Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli honored at Academy Museum


Lily Lowndes

The entrance of the “Hayao Miyazaki” exhibition at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. No photos were allowed inside.

Animator Hayao Miyazaki has cultivated a global fanbase over his more than 50-year career. His beloved animated films have inspired fans from around the world to visit the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan to see the work from Miyazaki’s animation studio up close.

While traveling to Japan is still on my bucket list, I was able to see a collection of Miyazaki’s original work here in America at one of Hollywood’s newest movie monuments, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

The museum opened last September, unveiling a seven-floor “collection of film-related objects and technology.” Exclusive exhibits showcase film throughout the ages, components of filmmaking and an interactive “Oscars Experience,” where visitors can accept their own Academy Award.

In addition to the broader movie experience, the Academy Museum has installed the temporary museum retrospective “Hayao Miyazaki,” honoring the eponymous Academy Award winner.

Miyazaki won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards in 2003 for his film “Spirited Away.” He also received an Academy Honorary Award in 2014 for his contributions to filmmaking.

Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation studio co-founded by Miyazaki, is beloved for its stunning animated films including “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “Howl’s Moving Castle.”

The “Hayao Miyazaki” exhibition brings visitors behind-the-scenes of his animated classics in a well-curated experience for all ages. Each room is filled with video screens, concept drawings, animation memorabilia and interactive experiences — including surround sound of Studio Ghibli’s classic scores.

The exhibition takes the wonder of 2-D animation and brings it into the third dimension. Iconic Studio Ghibli moments are brought to life, including life-sized recreations of the magical glowing Mother Tree from “My Neighbor Totoro” and the stone spirit statue from “Spirited Away.”

Jackeline Alvarez, an employee at the Academy Museum was stationed near the Sky View installation, a circle of turf where visitors could lay down and cloud-watch a reel of the animated sky from “Kiki’s Delivery Service.”

Before starting her job at the museum, Alvarez knew little of Miyazaki. Her friends were fans, but she had not seen any of his films.

“I walked into the exhibit before it opened and was mesmerized by the work displayed,” Alvarez said. “As a painter, the exhibit really moved me. I appreciate the mastery of his craft.”

The exhibit is lush with hand-painted animation frames and background art, concept sketches, production design drawings and original movie posters from the 10 Ghibli films Miyazaki directed.

After walking through the exhibit and taking in the design and art, Alvarez was hooked. She immediately started going through the Studio Ghibli catalog and is now on the same page as her Ghibli-enthusiast friends.

“I’ve definitely turned into a fan,” Alvarez said.

The exhibition is also special for longtime Miyazaki fans. Tianna Phan was introduced to Miyazaki’s films in childhood.

“‘Totoro’ was the only movie my mom would put on growing up,” Phan said.

Phan has continued appreciation for Miyazaki into adulthood. She was excited to see a Miyazaki exhibition brought to LA, as she has visited both the Ghibli Museum and animation studio in Japan.

According to the Academy Museum, the more than 300-piece exhibition collection was borrowed from the Studio Ghibli archives, including pieces never before seen outside of Japan.

One of these pieces was a wooden animation desk used at Studio Ghibli. The desk used “an open floor plan” without walls or other vision blockers, which was designed to encourage animators to collaborate with other members of the studio.

These items showcase Studio Ghibli’s vision and values. The exhibition not only celebrates Miyazaki’s artistry, but his innovation in animation direction. Visitors can read directorial notes to understand how Miyazaki guided the animation process.

Take “Ponyo,” for example. Miyazaki wanted the art in the water fantasy film to be drawn using “gently warped lines” to evoke the fluid motion of the ocean.

Another directorial note explained that “during [“My Neighbor Totoro’s”] production, Miyazaki wrote poems for his crew to convey insights into the film’s atmosphere, characters, settings, and themes.”

One of these poems was lettered onto a wall of the exhibit. Instead of a simple description, Miyazaki used a poem to translate how he wanted the tree spirits from “My Neighbor Totoro” to act and behave.

“Kodama Tree Spirits

Just when they seemed to appear

They tittered in laughter and have already disappeared

Just when they seemed to be walking at my feet

They were already in the darkness far away, laughing

When spoken to, they run off in shyness

When ignored, they come close

You small children, children of the forest

Ah, to you this forest that you inhabit is so full of fun”

As visitors read the poem, stenciled versions of the Tree Spirits painted on the wall next to the poem faded in and out under a blacklight, allowing Miyazaki’s vision for the Tree Spirits come to life in real-time.

Details like the painted Tree Spirits added a sense of magic to the exhibition, but guests had high praise for the collective experience.

“I think just seeing the sketches and the whole animation process is beautiful,” said Laina Quintanilla, a museum goer.

While “Hayao Miyazaki” is a temporary installment, there is still time to see the director’s work. The exhibition will remain at the Academy Museum until June 5, so there is still time to plan a trip to LA.