fans of Studio Ghibli began flocking to a new theme park based on films made by the beloved anime hit factory that opened in Japan this week.
Located in just over seven acres of verdant parkland in Aichi Prefecture, about 250 km west of Tokyo, Park Ghibli has no roller coasters or other rides. Rather, its goal is to immerse visitors in the worlds created by studio co-founder and director Hayao Miyazaki.
“There were plans for theme parks with rides and attractions being brought to Studio Ghibli, but they didn’t seem to fit the Ghibli way,” says Park Ghibli spokesperson Mai Sato. “Park Ghibli is a park, not an amusement park…the idea was to…harmonize with and enhance the existing park and its nature.”
Studio Ghibli was founded in 1985 by Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki and Isao Takahata. His first anime feature, Castle in the Sky, grossed $16 million at the box office the following year, though it would later influence both animation and video games. The studio, and Miyazaki’s works in particular, began to attract devoted fans both at home and abroad during the 1990s.
Miyazaki’s films often tackle issues such as environmentalism, as in Princess Mononoke in 1997. The studio and director found true global recognition when Spirited Away (2001) took nearly $400 million at the box office. and won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
Built on a section of the 2005 World Expo site on land owned by Aichi Prefecture, Park Ghibli is operated by a joint venture between Studio Ghibli and the Chunichi Shimbun, a major regional newspaper.
Only three of the park’s five planned areas are currently open, separated from each other by expanses of nature, but that and the lack of white-knuckle rides haven’t deterred Ghibli fans. Entrance tickets are already sold out until the end of the year.
The centerpiece of the park is Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse, filled with artifacts, exhibits and recreations of scenes from the studio’s many acclaimed productions, including the hit Spirited Away, which held the Japanese box office record until recently. in 2020.
Another area, the world of Hill of Youth, is themed around Miyazaki’s 1995 musical anime Whisper of the Heart, while another, Dondoko Forest, is based on the director’s My Neighbor Totoro (1988). Children can climb inside treehouses built in the shape of the star character Totoro. “You can feel and immerse yourself in the world of the Ghibli movies,” says Sato.
A Mononoke Village, based on the movie Princess Mononoke, is set to open next year, with a production-themed area based on the teenage witches Kiki’s Delivery Service planned for 2024.
As with the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo, exclusive short films from the studio’s creators will be screened in a 170-seat cinema in the park.
Currently, tickets can only be purchased in Japan. In preparation for the park’s opening, it was unclear when foreign tourists would be allowed to return to Japan, so the decision was initially made not to sell tickets to buyers outside the country. But that should change early next year. Japan’s Covid-imposed travel restrictions for tourists were finally lifted in October.
The park has high hopes once fully opened. More than 1.8 million visitors a year are expected and expected to generate around 48 billion yen ($325 million) for the local economy.
Reports that Miyazaki himself has been spotted in the background of TV reports – wearing the distinctive white apron he often wears when sketching in his studio – has already sparked a wave of excitement among fans, before only it turns out that it was a cosplayer impersonating him.
Miyazaki has announced his retirement several times, but since 2017 he has been working on How Do You Live?, which he says will be his final animated feature. There is no scheduled date for completion or publication.