So what was the plan? Well, a Facebook friend had alerted us to the existence of a limited time exhibit on Walt Disney Animation at an establishment called Miraikan, which literally translates to "future museum," but has a more official, much longer English name that I don't remember. At any rate, this exhibit had a recreation of the lantern scene from Tangled, and we love Disney animation anyway (at least, we do up until about Tangled; after that, we're ambivalent at best (with maybe a little soft spot for Big Hero 6)), so we figured why not?
So that's where we headed. We were nervous about finding our way there from the train station, as usual, but the map indicated it would be a mostly straight line, and we figured it was probably a fairly big building, so we braved it. The train ride there was pretty interesting, too. At one point the tracks made a big loop over the ocean for no discernible reason other than to be really cool. There may have been some reason that involved needing the track to be higher off the ground/sea on one side and lower on the other, but it doesn't really matter to me, because it was really cool.
And then we got to the station and there was a big poster advertising the exhibit! So we knew we were in the right place! And all the street signs told us exactly where to go, so we didn't get lost at all, which was very encouraging. There were big posters featuring art from Disney animation over the years, and they were so pretty and I was excited. I was significantly less excited when we realized that, while regular admission to the museum was 600 yen, if you wanted to go to the Disney exhibit, too, admission almost tripled. Not that we didn't want to pay that much, just that it seemed really odd that the Disney exhibit by itself should cost that much more, especially because it was clearly a major draw. It just exacerbated our annoyance with Disney and their increasing evil empire image that...I mean, we always thought of them as a bit of an evil corporate empire, but it just seems to have been getting worse and worse, and this was not helping their cause. Though to be fair, I don't know what the special exhibits usually cost.
Aaaanyway. We bought our tickets, and then we had to track down the...I call them fastpasses for the Rapunzel Experience. Basically, there was only a fastpass line for the Tangled experience, so you had to pick up a ticket, then line up within the time frame listed on the ticket. We didn't have time to go through the rest of the exhibit before our fastpasses activated, so we went to the cafe! Where they had specially designed Earth Soda, just for the Miraikan. There were two different kinds--a blue one, and a red-violet one! And they were both pretty bitter, but one was bitter and sour, and the other was bitter and sweet, and I'm not going to tell you what flavors they are, because I want people to guess (when I post the pictures on Facebook)! But now you have a hint. We also got some honey butter muffins, which were intriguing in that they had actual chunks of butter in them.
We still had some time before our fastpasses, so we decided to look at the regular exhibits (which we had planned to do anyway, because it's silly to go to a museum for just one exhibit; we just intended to do it after the Disney stuff originally). So if anybody has been to the California Science Center, formerly known as the Museum of Science and Industry, this museum was kind of like that, in that most of the exhibits focus on science and are kind of interactive and fun for the kids. They had explanations of stuff in Japanese and English, and we read the English ones because science is hard enough to focus on in our native language (not that we don't like it; just that there are fancy terms), and we were like, "...Okay, maybe we should leave our card with somebody..." They weren't bad translations, just worded strangely sometimes, and they didn't always capture the conversational tone of the Japanese. But you know us; we're always wanting to fix translations.
But more importantly, the exhibits were terrifying. Like, if our father had taken us to this museum as children, we would have been hiding under our beds for weeks.
Oh wait, let me describe the museum. It was actually kind of awesome, in both the, "Whoa, cool!" way and the "awe-inspiring and intimidating" way. It's got seven floors, and the lobby's ceiling is at the top of all of them, so you look up, and it's just like, "Whoa..." There's another room on the first floor that has couches you can lie on and look up at the ceiling at a giant globe covered in video panels, so they can change it to give you, like, a thermal view of it. We only really saw it as a regular globe, though, because whenever we were in that room, we were on our way to something else.
It's the fifth floor that had the terrifying exhibits in question. This is the floor with the "Exploring the Frontiers" theme, which in Japanese is really more like "figuring out where we stand," and it was about all of the horrible, awful, terrible things all around us that could wipe out humanity. We're only sort of exaggerating. There were other things on that floor that were less doomful, but the most eye-catching exhibit was one of those marble maze things, where you set up a track and have the marble go down it like a little tiny roller coaster. Only this one was big, and it had a lot of marbles, and it was a simulation. And each of the marbles represented a hazard, like a disease, or a typhoon, or an earthquake. And it would go along its track, and actually usually end up on a wide field where it would go who-knows-where.
