Studio Ghibli to open ‘Totoro’ theme park in Japan

Japanese animation giant Studio Ghibli has unveiled plans for a theme park to open in 2020.

The 200-hectare site will be built in Nagoya city, in Aichi prefecture, said Governor Hideaki Omura on Thursday at a press conference.

The park will be based on the popular film My Neighbor Totoro, embodying the movie’s theme of “respecting and embracing nature”.

The studio’s feature films are loved by many and critically-acclaimed.

My Neighbor Totoro was released in 1988 and tells the story of two young sisters who settle into an old country house while waiting for their mother to recover from an illness.

During their adventures, they encounter and befriend playful forest spirits, most notably the massive cuddly creature known as Totoro.

  • Hayao Miyazaki: Japan’s godfather of animation
  • Studio Ghibli founder comes out of retirement
  • Studio Ghibli reveals trailer for first TV series

    The site of the park, previously the home of the 2005 World Expo, currently has a life-size replica of the house from the film.

    Co-founder of Studio Ghibli and producer Toshio Suzuki who was also at the announcement, said the attraction will be “set in the world of Totoro”. There will not be any amusement park rides.

    “Construction will be planned around existing clearings to avoid felling trees,” Governor Omura said.

    Ghibli fans around the world reacted to the news of the upcoming park.

    “Wow literally reading [about] a Studio Ghibli theme park and I started crying! Not joking. This makes me so happy,” wrote a US fan on Twitter.

    Notably, there was much excitement from adult Ghibli fans who spoke about wanting to take their children with them to the attraction.

    “I think our kids might be able to handle the trip by 2020,” Charles Tran said to his wife on Facebook.

    “Time to get working on raising funds for the kids,” wrote James McGlone from Perth.

    But others parents just wanted to go enjoy the experience themselves.

    “Leave the boys at home, we’re heading to Japan in 2020 for the Summer Olympics and this,” said Paul Newman to his wife Anita on Facebook.

    “It isn’t just children who want to ride the Cat Bus! This makes adults excited,” said Maryam Lee.

    The proposed park would not be the only Studio Ghibli attraction in Japan. It currently has a museum in Tokyo and many fans visit a bathhouse in Kyoto city which was the inspiration for the Oscar-winning anime Spirited Away.

    This year, legendary founder Hayao Miyazaki came out of retirement and announced plans to direct a new movie.

Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata dies at 82

Japanese anime director Isao Takahata, co-founder of the famed Studio Ghibli, has died at the age of 82.

Mr Takahata was nominated for an Oscar in 2014 for The Tale of the Princess Kaguya but is best known for his film Grave of the Fireflies.

He founded Studio Ghibli with iconic director Hayao Miyazaki in 1985.

It has produced several blockbusters and become one of the world’s most renowned animation studios.

Mr Takahata started his career in animation in 1959 at Japan’s Toei studio, where he met Mr Miyazaki, who is usually seen as the face of Studio Ghibli.

The duo went on to co-found Studio Ghibli, and were described by local media as friends and rivals at the same time.

Mr Takahata’s film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya earned him an Academy Award nomination in 2014 for best animated feature.

But his most loved work remains was the 1988 film Grave of the Fireflies, a heartbreaking tale of two orphans during World War Two.

He also had a hand in producing other well-known works like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky.

Park Geun-hye: South Korea’s first female president

In just four years South Korea’s president Park Geun-went from being a trailblazer to a figure of controversy linked to a deepening corruption scandal.

An angered Korean public called for her resignation and she was officially impeached in March 2017.

Her unpopularity stands in stark contrast to the start of her term in 2012. In a tight presidential race, she beat Moon Jae-in to became the country’s first female leader.

It was a notable achievement given that South Korea had the highest level of gender inequality in the developed world.

Political blue-blood

Park was no stranger to the presidential house when she took office. She is the daughter of former president Park Chung-hee, a controversial strongman.

When her mother was murdered by a North Korean gunman in 1974, Park served as first lady at the age of 22. Five years later, her father was assassinated.

Some said the association with her father – and her experience as first lady – helped cement her win by overcoming prejudices among male voters.

But Park’s personal history fell under public scrutiny again with the scandal surrounding Choi Soon-sil, her longtime confidante.

