Pastel palette colours wave smoothly over the unexpected turns and asymmetric designs. Windows, varying in shape and placement, are frothing with leafy green vines. The huggable mass spills over the building like the froth from a pint of beer. It shimmers in the sun as a breeze passes. So far, the architect has succeeded in placing me in the Ghibli frame of mind.
Queueing with everyone else for the midday entry, our tickets are exchanged for a more aesthetic version; three frames from any Ghibli film reel, encased in a patterned border. Holding it to a light you can pick out the details and try to suss out which film it’s from.
The staff, fully English-speaking and assistive, invite us through to the museum proper. Sweeping polished wooden curves, iron balustrades, and a high walls eccentrically decorated with playful designs greet us. It’s an immediate homage to the scaling floors and bridges of Yubaba’s bath house, Laputa’s homeliness and stained glass, and Howl’s sense of chaotic adventure. There are details in every possible corner and doorway to look for, enjoy, and interact with.
The museum contains a fair few themed rooms, one dedicated to the art of film making, others to collections, sketches and illustrations, a bookshop, restaurant, café, cinema, rooftop garden, and a gift shop. I won’t say too much on these. The Ghibli Museum forbids photos taken from within the museum, although you can take as many as you want from the outside. It’s not explicitly said why, but the act of discovery and adventure are key to the museum. The architecture itself has been designed in a way which encourages you to interact with the building. And revealing all of those adventures would just spoil the fun.
But some tips are in order. The gift shop has some stunning pieces you won’t find at any other Ghibli outlet in Tokyo, such as a sturdy remote-controlled replica of Porco Rosso’s red plane and glass jewellery featuring the Laputa pendant. As expected they’re incredibly expensive but worth viewing anyway if you can battle through the crowds. The gift shop is just rammed at all times and I’ve always had to jostle for space.
The library only has Japanese books which is to be respected but, personally, I would’ve loved some book recommendations from the Ghibli Studio. The cat bus room is children only. I know, I know, you want to play in it too, but you can’t. But I heavily recommend exploring the building a bit more hint hint nudge nudge.
The restaurants are rammed, always. The café is easier to get fast food at and you’ll be able to try the Ghibli beer which is pretty decent pale ale but The Straw Hat restaurant queueing times are long and sometimes ridiculous. Don’t count on it, possibly pack a sandwich just in case.
The building is a wonderful space to exist and think within but you will find yourself jostled. The museum has intakes at 10, 12, 2, 4 and closes at 6. However, there is no time limit so you could arrive at 10 and stay all day. I’ve been at various times and it has always been packed and each intake brings in about 100 to 150 additional people.
Sometimes, the jostling is just unbearable. It takes away from the dreamy thoughtfulness of being inquisitive and exploring the building and replaces it with shuffling through the queueing crowd to view things, never quite able to soak it in because the next person is jostling you to move on. I would seriously suggest limited the number of guests further but the tickets are already notoriously difficult to get ahold of, especially when purchasing abroad.
In truth, the building is less a museum and more a tribute to film making, the adventure of being curious, the art of illustration and the possibilities of an inquisitive imagination. It encourages you to poke into holes half your size, feel the texture of everything around you and use your eyes to soak up shapes and structures you never thought you’d see outside of film. This feeling permeates the crowds and stays with you regardless. It’s an opportunity to relive the movies that you love, wonder at their creation, and want more than ever to bring a little more of that same thoughtfulness into the world, and share it with others. Just like Miyazaki did.