But! all along the edge of the exhibit were rows and rows of dominoes, with stick figures painted on them. And sometimes, a marble would fall among those rows and knock a few people down. And SOMETIMES! a whole bunch of hazards would come along and wipe out half the rows! See, because, behind the rows of people, they had some buildings set up to represent technology, and a lot of the time, the technology would block the hazards and keep people safe, but if enough hazards collected on top of a building (because sometimes the marbles ended up on top of the buildings), the building would fall down and spill ALL its marbles onto the unsuspecting masses! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh! Because we can use technology to help keep us safe from the hazards, but sometimes technology only exacerbates the problem--for example, if there's a region that's got an epidemic going on, someone can hop onto a plane (technology), take the epidemic across the ocean, and cause a pandemic. So as you can see, we're all doomed.
A little ways away from this marble track, there are some display panels with information on them, so you could learn more in-depth about typhoons and earthquakes and volcanoes and epidemics and etc., and I went over there to find the hope...but there was no hope. It was just, "Here's another thing that could kill you, and here's how it works!" (Not necessarily how the killing works, but, like, why we have earthquakes.) And I was like, "Oh man, it's such a good thing we did not come here when we were kids."
I think it was the same floor that had a display about non-sustainable "cycles." I think it was "one-way flow" or something. For example, there was a video screen with a saw in front of it. I touched the saw to activate the video, and it showed me a guy sawing down a tree, who was joined with a bunch of other guys sawing down trees, and the whole forest got cut down and the world was barren. There was another one with a shovel that covered the earth in all the junk that got dug up (like, you dig up the resources, then make a bunch of junk? Athena specifically remembers there being chairs), and the third one was a valve, and you turn that to pump fuel into a truck, and you fuel a bunch of trucks, and they cover the whole world in pollution. And we were like, "Okay, now that we've destroyed the world, how do we fix it?"
Fortunately, there was another display about cycles. I think there were a couple of them. There was one that had crystal balls rolling around a track, and they'd stop on certain nodes, and then you could look through them to see what they are, like maybe it will be a sea creature, and as you watch, it changes into...I don't know, something that eats that thing? It was like the circle of life, but including inanimate things, like whole ecosystems and stuff. Athena seems to remember a desert that turned into a tundra or vice versa? And it would role onto the next node and change into something else, and it all went around in a circle, you see, and if you respect the circle, we can have a cycle instead of a one-way flow that just results in death and destruction. So finally there was hope, huzzah! The other cycle display I remember had to do with biodegradable plastic made from wood.
Anyway, now that we were super depressed, it was time to go do the Tangled experience. First, we got in a line where there was no photography allowed, because to help museum-goers pass the time in line, they were playing "See the Light" from Tangled on a big movie screen. It was the Japanese dub version, so that was really cool, and I commented that it's a testament to the magic of Alan Menken that the song made me tear up despite my annoyance at the apparent greed in the admission price (as well as our general disdain for modern Disney that's been building up over the years; why do we even go to all these Disney things if we hate it so much? because it's still a big part of our lives, and the annoyingness of Disney today doesn't change the fact that they made a lot of really great movies in days gone by).
So we got to the Tangled experience, and my first impression was, "It's not as big as I thought it would be." The room with the experience was maaaaybe half the size of the room we lined up in. They had set up a bunch of lanterns that were attached to the floor and ceiling with rods, and I must say the rods kind of diminished the experience some. To make it seem bigger, because you've all seen the movie--that scene is huge--the walls on all four sides are covered in mirrors. It's an effect I've seen in the parks many times, and depending on how it's used, it can work wonders, but sometimes I'm just too jaded, and I think this was one of those times. It didn't help that the staff member there had to warn us all not to bump into the mirrors, because the critic inside me is like, "If you have to tell people the trick for their own safety, you might want to consider using a different trick. Or a bigger room."
But let's be positive! The lanterns were very pretty, and they lit up brighter when you got close to them! ...Or they were supposed to; for some reason, I had a hard time getting them to work. Athena says this just furthers the theory that maybe we're actually vampires. I was pretty much attributing it to my theory that the lanterns worked on a heat censor and my heart and soul were just too cold to spark a reaction. Anyway, the important thing is, I glanced at the thumbnails of the pictures I took (photography was only forbidden in the room with the movie; the experience itself was basically designed to be a photo-op) and they look pretty nice.
