My third weekend in Yeongdo I set out alone for a quiet day-out. Only, I ended up stumbling into the opening day of a Studio Ghibli exhibit. I should take myself out on dates more often.
From September 5th to November 29th, the Busan Museum of Art (BMA) will host an exhibit that spotlights the scenery and architecture of Ghibli films, paying homage to famed directors Hayao Miyazaki and Takahata Isao.
Fan favorites are all present, like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, as well as more obscure films like Only Yesterday and Pom Poko. My experience was very much shaped – and at times hindered – by the crowds present on opening day. Nevertheless, the collective excitement from Ghibli-lovers was tangible, and perhaps made some aspects of the exhibit more poignant.
Upon admission, you are greeted by a dimly-lit room, cutout doors and windows scattered across the dark walls. Naturally, most descriptions and titles were in Korean, adding an extra element of confusion as I stood baffled with the rest of the crowd as to why there was still a long line after we’d entered the exhibit. Our line managed only a slow shuffle, a few people breaking out from time to time to peek around the corner and report back to their friends.
Upon finally entering the light, aka the first part of the exhibit, you come across an assortment of carefully painted scenes and meticulous sketches juxtaposed with photos of Japanese landscapes and architecture. You realize and are reminded again and again that the resemblance is stunning. This section comes across as a brief lesson in Japanese history and a quite obvious pointing out of the parallels between Miyazaki’s film backgrounds and real life Japan.
The transition into the next section is a charming model of lush green hills and a village, the setting of a film the name of which I didn’t catch. Throughout the exhibit, you can count on a smattering of these replicas – some miniature, some life-sized – that appear roughly in order of increasing popularity, so by the end you’re bound to recognize them. Without a doubt, the uncontested star of the show was Spirited Away’s unforgettable bathhouse. The massive, intricate replica dominates an entire room where the staff are extra-vigilant, stepping up frequently to ask museum-goers not to take pictures. In a later room, I exchange a sly smile with a man in eclectic clothes as we catch each other sneaking pictures in the beautiful blue room that features scenery from Ponyo.
Visitors can choose to play a small part in the last room, where they can interact with the exhibit. The museum provides small strips of white paper and stamps, with patterns based on the architecture featured in the first room, for visitors to create miniature paper houses. These can be added to a display with the paper houses that other guests have completed. While this activity might be more geared towards children, I think Ghibli films do have a way of bringing out our inner child. Introducing an element of play into the exhibit seems like something that would be in line with Miyazaki’s vision. Children and adults alike swarmed the activity tables to participate.
But wait. It’s not over yet. The gift shop seemed to possibly be the most popular part of the exhibit, with an enormous line at its entrance which wound all the way around half the second floor lobby. Eventually I got in, picked up a few postcards, marveled at the other cute-but-too-expensive goods, and headed upstairs to see the rest of the museum. This is a picture of the gift stop from the third floor.
Sadly the rest of the museum didn’t look so festive, but for this lonely museum-goer, it was a much more familiar sight.