Placing Audiences: Studio Ghibli Museum 2013 essay

Placing Audiences: The Studio Ghibli Museum

This is the Kind of Museum I Want to Make
The museum must be run in such a way that…
Small children are treated as if they were grown-ups
The handicapped are accommodated as much as possible
The staff can be confident and proud of their work
Visitors are not controlled with predetermined courses and fixed directions
It is suffused with ideas and new challenges
So that the exhibits do not get dusty or old,
And that investments are made to realize that goal P1- (2011, Miyazaki)

The above passage is part of the manifesto Ghibli creator Hayao Miyazaki wrote when designing the Studio Ghibli museum, Mitaka, Japan.
I visited the Ghibli Museum on 30th March 2013, while on a trip to Tokyo. The Studio Ghibli museum was built to house works from the animation company Studio Ghibli, whose works are intended for both adult and child alike. The trip was unique and the museum was both beautiful and whimsical.
While exploring the space, I wondered about the goals of the museum and who was the target audience. People of all ages, of various ethnicities as well as locals were exploring the museum with as much excitement and wonder as I was. In this essay I will analyse the Miyazaki’s manifesto and discern the Studio Ghibli museum goals and how they are put into practice. The Studio Ghibli museum targets adults, children and what Rayna Denison calls ‘international anime tourism’ (2010) using the way the museum has been built, how the rooms’ exhibits are displayed and how the literature is marketed.
I will compare their permanent exhibitions with their special exhibition The Gift of Illustrations ― A Source of Popular Culture which focuses on the British artist Andrew Lang as a way of educating people on British illustration, its ties to Japanese illustration and its influence on Studio Ghibli.
I will apply museum studies to how the museum has been built in a way that is both accessible to adults and children, as well as how the museum has been designed especially to house and view its contents while at the same time being exhibited as an object itself.
I will compare Miyazaki’s manifesto to the museum as a reality and look at how his original goals and intents have impacted the design and structure of the museum by way of audience.
I have a unique perspective as an international visitor; my essay will look at how the Studio Ghibli museum attracts its foreign audiences as well as its domestic audiences.
Architecture ‘Let’s Get Lost Together’

Studio Ghibli Museum, Mitaka Japan
To make such a museum, the building must be…
Put together as if it where a film
Not arrogant, magnificent
Flamboyant, or suffocating
Quality space where people can feel at home,
Especially when it’s not crowded
A building that has a warm feel and touch
A building where the breeze
and sunlight can freely flow through
The museum’s relation to the park is…
Not just about caring for the plants and surrounding greenery
but also planning for how things can improve ten years into the future
Seeking a way of being and running the museum
so the surrounding park will become even lusher and better,
which in turn will make the museum better as well!-P1-2(2011, Miyazaki)

In the quote from the manifesto I included in the introduction and the following passages that I posted above, Miyazaki talks about his aims when constructing the building for the museum. “Visitors are not controlled with predetermined courses and fixed directions”. He talks about the space in a way that usually doesn’t apply to museums; museums are usually used built in a way to guide the audience around the space, and to “feel at home” is not usually the atmosphere a museum wishes to convey. The goal of the design of this museum is based around creating a familiar atmosphere so that the museum gives a homely feel.
The entire manifesto puts strong emphasis on creating a space that is free and unrestricted but also gives a sense of nostalgia and comfort so that it is comfortable even while the space is crowded. This can be seen in practice with both the interior and exterior of the building.
The leaflet given at the reception upon arrival is titled ‘Let’s Lose Our Way, Together’ and in the instructions details ‘You are the one to discover your own way. Those who can lose their way and fully enjoy this space are welcomed at the museum’ (2013, Information leaflet), thus presenting the theme of the museum in the booklet. Put into practice, this concept takes form in the way of crisscross walkways, grand stair cases and no directional signs. The visitor is given a map and left to explore the museum, giving adult and child alike the chance to explore and ‘get lost together’

The interior itself mimics a house, with the toilets and exhibitions feeling domestic, feeding into the feeling of comfort.

The exterior looks like a hybrid of a museum and a house, the lines on the building being soft and welcoming with gardens surrounding the building and on the roof. The exterior mimics the style of buildings in Studio Ghibli movies, especially the buildings from Laputa Castle in the Sky( Miyazaki, 1986). This was designed to attract fans of Ghibli whilst also managing to interest locals and families.

