I visited the new Academy Museum in October and once I’d said hello to Bruce, the super-toothy shark from Jaws hanging in the main stairwell, I made a beeline to the Hayao Miyazaki retrospective, a special exhibition from Studio Ghibli that is on view until June 5, 2022. (Ghibli is the Japanese animation studio that produces and distributes Miyazaki’s work, and those of his accolades). There’s an air of mystery to the show – you need a timed-entry ticket and can’t take photographs inside – but like the world of Miyazaki, there’s magic, too. I was immediately immersed in the ethos and spirit of one of the world’s finest filmmakers — and certainly the very best animator of all time. By the time I emerged back from the show, I wanted only to watch my favorite Miyazaki films all over again.
Miyazaki has been making films for fifty years and each is a jewel box containing an exotic, layered fairy tale. These aren’t pretty, happy-ending Disney stories; instead they harken back to the Brothers Grimm and abide by the philosophy of Bruno Bettleheim, who said that children need the darkness and uncertainty of fairy tales to develop emotionally. Fairy tales serve up unresolvable conflicts and present realistic views of life’s difficulties, and Bettleheim believed that these type of tales convey moral and intuitive knowledge. Miyazaki proceeds along this ancient path organically, creating new stories for our time. He is unsurpassed at creating imaginary worlds, producing thrilling adventures, and understanding the fears and apprehensions inside young minds.
Immerse your family in all things Miyazaki this winter, starting with a trip to see this show at the new Academy Museum – psst, the gift shop is replete with wonderful Ghibli items, an added bonus. The films are supremely intelligent and as enjoyable for adults as for kids. Be sure to save some time to immerse yourself in Miyazaki’s personal story by reading this recent profile (here in T Magazine, the first that the filmmaker has given since 2014 outside of Japan). At 80, Miyazaki has come out of retirement to make one more film which will be called How Do You Live? – something to look forward to, especially if the master infuses the film with quarantine wisdom.
The exhibition combines original drawings, film clips, and a few colorful set pieces that welcome visitors into a world of make-believe. The artifacts are presented as a journey through Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli history, with introductions to the characters, philosophies, and production concerns of this remarkable oeuvre. In one spot, you can lie down and look up at a sky landscape. The show is infused with Miyazaki’s environmental and spiritual sensibility, and although it’s a lot for younger kids to focus on, older visitors will emerge with an understanding the scope of the Ghibli catalogue.
The exquisite drawings created by the master and his fellow animators show us the original inspiration for movies we have come to love. Pencil drawn and fragile, these rare artifacts offer an intricate glimpse into the imaginative powers at work. Parents can explain to kids that the films from Studio Ghibli are not animated by computers, but crafted frame by frame. Can they tell the difference, especially if shown the labor of the pencil in these beautiful renderings?
The Films: Where to Begin?
Seeing the expanse of Miyazaki’s career made me want to escape into the magical world of Ghibli. Fortunately, most of the Studio Ghibli library is streaming on HBO-Max. Several will also be screening at the Academy during their various film series (here is the schedule).
Without a doubt, I’ll start with the film that first captured my daughter’s heart when she was small, Kiki’s Delivery Service (5+). Nothing better for your first Ghibli film than to become enchanted by a charming young witch. Next, amble along to enjoy the humor and whimsy of My Neighbor Totoro (5+) and Castle in the Sky (9+).
Because it is the power of mythology that most captures my imagination, I’ll quickly move onto the magnificent ecological epic, Princess Mononoke (12+). This remains my favorite film, for its wild beauty and strong message. I watched it again recently, and it’s a sprawling tale in which animals and spirits live alongside humans. It’s captivating, violent, and magical.
Other films of note include the slightly more supernatural titles: Spirited Away (9+) (which won an Academy Award in 2001) and Howl’s Moving Castle (9+) (which is charming and includes lots of magic).
Recent films have delved into Japan’s military history. I very much enjoyed the lyrical The Wind Rises (11+) which chronicles the conflict of a brilliant engineer whose planes are called into wartime duty. It’s a deeply personal film, purportedly about the filmmaker’s father, and evokes a nation’s struggle with the legacy of the war.
The Academy Museum + Programming of Note
The new Academy Museum is already humming, and is a nice place to take your out-of-town visitors over the holiday. The cafe, Fanny’s, is a suitable place for a mid-city bite to eat, and features a large bar and pays homage to actress Fanny Brice and old Hollywood. But be warned, there is not any parking offered on site, so you’ll need to forage in the neighborhood (and watch your meter) or spend $18 to park in LACMA’s nearby, underground lot. You will need advance tickets – link is here – but, you can eat at Fanny’s restaurant and visit the store without buying tickets.
There is a full line-up of programming set for the fall/winter – if you are comfortable watching films indoors (there are good Covid protocols in place).
The full repertoire of Miyazaki’s films will cycle through – here is the schedule.
Saturday mornings at 11 are the Family Matinees – schedule is here.
And, on Sunday afternoons, the museum will show Academy Award winning films in the David Geffen Theater – here is that schedule.
Museum Hours: Sunday to Thursday: 10am–6pm and Friday to Saturday: 10am–8pm
Museum Location: 6067 Wilshire Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90036