developed lives. “Miyazaki conveys the nuance behind his protagonist’s intentions and invites viewers to recognize the contradictions of human nature: to act responsibly, to show respect and humility, and to coexist with the environment.”
Niebel calls Miyazaki’s films “pure poetry” and says that viewers can get lost in the beautiful surroundings and landscapes he creates by interacting with some of the installations in the exhibition. “People want to take a trip similar to that of its protagonists,” she says, “and we offer this similar experience to our visitors, to get lost in her films and lost in this exhibition.”
Here are some of the highlights of the exhibition:
The “mother tree”
A giant tree stands between two of Miyazaki’s galleries, with a manufactured wooden trunk that takes four people to hug. Strings and strands of fiberglass hang from the ceiling, lit from above in neon green, giving it a magical glow from within where the Totoro character is believed to be hiding. Painted on the walls of the museum are representations of the spirits of Miyazaki’s kodama tree from the film Princess mononoke. They appear and disappear with light, making them appear as if they are floating.
Trees play an important role in many Miyazaki films: Castle in the sky, My neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke, among others. Niebel explains that the designers of the exhibition wanted to include a tree in the exhibition to introduce the idea of the magical forest, “where we can come to purify ourselves, find a balance in our lives and rejuvenate ourselves”.
The curators also wanted to include the tree to create an immersive experience for visitors to the museum “where you just stumbled upon this massive stand-alone tree and you can’t avoid it, you kind of have to interact with it,” says Niebel. . “We try to invite visitors to think about the importance of trees in their life.
She says that, in a subtle way, Miyazaki’s films show that trees allow people to connect with the spiritual world – a kind of natural magic that exists in all of her films. “Spirits can come and go,” she says. “And they herald special moments in her character’s travels.”
On the walls of the museum, you can read a poem that Miyazaki wrote for his film crew to better understand the sensitivity of his characters.
Spirits of the Kodama Tree
By Hayao Miyazaki
Just when they seemed to appear
They burst out laughing and are already gone
Just when they seemed to be walking at my feet
They were already in the dark in the distance, laughing
When we talk to them, they shyly run away
When ignored, they come closer
You little children, children of the forest
Ah, for you this forest that you inhabit is so fun.
In the middle of another room in the Miyazaki exhibition, there is a sloping platform, covered with a green carpet that resembles a grassy mound. Visitors are invited to lie back and gaze at a round screen projecting a video of drifting clouds.
Sky View, as the installation is called, is inspired by a scene from Kiki’s delivery service, during which the protagonist Kiki is lying on the grass, looking at the sky, looking at the clouds. “It’s just a peaceful time where she’s immersed in nature, but she makes a very important decision: to leave her parents that night after her 13th birthday and become a witch-in-training,” says curator Niebel. “Those moments when everything slows down and not much is happening are very typical of Hayao Miyazaki’s films.”
Niebel says the installation gives visitors their own moment of calm and solitude, to contemplate nature.
“Hayao Miyazaki’s films are almost sensory in nature,” she says. “You can almost feel a breeze. And when you lay down in the Sky View installation, you can almost feel the wind, you can feel the heat.
Like the entrance, the final section of the exhibit is another tree-lined tunnel leading to the rest of the Academy Museum. It’s a dark hallway where you can hear footsteps. They are believed to be those of 10-year-old Chihiro Ogino (voiced by Rumi Hiiragi), as she leaves the kingdom of Abducted as if by magic and come back to real life. In front of the last door is a small, rounded, smiling rock, “the stone spirit with two faces” who wished him good luck in his adventure.
“We kind of wanted to indicate here that, yes, this is the end of the exhibition, but that shouldn’t be the end of your journey,” says Niebel. “So continue the journey. Feel inspired by the films of Hayao Miyazaki, maybe even by this exhibition. “