The museum is located in Inokashira Park. According to Miyazaki, the museum aims to both improve and assimilate with the park.

The association between the park and the museum purposefully mirrors themes within many of Miyazaki and Takahata’s Ghibli films, which frequently entertain pro-environment motifs and plot lines (McCarthy 1999; Napier 2005). The landscape around the Art Museum therefore works not just as a marker of its distinctiveness as a place of anime tourism, it further marks the Art Museum as geographically separate from the urban norm of Tokyo.-P550 (Denson,2010)

This sense of otherness is also crucial to attracting a diverse audience. For visitors and locals alike, the museum taken out of the context of the busy Tokyo setting gives the visitor a pastoral approach, while also signalling, by being in a park area, a place friendly for children.

Museums built during the first age of museum building deliberately recalled past ceremonial architecture. The forms that were chosen evoked temples, palaces treasuries and tombs. This eclectic and often pedantic architecture drew upon the complex and interconnected meanings associated with the ceremonial architecture of the ancient world. Museums were simultaneously temples palaces, treasuries and tombs- buildings filled with echoes of ancient ceremonial practices of accumulation and display.P449 (1980 Ducan, Wallach)

The Studio Ghibli Museum in some ways encompasses Duncan and Wallach’s analysis of museums as “temples, palaces and tombs”, while in other ways seems to re-imagine the ideas. The building itself acts like a chapel; it has been built to house artefacts and ideals, similar to a religion. The windows are stained glass and the high ceilings and open plan have a chapel-like quality. The building commands a sense of reverence from the adult and a sense of wonder from the child. This idea ties into Denson’s analysis of the Studio Ghibli museum as an anime tourist spot. There is a sense that the tourist is part of a congregation and welcomed as such within the museum.
Thus far I have mentioned the architecture of the museum in light of its inclusiveness, and it is clear in the manifesto that this is a important aim, but unfortunately, the architecture does not entirely fulfil this aim. While wheelchair access is mentioned in the leaflet, and lifts are available for the handicapped, access is not possible to every floor in the building. A roof garden complete with statue is an important focal point in the sketches and marketing of the museum but it is completely inaccessible to anyone in a wheelchair or anyone who has difficulty with mobility, due to the fact that the only way up there is via a tightly wound metal staircase.
This was clearly not the intent of Miyazaki when formulating the idea of the museum, but this particular facet of his manifesto is not entirely implemented.
The displays will be…
Not only for the benefit of the people who are already fans of Studio Ghibli
Not a procession of artwork from past Ghibli films
As if it where “a museum of the past”
A place where visitors can enjoy just looking,
Can understand the artists’ spirits,
And can gain new insights into animation P1 (Miyazaki, 2011)

The audience and method of the studio Ghibli museum are also unique and set apart from other museum practices. While there are objects on display which relate closely to the films produced by Studio Ghibli such as sketches and stills, most of the content is uniquely created for the museum. In this aspect, the role of the curator is similar to that of a theme park designer, to create the exhibition spaces so that the entire location is thematic and treated as an exhibition itself.

The location provides two contexts: the shape and colour of the space, and the building’s surroundings and environment. The media or format of the work must fit the space physically, and when it does people both feel and understand why the work is there. The other context is more semiotic, comprising the history, usage and function of the space. So the work chosen for the site is linked to the meaning of the space as well as to the theme or concept of the exhibition (Nanjo, 2008)

The Studio Ghibli museum curates its exhibits in a way that make the viewer feel like they are not in an exhibition at all. The location and the building constructed to house the Ghibli collection are, as Nanjo says, vital to how Studio Ghibli exhibits the work. The site in this case was chosen due to its proximity with the park, which as I explained earlier ties in with the themes produced in Studio Ghibli films, the way the building is decorated and laid out also follows suit in this. Within the museum the way the work is displayed interacts with the museum space so that the visitor does not feel like they are exploring a museum or gallery space at all.
In some museums displays have changed radically in style; the formal, authoritative appearance of museum galleries has been replaced as the method used to communicate with visitors have become more informal, more lively and offer more possibility for mental and physical interaction. There is an understanding that, for example, family visitors want more choice and more diverse ways of using displays.- P6 (Hooper-Greenhill, 2000)
The photograph of the replica Miyazaki studio shows newer family driven techniques when curating the space, the objects for exhibition are sketches and animation cells on the walls and desks. The room is set up like Miyazaki’s own studio would be, so instead of audience focus being drawn only to the artworks with information, they are also shown the inspirations for the drawings, the method and are allowed to feel like they’ve stepped into a time capsule.
There are interactive aspects of the room and visitors are invited to look through books and touch interactive displays. It was noticeable, in this room in particular, that pictures and tables with books and objects were at varying height levels allowing both adults and children the ability to browse the work at leisure and also allowed handicapped audiences some freedom as well, as a foreign visitor many labels had English translations in the permanent exhibition areas, though there was little text in general, encouraging visitors to view and absorb the exhibitions around them.
Hooper-Greenhill’s curation text puts emphasis on the museum’s role in education. In Miyazaki’s museum manifesto where he talks about his display objectives, he talks about people being able to “enjoy just looking” and “gaining new insights in animation”
Educational theorists today recognise the fact that learners need to interact in meaningful ways with new information before it can become part of their repertoire of knowledge P-7 (Hooper-Greenhill, 2000)

