Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sapporo cinema, Ghibli magic

Went to Japan for two weeks, for the first time, and in addition to visiting many temples and shrines and shops selling INCREDIBLY CUTE STUFF, went to the movies, too. Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited had just opened, and so we took the train into the bustling snow-covered Hokkaido city of Sapporo (home of the beer), and headed for a multiplex 5 or 6 stories up atop a big vertical mall. This wasn't the most luxe of the Japanese cinemas, but it was still miles beyond most U.S. theaters, and while the ticket prices are steep (1800 yen, just under $18!), the concession stands were cheap, and in addition to popcorn and wasabe-spiked soy beans, they sell toys, tchotchkes, souvenirs and posters from the various titles onscreen. Flyers for upcoming pictures were also to be had, for free.

Also visited the Ghibli Museum, in Mitaka, a suburb of Tokyo. Situated in a park at the end of a canal, this is genius animator Hayao Miyazaki's whimsical complex of buildings celebrating My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Laputa: Castle In the Sky , Princess Mononoke , his Oscar-winning Spirited Away and the rest of his daunting canon of work. With a small movie theater (playing short subjects by Miyazaki that have never made their way to moviehouses or DVD), a sunlit and super-cool cafe (fruit sandwiches, anyone?) and a maze of rooms that includes a giant replica of the cat bus from Totoro. Also: an artfully messy re-creation of Miyazaki's office and studios, a room for special exhibitions (currently: a Russian storybook version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears), a gift shop (of course), a room devoted to the history of, and techniques in animation, and a rooftop garden dominated by a towering sculpture of the android robot from Castle In the Sky. The place was aswarm with schoolkids and families reveling in the magic images and icons of the animation master.