The two women’s relationship stretches back to the 1970s when Choi’s father, the shadowy quasi-religious figure Choi Tae-min, befriended the Park family.

  • What is South Korea’s presidential scandal?
  • The friendship behind the presidential crisis

    But in 2016, allegations began emerging that Choi Soon-sil was being given inappropriate access to government decision-making, including editing some of Park’s speeches.

    Choi was later accused of using her friendship to pressure some of South Korea’s biggest companies into paying money into non-profit foundations she ran, in exchange for securing favourable treatment from the government.

    Choi was eventually found guilty of corruption and influence-peddling, as was the de facto head of Samsung, one of the companies allegedly involved.

    Park, who is accused of colluding with her friend, was impeached by parliament in December 2016. She was officially ousted in March 2017 when the decision was upheld in the supreme court, and was arrested on corruption charges.

    Everyone involved has apologised but consistently denied wrongdoing.

    Mixed legacy

    Park is not married, something that has raised questions in South Korea’s conservative society, and is seen as a private individual.

    She holds an engineering degree from Sogang University in Seoul and was first elected to South Korea’s National Assembly in 1998.

    She sought the presidency in 2007, but her Saenuri, or New Frontier Party, instead nominated Lee Myung-bak, who went on to win.

    When she took office Park vowed to improve the economy by boosting creativity and entrepreneurship, but she struggled to push through reforms amid economic scandals.

    She also promised to work on “national reconciliation” with North Korea, but vowed she would not tolerate any action that threatened national security, and said the South must present a “strong deterrent” to the North.

    Relations with the North remained cold during her term, and Pyongyang pressed ahead with its nuclear programme, conducting several missile launches and nuclear weapons tests. Each incident was accompanied by a flare-up in tensions.

    Park’s government was also blamed for systemic lapses that led to the Sewol ferry tragedy in 2014, which she sought to fix.

    All of these factors added to the deep public animosity she faced during the corruption scandal, which in the end she was unable to survive.

Park Geun-hye: South Korea’s ex-leader jailed for 24 years for corruption

South Korea’s former President Park Geun-hye has been sentenced to 24 years in jail after she was found guilty of abuse of power and coercion.

The verdict was broadcast live and represents the culmination of a scandal which rocked the country, fuelling rage against political and business elites.

Park, who was also fined 18bn won (£12m, $17m), faced a string of corruption charges.

The former leader was not in court on Friday for the verdict.

She has boycotted her trial hearings and has previously accused the courts of being biased against her. She has also denied all wrongdoing and has said she will appeal her sentence.

  • Who is Park Geun-hye?
  • South Korea’s presidential scandal explained
  • Did a puppy bring down South Korea’s president?
  • The friendship behind South Korea’s presidential crisis

    Judge Kim Se-yoon said Park had shown “no sign of repentance” after causing “massive chaos” in the country.

    “We cannot help but sternly hold her accountable,” the judge said.

    The move by the authorities to allow Friday’s verdict to be broadcast live was unprecedented, but they cited extraordinary public interest in the case.

    What was she convicted of?

    Park was found guilty of 16 out of 18 charges, most of which related to bribery and coercion.

    The court ruled that she had colluded with her close friend, Choi Soon-sil, to pressure conglomerates such as electronics giant Samsung and retail chain Lotte to give millions of dollars to foundations run by Choi.

    She was also convicted of forcing companies to sign lucrative deals with firms owned by Choi and donate gifts to Choi and her daughter.

    In addition, Park was found guilty of leaking confidential presidential documents to Choi.

    What led to her downfall?

    A friendship lies at the heart of the undoing of South Korea’s first female president.

    Park and Choi were childhood friends and Choi swiftly became the leader’s most trusted confidante.

    But their relationship latterly came under intense public scrutiny and the charge is that Choi had undue influence over a nation’s affairs through her connection with Park.

    Choi was eventually found guilty of corruption, and sentenced to 20 years in prison earlier this year.

    After a prolonged series of hearings and months of street protests calling for her resignation, Park was finally removed from office in March 2017, making her the first democratically-elected president to be impeached.

    She was arrested shortly afterwards, and has been in detention ever since.

    Who else was caught up in this?

    Some of the biggest South Korean companies and their leaders have been drawn into the scandal, as well as numerous figures from the entertainment world and government servants.

