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Andrew Osmond visits the Suginami Anime Museum

The chances are that many anime fans who visit Tokyo – even those who know their way round every maid café and dojinshi dive – may have overlooked the Suginami Anime Museum. It’s certainly a modest establishment, far smaller than some of Tokyo’s anime and manga megastores, and it doesn’t have the cachet of, say, the Ghibli Museum. Nonetheless, it’s well worth a visit and its location on the same JR line as the Ghibli establishment (just a few stops down the track), means you could easily take in both in a one-day double-bill. And if that doesn’t encourage you, then the Suginami Museum is free!

The museum “starts” on the third floor of a larger building – as anyone who’s been to Tokyo knows, one building will typically house umpteen different establishments. The first level features a delightful “timeline” display of anime history, featuring a succession of four TV sets showing anime clips, with both the TVs and anime getting newer with time. Festooned with vintage merchandise, the display gives you a snapshot history of how Japanese viewers experienced anime, as it evolved from a cute kids’ diversion into a multi-stranded medium.

A wall displays the signatures of dozens of anime luminaries, and there are antique animation toys for anyone wanting a spin of the Praxinoscope. There’s also a series of displays showing “How to Produce Animation.” This is a simple but useful walkthrough of the anime production process (English translations provided), including notes on anime’s changing tools, such as the introduction of paperless drawing tablets. It’s further enlivened by a video-screen guide to animation principles hosted by Astro Boy; a booth where visitors can try dubbing an anime scene for themselves; and mock-ups of workspaces of anime legends such as Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino.

At present, though, the museum is focusing on the decade-old film Jin-Roh, a dark alternate-world drama released by Production IG. This is a temporary exhibit; the museum has three or four each year, based around themes, characters or creators. Jin-Roh is topical because its director, Hiroyuki Okiura, has just completed a new, very different, film. Letter to Momo has already started rolling out at film festivals such as October’s Scotland Loves Anime, and it comes to Japan in April.

There isn’t much on Momo in the museum, unfortunately – just a poster and a few character designs. However, there’s plenty on Jin-Roh as you climb to the second level: background art, key frames, character sheets, and an oversized model trooper. The oddest tribute to Okiura’s film, though, is on the top floor, where you find a very cute exhibit of Red Riding Hood pictures, drawn by child visitors to the museum – Jin-Roh revolved round a much grimmer version of the fairy tale. The Jin-Roh film itself is sometimes screened in the museum’s own compact theatre, with a 150-inch screen.

But the real heart of the Sugnami museum is its library, opposite the cinema on the middle floor. If you can read Japanese, then there are anime books galore, and even if you’re not, there are one or two in English if you look hard. And there are also DVDs, gazillions of them that you can watch on site, drawn from the whole spectrum of anime history. Not just anime but world animation, from Czechoslovakia to Aardman. Whether you want to watch Speed Grapher or Heidi, Gatchaman or Princess Knight, they’re all here. True, they’re mostly unsubbed, but it’s hard to imagine a pleasanter environment in which to browse vintage anime, exploring the decades in the country where the medium was born.

The Suginami Animation Museum is near Ogikubo station on the JR Chuo Line (the station is also on the Marunochi subway line). From the station, take the Kanto bus at the north exit, and get off at Ogikubo Police Station, about 5 minutes away. The museum is on the opposite side of the road from the police station, on the third floor of the Suginami Kaikan building. It is CLOSED on Mondays, but open other days between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. (last entrance 5.30). The museum is also closed between December 28 and January 4. Alternatively, the museum can be accessed from Kamiigusa Station on the Seibu Shinjuku line. Take the Seibu bus towards Ogikubo and get off at the Ogikubo Police Station.

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