After that, it was almost time for us to go to the Dome Theater to watch the award-winning science movie, "The Man from the 9 Dimensions," and I think they said the director worked on Kiki's Delivery Service and The Grudge, so we really had no idea what to expect. Basically, it was a movie kind of like Donald in Mathemagic Land, which is designed to teach principles through an entertaining movie. In this one, we start with three scientists who are searching for a certain person, and now they've spotted him, so they go to find him...and he gets away! But for some reason he likes us, so he takes over the narrative and starts explaining stuff about the microscopic world, like with atoms, and then quarks, and down to string theory. Oh, and the thing about how we have the three dimensions of length, width, and depth, but scientist have now discovered that there are nine dimensions. And he explained it all with extremely stunning 3D visuals. He's from all of them, so he knows what's what, and that's why the scientists were looking for him.
There was one part, and I don't remember what part of the narrative this was, so I couldn't tell you what led up to it, but we just sat and looked up at the stars for a while. He said, "Look at the stars," and then he just stopped talking for what felt like a very long time, and I was like, "Huh, he hasn't said anything for a while. Are we supposed to just look at the night sky and contemplate our place in the universe? Oh well, stars are pretty." And eventually he was like, "What did you think about as you looked up at the stars?" Oh right, I forgot to mention, this theater is another planetarium-style one. Only this one has 3D movies.
The only other thing I really remember is that he was in this one place that was super bouncy, and there were a bunch of him because time doesn't exist in that dimension or something? so he can be in a bunch of places at once. Also, he told us that the reason the scientists are looking for him is that he is TOE, the Theory of Everything, and he can explain the entire universe.
Anyway, at the end, the scientists all find him and catch him! But he's from the 9 dimensions, so obviously he could just snap his fingers and get away. But he was nice enough to let them keep his hat, scarf, and glove, so it ended on a very optimistic note because they had some clues that they could use to continue their search and eventually discover the truth of everything. The end.
So that was kind of a surreal experience, but it ended on a high note, so it was all good. And now, since we didn't have anymore things we had to be on time for, we went to the Disney Animation exhibit. I think it was all designed by the Disney Animation Research Library, and we kind of got the feeling the people behind it are either the same people, or very close to the people, who put together some of the annual passholder events we would go to, because I feel like it was all the same information, right down to the episodes of Wonderful World of Color that we'd seen at so many AP days. But let's start at the beginning.
The first part was really cool. They had screens set up where they would project pencil tests from various classic Disney cartoons, including some Mickey cartoons, Snow White, Saludos Amigos, etc. I like looking at pencil tests, so it was really cool getting to see them nice and big. That room led into one that was set up with design sheets and other art from early cartoons featuring the Fab Five. They also had three zoetropes in the middle of the room, arranged to form a hidden Mickey. It was a cool design concept, but it resulted in the two smaller zoetropes rotating at slower speeds so the motion was a little weird.
From there on, the exhibit led us through different rooms, in chronological order based on when the featured movies came out. They had some really cool animation sketches, backgrounds, concept art, etc. etc., and it was kind of mind-blowing to be in the same room as these art pieces that we'd seen on TV screens or in books so many times. And there were a lot of pieces, especially from the earlier movies, that we hadn't seen before, even on Andreas Deja's blog! So that was really cool.
The critique we have has to do with the way the exhibit was arranged. We wonder if the people who did the final walk-through considered that it would be way more crowded when tourists were actually going through it. They set up all the art along the walls, with some explanatory plaques and things on pillars in the center. The problem was, they had the movie screens on the walls, too. The movie screens showed clips, sometimes a pencil test followed by a final version, sometimes some behind-the-scenes stuff like the lava simulation they did for Fantasia (an episode of Wonderful World of Color that we have seen a few times now), and it was all fascinating stuff and I know I would love to stand and watch it for hours...but so would every single frickin' other person at the venue. So there ended up being a lot of bottlenecks. So many times, we were like, "Oh, here's a screen...well, we've seen this episode of World of Color, so we'll just jump ahead." Maybe if we'd gone on a weekday. ...Or maybe if they had set up the screen in the center of the room, instead of whatever it was they put there, so that people who wanted to watch the videos could gather in the center, while people who wanted to look at the art could walk along the walls. (Incidentally, there was no photography allowed.)
So that was kind of annoying, and then we were even more annoyed when...okay, so I can understand why they would skip most of the package features from the '40s. Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros were represented (of course), so that's fine. But then they skipped Cinderella. Cinderella! How could you skip Cinderella? Do you not understand that the '40s was when people stopped caring about Disney and that Cinderella is what got them to start caring again? And how many DVD extras have told us that Walt Disney once said the dress transformation was one of his favorite scenes ever?
