Colorful characters and animals come alive in the stained-glass windows of Ghibli Museum Mitaka.
Colorful characters and animals come alive in the stained-glass windows of Ghibli Museum Mitaka.

Colorful characters and animals come alive in the stained-glass windows of Ghibli Museum Mitaka.
The films of Hayao Miyazaki represent the height of two-dimensional animation, but Takaaki and Yuriko Yatsuda have helped bring them into the third dimension. Visitors to the Ghibli Museum Mitaka can stand in the shadows of the artists’ stained-glass works, which colorfully depict the animator’s creations, and feel almost as if Miyazaki’s characters are surrounding them.

Admirers of the director’s works, the husband-and-wife team were honored with the task of helping to bring his characters — and his messages — closer to his audiences’ everyday lives.

“We are big fans of Miyazaki’s films, because he is doing just what we would like to do in our art,” says Yuriko.

Before attempting to depict the “true essence” of well-loved characters such as Totoro, Neko Bus and Chihiro, the Yatsudas were careful to study each one.

“Getting to know the people around you is the first step to loving them,” Yuriko explains, “and we have to show who these characters are to add more reality to our message.”

With the title character from “My Neighbor Totoro,” they attempted to convey his innocence and tolerance. With Chihiro from “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away),” they wanted to show how people can explore their potential when faced with a challenge.

The Yatsudas’ involvement with the museum began several years ago. Because Akemi Miyazaki, the filmmaker’s wife, was familiar with their work, they were asked to create stained-glass windows for the Miyazakis’ new home. The Miyazakis initially had only two pieces in mind, but after visiting the artists’ home/ studio, they knew they wanted more. Eventually, they were commissioned to make dozens of works for the new museum.

In 1999, the Yatsudas began work on pieces for the museum’s windows and doors, which illustrate popular characters from Miyazaki’s films, as well as 50 light shades depicting forest plants and animals. Two years of work wrapped up only shortly before the museum opened at the start of this month.

Yuriko and Takaaki met at the Tokyo National University of Fine Art and Music. After marrying, they launched joint careers in accessories and tableware. They eventually switched their medium of expression to stained glass but always stayed true to the philosophy they adopted in art school: “Do not create art that does not reflect your heart.”

“We believe philanthropic love only emerges from everyday communication and understanding of each other, and this is our ‘heart,’ ” Yuriko explains. “I would like to collect all the beautiful and heartwarming things in myself and crystallize them in my mosaic works, because I want to create art that gives people positive energy.”

“I hope our works in the museum will give people the opportunity to nourish their sensitivity. Children these days are forced into an environment where they are taught to be the same, regardless of their talent,” Takaaki says. “But each person has different interests, abilities and sensitivity, and they ought to look hard to find their own dreams.”

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