Monday, June 8, 2009

Suginami Animation Museum

I first visited the Suginami Animation Museum (SAM) in 2008, which is when I first met Honda-san, director of Ekura Animal. I've mentioned Honda-san several times since then, since he produced an updated version of "Fuichin-san", as well as having done some piecework for Lupin III, and Card Liver. But, it had been a while since I'd been to SAM, and after seeing the incomplete article from Galbraith in the Metropolis in May, I figured it was time to go back. Plus, it's at least 15 miles from my apartment and would make a good "long ride" on my bike.

The only problem with riding to Suginami is that it's all along major streets with no bike lanes, so I either have to weave through traffic, or ride on the sidewalks, neither of which is fun or lets me set my own pace. Regardless, I did get to the museum after about an hour. (The third time there, last Friday, I just took the train and then walked from the station.)

(Dry cleaners shop along the way to the museum. Shown here just to have some artwork to brighten up this post. Notice all the UFO Catcher dolls lining the frame above the door. Some are anime-related, so the photo is still "on-topic" a little bit, anyway.)

The Suginami area is the home of a number of animation studios, and SAM was created to help bring attention to both the studios, and to the production of anime in general. The museum is about a 15 minute walk from Ogikubo station, on the Sobu line west from Shinjuku station. Just take the north exit on the east side of the Ogikubo station, and follow the main street to the left past the police box (koban). When you get to the big police station 15 minutes later, turn left at the signal, and it's on the third floor of the building facing the big shrine across the street. Of course, you could also take the bus from the station, in which case it's a 5 minute ride.

(SAM floor map from the SAM website.)

SAM is yet another one of those places that don't allow photos, probably due to copyright concerns for all of the artwork on the walls. The floor guide map shows the layout of the 3rd floor, which is accessible by elevator and stairs. If you take the elevator, you'll step out in front of the reception desk. A few of the volunteer staff members can speak some English if needed. In this area, there's a small goods shop, some examples of older animation techniques (like the zoetrope) and TVs running clips from shows like Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball. The workshop area has several PCs set up, where you can try using computer-aided tools to make your own short anime. When I visited the third time, two of the staff were busy drawing on tracing paper, creating a short example sequence of a bird in flight as a demo to show visitors. When the pencils are finished, they will be scanned in and turned into a softcopy flip book. Near the elevator is also a wire stand holding lots of fliers advertising other museums and art exhibits.

Up the short flight of steps to the mezzanine, there's the revolving exhibit space, the rental library and the theater. The library has complete sets of various manga titles, including things like Ghost Sweeper, Yuyu Hakusho, Dr. Slump, and Slam Dunk. They also have 6 viewing booths with DVD players so you can watch anime as you like. There's several hundred hours worth of DVDs to choose from, but if someone else is waiting to watch something after you, you're requested to only use the booth for 30 minutes at a stretch.

(Sea Horse dive shop, near the museum. Even dive shops like to use cute manga-style mascots.)

(I'm not sure what the blond doll has to do with diving, but I like the little plush sea horse.)

The theater seats maybe 100 people, and shows a few episodes of specific TV series per day, while also screening older works plus the "featured films". During June, the featured works are taken from the revolving exhibit for "World Masterpiece Theater"; when I visited last, this specifically meant "Anne of Green Gables". So far, in the theater, I've seen some paper cutout animation of some older retellings of Japanese folk tales - "Nanmu Ichibyou Sokusai" (Small Ills) and "Mizu no Tane" (The Water Bottle) - and two episodes of Kaleido Star (eps. 33 and 34).

The revolving exhibition space generally changes exhibits every 4-6 weeks. The first time I was there, it was a photographic history of Tezuka, and a second animation great that I wasn't familiar with. This was followed by artwork and figures from "Keroro Gunso" last May. Currently, the exhibit features the "World Masterpiece Theater", with cell artwork from "Anne of Green Gables" and "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer". One display case held over 40 DVDs from the series. While the exhibit is great to look at, the explanations are all in Japanese, and you can see everything in 5 minutes. I would like to see SAM start offering English handouts for the exhibits, but that doesn't seem likely right now.

When I went the second time, I offered to volunteer as a translator, but I don't know if I was misunderstood or not. Instead, the manager on duty gave me a volunteer form to fill out (I need to get that in the mail soon), and suggested that I be one of the staff on a Friday. Then he gave me a copy of the "Tokyo International Anime Fair 2005 awards memorial" book, which is REALLY COOL. The book has short descriptions of the 20 greats in anime history posthumously given Awards of Merit at the 2005 TAF. Names include Tezuka, and Machiko Hasegawa (creator of "Sazae-san"). I'm currently working up a list of links for all 20 people and will post that in a later blog entry.

SAM is a great place to visit if you're in the area and want to watch anime for free. The library has hundreds of titles, and the theater shows stuff on the hour, regardless if there's anyone in the room. You can also try your hand at making your own anime. Be forewarned, though, that food and drinks are not allowed, and the nearest restaurants are a couple of blocks away on the main road leading to the train station (drinks are available from the vending machines in the building's basement, which is outside of the museum's space). Entry to the museum is free, and on the weekends there may be special events in the 4th floor space past the mezzanine (if not, then the fourth floor will just have some more artwork on the walls plus another TV showing more anime).

Hours: 10 AM to 6 PM (please arrive before 5:30 PM) Tuesday to Sunday.
Closed Mondays, or the Tuesday following if Monday is a national holiday.

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