By KYRA KARATSU
It had been a rainy October day when I visited the Academy Museum of Motion Picture’s recently opened exhibition on Hayao Miyazaki: co-founder of the famed Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli. Rain in Los Angeles is a treat in itself, but paired with the fantastical world of Mr. Miyazaki, the exhibit adopted an almost indescribable sense of euphoria and mysticism.
After a general reminder from an employee to avoid taking photos inside, stepping into the exhibit envelops you into a warm darkness, a place where childhood fantasies become tangible realities. As museum-goers are eventually led through a whimsical tunnel of emerald green fabric into the exhibition, the no-photo policy appears to be well-respected. No trendy photo ops, no Instagram selfies. Just people momentarily existing in a magical landscape brought to life.
Many have their own accounts of their first encounter with the picturesque storytelling of Hayao Miyazaki, but I was six years old when I watched my first Studio Ghibli film, “Princess Mononoke.” Although the main protagonists, Ashitaka and San, undoubtedly charmed my youthful sensibilities, the candor and grit of the film’s touched topics of environmentalism and war had been unlike anything I had seen before — my fascination and adoration quickly followed.
My father, who, ironically, rented the film under the pretense that “Princess Mononoke” was a light-hearted movie about wolves, was my company for the rainy afternoon. As we maneuvered through displays of hand-painted cels, poems from Miyazaki himself, and a magnificent skylight installation that is inspired by “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” the outside world began to slip away.
Accompanied by the dynamic melodies of composer Joe Hisaishi, who scored many of the Ghibli films, it became apparent that the “Hayao Miyazaki” exhibition is meant to serve as both a palette-cleanser in the midst of global turmoil and a stark reminder of our own humanity.
While the jolly themes of heroism and childhood are found in the brightly-colored underwater world of “Ponyo” or the giddy excitement of Satsuki and Mei in “My Neighbor Totoro,” the crushing scenes of a war-torn Japan through the lens of two orphaned siblings in “Grave of the Fireflies” are a reminder that not all endings are happy nor neatly packaged. Moreover, thematic overlap is inevitable in a Ghibli film. As illustrated in 2004’s “Howl’s Moving Castle,” even the most pristine field of flowers can become a calamitous battleground if we will it.
More subtly, the “Hayao Miyazaki” exhibition paints a pretty picture of the studio’s demographics. The line to enter the exhibit is composed of many faces, both young and old — a pleasant surprise considering the Western world’s tendency to equate “cartoons” with childishness.
Inside of the exhibition is a similar testament to the studio’s grand, ubiquitous appeal. As a projector casts various clips from the films onto the wall, it’s not difficult to discern the age difference between the four museum-goers who sit on a bench before me. Yet, despite being four strangers who exist in a world away from each other, they sit side-by-side and wear — if only for a moment — the same rose-colored spectacles.
Reflecting back, I realize that my father and I are a similar demonstration of such. Although he did not grow up on Studio Ghibli as I did, our mutual admiration for brilliant storytelling bridges the generational gap. A gentle pause in the timeline, a breath of spring air in our congested lives, the exhibit reminds us that we have both grown to feel the same shades of life.
In short, there is something so stirring and strange about the “Hayao Miyazaki” exhibit. From the curious kodama spirits who run along the exhibition walls to the framed illustrations of the mysterious bathhouse from “Spirited Away,” young and old alike marvel in the wonders of Miyazaki’s creations — an unlikely mediator for a country whose uniting principles are becoming increasingly few and far between.
A paradoxical wonderland, the seemingly child-like animation attracts even the most unlikely of guests: strangers who are united by, of all things, the allure of Japanese animation for just one rainy October afternoon.
Kyra Karatsu is a second-year college student and writes from Santa Clarita. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.