Most Influential Projects 2022

50 Ghibli Park

Ghibli Park

For building an immersive world of anime at one with nature

Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and other anime classics from Studio Ghibli are making the move from screen to real life in a new theme park. But as with much of its work, the famed Japanese production house is following its own creative path.

“For a long time, there had been talk of creating a Ghibli theme park as a way of preserving the studio’s works for future generations,” the company’s producer and co-founder Toshio Suzuki said on a visit to the project site, per SoraNews24. “But conceptually a conventional theme park just didn’t feel like the right fit.” 

So forget the typical hair-raising roller coasters and adrenaline-inducing drop towers. Suzuki and Studio Ghibli co-founder and legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki envisioned exploring the same themes as their movies: the raw beauty and power of nature. The two imagined a fantastically immersive and decidedly nature-centric theme park—bringing the Ghibli world to life while honoring the wild beauty of its home in Aichi Expo Memorial Park. In keeping with the site’s ecological commitments, for example, the team pledged to not cut down any existing trees and instead build the park around them. Located in Nagakute, about an hour outside the port city of Nagoya, the theme park will span more than 17 acres (6.9 hectares), with project leaders vowing to set an example as an environmentally responsible theme park in harmony with nature. 

Miyazaki left a portion of the planning to his son, Goro, a director in his own right who spent his pre-Ghibli years working as a landscape architect. Initially the thought was to devote the park wholly to the studio’s beloved 1988 film My Neighbor Totoro. As it happened, the site already included a life-size replica of the house from the movie, built for the Aichi Expo 2005. 

But by 2019, the project’s scope had expanded. That year, the studio and its project partners—the Aichi government, as well as the Chunichi Shimbun newspaper—announced there would be a total of five zones inspired by Ghibli films. One will include Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse, featuring buildings and artifacts from Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky and Totoro, plus restaurants, shops, a playground and an indoor exhibition space. Another, called Hill of Youth, will showcase the antique shop from Whisper of the Heart; and then there’s Dondoko Forest, home of the replica house from Totoro. Two additional zones, Valley of Witches and Mononoke Village, are slated to open by 2024. 

The park’s website, announcing the November opening, reflects the project’s ethos, stating bluntly: “There are no big attractions or rides in Ghibli Park. Take a stroll, feel the wind, and discover the wonders.”

Though Miyazaki announced his retirement in 2013, it didn’t last long. In 2017, Studio Ghibli announced plans for his next film, How Do You Live?, though the studio didn’t set a release date. (Because every frame is hand-drawn—Miyazaki has shared it takes his team of 60 animators a full month to produce one minute of the movie.) While the octogenarian is famously hands-off about ancillary projects that don’t directly involve films, he’s applied his signature vision to the Ghibli Park, sketching ideas and making site visits during development. 

Suzuki, recalling one such visit the cofounders made, said: “I’m very happy to be involved in this project. The spirit of the Ghibli Museum is alive here, and I can feel things truly starting to take shape.”