This view also seems to be taken by the curators of the Studio Ghibli Museum. There are many ways for visitors to interact with the exhibitions. As a foreign visitor, this enhanced my experience through interaction so I could understand the displays where I could not have understood written Japanese. A very good example of creative curation is in the ‘zoetrope room’. This room specifically teaches about different forms of animation. The examples use familiar characters from different Studio Ghibli films and exhibit animation techniques through the ages and are engaging both for viewing and interaction. While travelling between exhibition rooms, visitors are encouraged to explore the building. There are tiny hidden child sized doors, secret rooms and gadgets and sculptures designed for interaction and thus for education and imaginative play.
The Special Exhibition room, exhibiting at the time of my visit “The Gift of Illustrations ― A Source of Popular Culture”, which featured works from Andrew Lang, was exhibited in a more traditional way. Various prints of Andrew Lang’s were hung on the walls with explanations in Japanese beneath them (there was no English translation nor a booklet explaining the exhibition).

Although I enjoyed the work exhibited it was hard for me to understand what was supposed to be being conveyed in this exhibition.
This was the least populated room in the entire museum, with few people reading the information on the wall. This exhibition did not work as well as the rest of the museum for a couple of reasons.
The first was that although these images inspired the creators of Studio Ghibli, domestic visitors seemed uninterested in the explanations and foreign visitors were unable to read the Japanese text. Secondly, compared with the rest of the museum which is a tactile educational experience, the sudden change in format was jarring and unappealing in comparison. The extensive explanatory text and lack of interactivity with the exhibition did not seem to resonate with children or family audiences who had been involved in the rest of the museum. This exhibition seemed to alienate the intended audience.
This essay has explored how the Studio Ghibli museum attracts and involves its audiences through its architecture and curation. It is evident that, while the museum intends to be all inclusive with its design and location, that this at times fails in some aspects but is largely successful. Most of the displays are arranged in such a way that foreign audiences can enjoy them without having to understand the language, and so they are educational and captivating for children too. The museum also seems to cater to the “anime tourist”, creating a themed experience. Overall, I would conclude that the Studio Ghibli museum follows Miyazaki’s manifesto. The idea of being lost and allowed to roam the museum like a house works well, and is endearing to families and children, creating an interactive, almost adventurous museum experience (moving the museum in this aspect closer to status of a theme park). The experience is not fully accessible to foreign and disabled visitors, although some effort has been made. Most of the staff spoke English and information leaflets were available in English. The information leaflets gave clear directions to the disabled facilities such as toilets and lifts.
The Studio Ghibli museum Mitaka was an interesting and unique experience, and was unlike other museums and galleries I have visited which have curated popular culture. The museum evidently curates and houses its collections in a contemporary fashion while still architecturally following the “universal survey Museum”

C. Duncan, A. Wallach (1980) The Universal Survey Museum, Art History 3:4 Blackwell Publishing
Hooper-Greenhill, E.(2000) Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture. London: Routledge.
Denison,R (2010) Anime tourism: discursive construction and reception of the Studio Ghibli Art Museum, Japan Forum


H. Myazaki, K. Nakajima (2011) Ghibli Museum, Mitaka (English ed.), Tosho Printing Co LTD
Unknown author (2013) Information leaflet, Studio Ghibli Museum
() Author Unknown (2008)
() Miyazaki, H (1986)
() Alton, E (2012) , entertainmentdesigner,com
() Author unknown (2013)

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