Studio Ghibli theme park prepares visitors to “get away”

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NAGAKUTE, Japan: Beyond the gates, a whimsical world awaits, complete with a fluffy Cat Bus, Totoro’s toothy grin, and a life-size No-Face sitting on a train: Welcome to Park Ghibli.

On Wednesday, the media got a sneak peek at the highly anticipated new theme park from Studio Ghibli, the maker of beloved animated titles like “My Neighbor Totoro” and Oscar-winning “Spirited Away.”

Park Ghibli will open to visitors on November 1, although only three of the five sections of the site in Japan’s central Aichi region will initially be accessible.

Spread across 7.1 hectares of the 194-hectare park where Aichi hosted the 2005 World’s Fair, the attraction features large outdoor spaces in keeping with the importance of nature and the outdoors in Ghibli’s works. .

Unlike similar tourist attractions such as Tokyo Disneyland, the park’s creators said it was designed to minimize fantasy and reflect the realism of Ghibli’s works.

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Among the three areas opening next month is the “Hill of Youth,” the gateway to the park and featuring an elevator tower inspired by several Ghibli films, including “Castle in the Sky” and ” Howl’s Moving Castle”.

Elsewhere, “Dondoko Forest” evokes the retro peace of “My Neighbor Totoro”, with bucolic paths, play equipment and a huge Totoro figurine.

A major draw will be Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse, the indoor hangar-like part of the park with various rides, including 14 sets of 13 Ghibli classics.

Visitors can stroll along an alley designed to look like the opening scene of “Spirited Away,” or perch on the red velvet-covered train seat in a carriage next to the “No-Face” character. instantly recognizable from the movie.

Built at a cost of 34 billion yen ($232 million), the park is set to become a major tourist attraction for Aichi.

The region expects an influx of 1.8 million visitors a year once the park’s five areas are open, starting next year, with an estimated annual economic impact of 48 billion yen.

Aichi Governor Hideaki Omura said Wednesday it took “five years and five months” to complete, and hailed Studio Ghibli as “the pinnacle” of Japanese culture.

Studio Ghibli was founded in 1985 by animators Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, and has captivated fans around the world with works that blend nostalgia, courage, greed, and interaction with the natural world.

Miyazaki’s son, Goro, told reporters on Wednesday that the park was originally conceived as a way to pass down Studio Ghibli’s works to future generations, in anticipation of his father’s planned retirement.

“We didn’t want people to forget Ghibli’s works,” he said.

“But we were betrayed again,” he added with a laugh. “He’s making a feature film now!”

Goro also said the theme park was designed to have “minimal impact” on the surrounding nature, with instructions that “trees should not be cut down or changes made to the environment”.

Tickets will be by reservation only, costing between 1,000 and 2,500 yen per area for adults.

Studio Ghibli already operates the hugely popular Ghibli Museum on the outskirts of Japan’s capital, Tokyo, which offers tickets only at the beginning of each month, regularly selling out within hours.

The East Asian country is home to several major theme parks, including Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios in Osaka.

After two and a half years of strict Covid-19 restrictions, the borders reopened fully to tourists on October 11, and a massive influx of foreign visitors is expected in the coming months.

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