Ask John: Are the Ghibli Museum Exclusve Films Accessible to Fans?

I was wondering about your thoughts on Miyazaki’s Ghibli Museum exclusive short films. Do you think it is fair that these shorts are only available in the Ghibli Museum? I understand that he does not want commercial influence, but wouldn’t his goal also be to reach as many viewers as possible, for them to see his “true/authentic” vision? And if Miyazaki still won’t let them out of the museum for now, do you think they might be liscenced and distributed in the future?

I’ve always maintained the assumption that Japanese animation is made by and for Japanese citizens, so I’m always grateful to have access to any anime. I don’t take anime for granted or assume that I have a right to see any anime that exists because I, an American, am not the intended audience for most anime. I’ve been a fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s work since the late 1980s, so I’m very disappointed to be unable to watch all of his animated films. But I don’t think it unfair that there are exclusive films screened at the Ghibli Museum. There are valid reasons why I’m not personally offended by the exclusivity of certain anime, and I can respect Mr. Miyazaki’s rationale for the exclusivity of some of his studio’s works.

Many anime fans may not be aware of the fact that there are actually six Studio Ghibli museum exclusive short films: Koro’s Big Day Out, The Whale Hunt, Mei & the Kittenbus, House Hunting, Mon Mon the Water Spider, and The Day I Bought a Star, in addition to a few short untitled pieces of animation used as parts of exhibits in the Studio Ghibli museum. Exclusive short films have been screened in the Mitaka Ghibli Museum since the attraction first opened in 2001. The films rotate periodically, so visitors who want to seem them all have to visit the museum several times a year. These exclusive films are a significant drawing point for the museum; they attract more paying visitors and repeat visitors. While Miyazaki-sensei may call the films non-commercial, in reality that’s not exactly true. Since the museum exclusive films are short and designed exclusively for the museum, they don’t have to adhere to the commercial requirements of major nationwide theatrical releases. In that respect, the museum shorts are more unfettered by commercialism. But the fact that viewers can’t see them without first paying, and the films specifically attract paying viewers means that they are commercial films.

However, despite being arguably commercial movies, the Studio Ghibli shorts are more free to be uncompromised illustrations of the Ghibli animators’ ideas because the films don’t have to compromise to the demands of corporate sponsors or the expectations of theater chains. The length, content, and artistic style of the museum shorts don’t have to be as commercially viable as a major motion picture that multiple producers have invested in. That allows the museum exclusive films to be a relatively uncompromised product of their animators’ artistic vision. I don’t think that Miyazaki’s goal with the museum shorts is to impose his artistic vision upon viewers, which is what he does with his major theatrical films. I think that Miyazaki’s goal with the museum shorts is to create short films and make them available for a select audience of viewers that come out of their way to see them.

Considering that these films are designed to help attract visitors to the Ghibli Museum, I don’t expect to see them ever released on home video. Making the movies available to all viewers undermines their usefulness as museum exclusives. The Ghibli ga Ippai Special Short Short DVD includes Miyazaki’s short film On Your Mark. I suspect that if the museum shorts were to be released on Japanese DVD, they would have been included on the “Short Short” DVD. It may be disappointing to international fans to not have easy access to these films, but international fans have never had unrestrained access to every anime production available in Japan. For example, I’m sure that there are many English speaking fans that would love to see the Hideaki Anno directed OVA “Anime Tenchou,” except that it’s an exclusive promotional anime made for Japan’s chain of Animate stores. International anime fans never had the opportunity to see the exclusive IMAX style “Gundam Shin Taiken 0087 Green Divers” movie. And anime feature films like the Maze Bakunetsu Jiku and Lodoss Island motion pictures were screened in Japanese theaters but were never released on home video. At least in the case of the Ghibli Museum films, enterprising and die-hard fans do have a means of seeing them. Package tours of Japan’s otaku culture such as Pop Japan Travel include admission to the Ghibli Museum.

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