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Experiencing the Magic of Studio Ghibli

In its thirty-four years of history, Studio Ghibli has enchanted its viewers with its persevering message of hope through adversity, strength in difficult times, and conviction when all seems lost. Framing complex topics such as environmentalism, personal identity, and the preservation of culture and tradition in worlds of magic, spirits, and anthropomorphic animals, Hayao Miyzaki helps his audience understand the doublespeak of politicians through fantasy, and shows us time and again how important it is to believe in yourself and fight for positive change.

From now until November 3rd, FTLife Tower in Kowloon Bay is holding a two-floor exhibition of some of Studio Ghibli’s most famed works. Containing detailed dioramas and life-sized models of well-known characters and sets, “The World of Studio Ghibli’s Animation” allows us to step into the immersive worlds that coloured and shaped many childhoods since the mid-eighties. Listed below are five iconic scenes brought to life in the Studio Ghibli exhibit.

A Witch and Her Cat inside Gütiokipänjä Bakery

While Miyazaki made the young witch and her cat recognizable worldwide, Kiki’s origins stem from a Japanese book bearing the same name as the film. Set in a fictional Northern European town, location scouting was mainly completed in Stockholm and Visby (both Swedish areas), explaining the island town’s distinctly modern German aesthetic. Gütiokipänjä Bakery, a name melding together the Japanese words “bakery” (“panya”), and “rock, paper, scissors” (“jankenpon”), was a place that became home to the wandering witch. The sudden decision to help the bakery owner return an item to a customer would launch the entrpreneurial girl’s delivery service.

Understanding the need to pay her dues, the exhibit’s own Gütiokipänjä Bakery shows Kiki and her companion, Jiji, going through a slow shift – something that people of all ages can relate to. No detail is overlooked in this rendition. To the far left, a blue cash register sits beside a vase containing two sunflowers and sprigs of baby’s breath. More flowers and plants rest behind and beside the cashier table. Mouthwatering loaves of bread are on display by the window, in the display counter, and behind the working girl. The sign for her delivery service hangs on the windowfront. The bakery’s door, spring green in colour, shows flour, milk, jams, and baguettes, neatly arranged on a wooden shelving unit.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Another adaptation of a children’s book, both versions are set in Ingary, a fictional monarchy located somewhere in the southern United Kingdom. A hodgepodge combination of metal and small single-storey red-roofed houses, the behemouth mobile home is kept together and powered by the fire demon Calcifer, whose physical form is chained to the fireplace. The world-unto-itself that is the moving castle lumbers along on short, spindly legs. Its façade, a crude imitation of a face, adds to the mystery surrounding the wizard, Howl.

No exhibit that includes this film would be complete without the colossal residence. Every angle of the moving castle’s model speaks of its miscare. Different sections are coloured in subtly *different tones of grey, copper, and mould-like blues and green. Like its animation counterpart, the castle is a blend of sharp angles and curves. It is at once machine and monster. The peculiar home is immediately out-of-place with the pastoral scenery. Behind, snow-topped mountains and a deep blue sky lets viewers know they are seeing countryside springtime. In the foreground, fluffy white sheep are clustered outside of a farmer’s house, a quaint abode with a thatched roof.

A Spirit on the Train

Tried to show “No-Face” the view. Like Queen Victoria, he was not amused!

An original creation by Miyazaki, Spirited Away falls into the coming-of-age genre, one that Studio Ghibli uses time and again. Set in the spirit world, the young protagonist Chihiro must rescue her parents in this world of characters that have become consumed by materialism and avarice. She works Yubaba, the owner of a bathhouse for spirits, a powerful witch who transfigured Chihiro’s gluttonous parents into pigs. It is here that she meets “No-Face”, a spirit that reflects the personalities of those around him, becoming corrupted by the greedy workers at the bathhouse.

It is a thirty-minute wait to pose with “No-Face”, and there isn’t a single visitor that passes the opportunity. The spirit, so volatile and destructive in the bathhouse, is now still and calm as the train he is riding heads closer to the home of Zeniba, Yubaba’s twin sister. The long bench that “No-Face” sits on is a soft red velvet. To the far left, a comically large package sits. Below it is another package, both being delivered to some unknown location. Outside, the sunset is coloured in pastel pinks and purples. The shifting light of the ocean’s reflection is imitated through clever lighting.

The Fall of Laputa

A visual steampunk fantasy come alive, “Castle in the Sky” is an action-packed thriller that warns of the corruption of government and corporate entities in the pursuit of valuable resources. It is a reminder for humanity to remember its connection to the earth, and not abandon it in godly pursuits of power. Sheeta, an orphaned descendent of the Laputan royals, is in possession of an amulet containing “volucite” cystals. These crystals keep flying cities in the air, and their power leads to Sheeta and her friend Pazu being chased by a government agent and air pirates.

Tinted in a dramatic red light, the scene depicted is Laputa, the legendary castle in the sky, in flames as pirates and soldiers alike have opened fire. Sheeta stands on a collapsing column, in the clutches of a robot that is part of ancient Laputan technology. As the last remnants of the sky city fall, Sheeta and Pazu reach out for each other, the pair happily starting anew back on land.

A Very Fluffy Spirit

Another addition to Studio Ghibli’s collection of coming-of-age films, “My Neighbour Totoro” explores the double challenges of the illness of a loved one and moving to a new home. Set in postwar rural Japan, sweeping landscapes are strongly featured. The steady signs of a country regaining its prosperity after loss, audience members experience the simplistic joys of countryside living with the protagonists Satsuki and her younger sister, Mei. Following two adorable, large eared spirits to a large, hollowed camphor tree, here the characters are introduced to Totoro, a gigantic, rotund grey and white creature who speaks by bellowing out roars that make little Mei laugh.

Depicted in the exhibit is the scene where the sisters and Totoro wait at the bus stop for a giant cat that doubles as a magical flying bus. The soft pattering of the rain plays around patient visitors as they wait for their turn to photograph with the pair. Low lighting emphasises the night, and the falling rain is cleverly shown through active bluish-white light streaming behind the characters.

Things to Know Before You Go

Like & Share

Just before entering FTLife Tower, you’ll be asked to like and share the event’s Facebook page. Doing so gives you the choice of receiving either a paper crown or paper fan to commemorate the experience. Both show Totoro’s silhouette, within which famous scenes from Studio Ghbili films are arranged in neat squares and rectangles. Given the Hong Kong humidity, I opted for the fan.

Free Wifi

Many visitors want to capture their experiences and post them live, and “The World of Studio Ghibli’s Animation” is happy to help. Free wifi lets people update to Instagram minutes after posing with their favourite characters, letting more people know about the nostalgia-filled exhibit.

Get Ready to Shop

At the end of the visually enthralling exhibition lies a pop-up store filled with Studio Ghibli memorabilia. Everyday items such as towels, kitchenware, stationary, and bags are made utterly adorable with characters such as Jiji and Totoro. Hyper-realistic plush toys, puzzles, and enamel pins are too cute to resist. Of all the people I saw in the store, only a handful left without purchasing a thing. Most bought at least three or four, unable to make a choice between a Totoro-themed face towel and a life-sized plush version of Jiji’s girlfriend, a snow-white cat. After battling between several items, I finally left with an enamel pin of Totoro wielding an umbrella as he roared.

If you love the intricate worlds and unique characters of Studio Ghibli films, this is one exhibit you won’t want to miss!

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