Our cynical and jaded theory is that, since we think the exhibit was designed by Americans, Cinderella is the very symbol of "toxic princess culture," so they couldn't be so disgraceful as to put her in the spotlight for even a frame. They did represent all the other princess movies (unless you count Aladdin as a princess movie...and now we can't remember if they had Princess and the Frog or not), but they also skipped Peter Pan. I just don't understand it. I would have loved to see some Frank Thomas sketches from Peter Pan. That's okay; Andreas Deja has posted plenty and is sure to post more.
They did represent Tarzan, though, so I do have to be thankful for that. I think someone at the Animation Research Library is a fan of Glen Keane, and I cannot blame that person, because he's a great animator. But that just makes it more odd that they skipped Aladdin. And man, Aladdin has all that great linework... Maybe they figured everybody (especially in Japan, where it's a huge favorite) already knows Aladdin and its artwork up and down. It's the only logical explanation.
They also had some great art from Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid.
Once we got past all the hand-drawn stuff, we pretty much stopped caring and were like, "Okay, where's the exit?" They had a surprising amount of stuff on Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia. But in retrospect, I should not have been surprised about Zootopia. The amount of Judy Hopps cosplay I've seen in the last few weeks...
We finally got out and were seeing people with gift bags and were curious about what cool merchandise they were selling to go with the exhibit...and then we found out the line to that was 40 minutes long, and decided we didn't care. So we went up to the third floor of the museum and caught the end of an Asimo demonstration. We saw a few more of their exhibits, which were more hopeful, because I think this floor's theme was something like "exploring the possibilities" or something. I took a picture of the doorway that had it, so I'll remember later. Asimo was really cool, though. We've seen the little robot before, because they used to do demonstrations here at Disneyland when Tomorrowland still cared about the future more than Star Wars, but this time, it did a whole song in sign language! What a cute little robot! (Okay, to be fair to Tomorrowland, actually, Asimo is featured prominently in the new version of Autopia, more thanks to Honda than Disney, we're pretty sure.)
There were displays of things like conductive fabric and other technologies and advancements, so it seemed much more hopeful in general than the terrifying fifth floor. I seem to remember a big exhibit of things to help exercise be more interesting to lazy people (like us). But there were a lot of people around and we didn't want to wait in line, so we didn't do much there. One of them involved a way to focus sound so that it tracks a person, and the speaker moves like a spotlight, so the music or whatever will always sound louder to that one person, no matter where in the room they are. We weren't quite sure how to get it to work, possibly due in large part to being rather tired.
So we decided to go in search of food. There was a crepe stand outside the museum...but when we got there, they were closed for the day. In the distance, we saw the gift shop, and decided to amuse ourselves by window shopping for non-Disney merchandise. But then we found a miniature Newton's cradle, and we'd been wanting one of those for Page. Not necessarily a miniature one, just one we could set off to see if she liked watching the balls go back and forth. She seems to like just watching stuff move. And then! we saw an Otama-tone. We'd been wanting one or two of those for a long time. I couldn't say for sure, but when we first decided to get one (after which point the details didn't matter until we actually had one), I was under the impression it was something like a theremin--those weird electronic musical instruments like you here in those old sci-fi shows. We don't know exactly what it is yet, because we have not had the time to take it out and play with it. We almost took it out anyway, but it has a screw over the battery pack that has thwarted is. (The batteries were included, but not installed.)
So we bought some things which ended up using up almost the last of our cash. We had just enough to buy some non-chocolate fries. We bought our souvenirs and headed back toward the train station when, across the street, we saw a food truck that was advertising fries with different toppings, including chocolate! But when we went to order, they were out of chocolate. Incidentally, the guy running the truck seemed middle-eastern, and I thought it was really odd that the American stereotype was manifesting in Japan. There was a middle-eastern guy working at the McDonald's in Shibuya, too. But anyway! these fries were awesome even without the chocolate, because they were ridiculously long. Like, easily longer than a foot long. How do they even get potatoes that big? It was crazy! We took a picture.
And then we went back to our hotel room and watched TV until bedtime. And now I've been typing for over an hour, so I think it's time to stop.
Today I'm thankful for being mature enough not to be traumatized by certain science exhibits, cool educational science movies, finding a long-dreamed-for musical instrument, Asimo the little cutie, and getting to see the Disney animation exhibit.