Next spring, the much-anticipated—and much-delayed—Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will finally welcome its first visitors.
Set to open in Los Angeles on April 30, the movie museum recently revealed new details of its inaugural temporary exhibition, “Hayao Miyazaki.” Per a press release, the show will place more than 300 objects from the Japanese film producer’s 60-year career in immersive, experiential environments.
“Miyazaki” is the first North American retrospective dedicated to the creator of such beloved films as Spirited Away (2001) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). Many of the artifacts featured, including original image boards, character designs, backgrounds and animation cels, have never been displayed outside of Japan.
As Tracy Brown reports for the Los Angeles Times, the exhibition will be broken up into seven sections exploring the various themes of Miyazaki’s films.
First, visitors walk through a tunnel of trees that mimics the mysterious path followed by 4-year-old Mei on her search for a giant, sleeping forest spirit in the 1988 film My Neighbor Totoro.
“That feeling of being free-spirited and adventurous and curious ... is something we tried to re-create with the Tree Tunnel,” curator Jessica Niebel tells the Times. “Let’s leave this rational, adult world behind and let’s remember how it was like to be 4 years old and experience how that felt like again for just a little bit and be adventuresome and enter this imaginary world.”
After the tree tunnel comes the “Creating Characters” gallery, which will show short video clips of Miyazaki movie protagonists, as well as original drawings of character designs. Another section of the show will feature original image boards used by Studio Ghibli—the production company co-founded by Miyazaki in 1985—to create concept drawings for settings and characters.
The “Making Of” gallery will focus on Miyazaki’s early career, including a special tribute to his 1984 film, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Like many of the producer’s later works, the movie stars a strong female protagonist and explores the effect of expanding industry on untouched, misunderstood nature.
“Miyazaki” will also feature storyboards, which are central to the filmmaker’s creative process.
“All the information that everybody on the crew needs is in the storyboards,” Niebel tells the Art Newspaper’s Helen Stoilas.
Rather than working with a script, Miyazaki “draws the storyboards himself,” she adds. “[He and the crew] already have the dialogue, camera and movement editing, timing, character movement, everything. So that’s really essential.”
Guests hoping to take a break from exploring the exhibition can visit the immersive “Sky View” installation. There, visitors sit on a fake grass meadow and watch an animated sky with clouds floating past. The space to pause and reflect is reminiscent of the quiet moments in Miyazaki’s films.
Miyazaki explained the purpose of these scenes in a 2002 interview with the late film critic and historian Roger Ebert. First, the filmmaker clapped his hands a few times.
“The time in between my clapping is ma. If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it’s just busyness,” he said. “But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension. If you just have constant tension at 80 degrees all the time you just get numb.”
The remaining sections of the exhibition explore representations of forest and nature, as well as the transformations undergone by characters in Miyazaki’s movies. Spirited Away, for example, finds the protagonist’s parents turning into pigs and a giant toddler changing into a chubby mouse. In Princess Mononoke, meanwhile, a curse turns a character’s arm purple; the color spreads slowly up his hand as the central conflict escalates.
Initially slated to open in 2017, the Academy Museum’s debut has been delayed several times, most recently by the Covid-19 pandemic. But the delay actually provided an opportunity to work closely with Studio Ghibli, which offered additional artwork and “gave us a chance to enhance the exhibition,” as Niebel tells the Times.
“It’s a complex exhibition and we do have cultural differences,” she says. “It takes a while to really get to know each other ... and find a good way to move this forward in the best way that we could.”
Because the items are fragile, the museum does not plan on taking the show on tour. But movie lovers will have plenty of time to take in the exhibition, which is expected to remain on view for at least a year.
Speaking with the Art Newspaper, Niebel says, “What’s really special about this show and where I feel blessed is that Studio Ghibli trusted us enough to let us curate this exhibition because that is something they usually don’t do.”
“Hayao Miyazaki” debuts at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles on April 30, 2021.