    Samsung’s de facto leader Lee Jae-yong, also known as Jay Y Lee, was singled out in particular after details emerged that he had given a horse to Choi’s daughter Chung Yoo-ra, who is an equestrian.

    He was sentenced to jail, but only served five months before he was freed, when an appeals court reduced and suspended his sentence.

    Ms Chung has also faced scrutiny, and was extradited from Denmark to South Korea last year to face questioning.

    Is this unusual in South Korea?

    Park, the country’s first female leader, was also the first democratically-elected president to be impeached.

    But she is not the only former president to have been arrested for corruption.

    • Why South Korea’s corruption scandal is nothing new

      Last month former leader Lee Myung-bak was charged with corruption over allegations he took bribes while in office.

      Two others, Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, were convicted for treason and corruption in the 1990s.

      In 2009, former president Roh Moo-hyun killed himself while he was under investigation for corruption.

      What does the verdict mean for the country?

      Park’s sentencing has drawn a line under what has been one of the biggest corruption scandals to rock South Korea in recent years.

      The scandal has created greater awareness and criticism of the longstanding close ties between the political elite and chaebols, or family-run conglomerates which dominate South Korea’s economy.

      It has also fuelled the rise of the liberal Moon Jae-in, Park’s previous political opponent who eventually replaced her as president after campaigning on a platform of a clean government.

South Korea’s presidential scandal

In 2016, South Korea saw the start of a massive corruption scandal involving its political and business elite that brought down its first female president Park Geun-hye.

The scandal, which continues to ripple through South Korean society, generated huge protests.

It has centred on Park’s relationship with an old friend, Choi Soon-sil, and has brought to the surface allegations of cult activities, influence-peddling and leaks of classified information.

What is the relationship at the heart of the scandal?

In 1974, Park Geun-hye’s mother was killed by a North Korean assassin.

Park, then aged 22, became a stand-in first lady for her widowed father, then-military leader Park Chung-hee.

She got to know Choi Tae-min, a pseudo-Christian cult leader dubbed “the Korean Rasputin”.

He became a close family friend and Park’s mentor, while also amassing considerable wealth and power.

Park’s father was assassinated in 1979. By this point she was firm friends with Mr Choi’s daughter, Choi Soon-sil, who later became her adviser when Park became president.

Their critics believe Choi perpetuated her father’s habits, and some media reports suggested that Ms Park held shamanist rituals at the presidential compound under Choi’s influence, which Park denied.

  • The friendship behind South Korea’s presidential crisis

    Why did the friendship become problematic?

    In February 2018, Choi was sentenced to 20 years in jail for corruption, influence-peddling and abuse of power. She was earlier found guilty of using her position to solicit favours for her daughter.

    Choi was found to have had used her presidential connections to pressure conglomerates – including electronics giant Samsung – for millions of dollars in donations to two non-profit foundations she controlled.

    Park meanwhile has been accused of colluding with Choi, and giving her unauthorised access to state documents.

    Ms Park was officially ousted in March 2017, following parliament’s decision to impeach her in December. She was the country’s first democratically-elected president to be forced from office.

    After losing her presidential immunity, she was charged with bribery, abusing state power and leaking state secrets.

    • Did a puppy bring down Park Geun-hye?
    • Tragedy of South Korea’s first female leader

      Both women denied wrongdoing in their trials.

      They had earlier apologised, but it was unclear exactly what they were apologising for.

      Choi said she had committed an “unpardonable crime”, though her lawyer said this was not a legal admission of guilt.

      Park admitted she had committed lapses, and apologised to the public for causing “national concern”.

      So how is Samsung involved?

      The firm was one of eight that has admitted making payments to the foundation, but denied it did so in return for any favours.

      In August 2017, Samsung’s de facto head, Lee Jae-yong, was jailed for five years for bribery and embezzlement. He was later freed in February after an appeals court reduced and suspended his sentence.

      Lee was convicted over payments of 43bn won ($36.4m; £30.3m) made to Choi’s foundations, as well as for giving a horse and several million dollars to assist the equestrian career of Choi’s daughter.

      Prosecutors had accused Lee of approving these payments and gifts in order to win government support for a major restructuring of Samsung.

      The 2015 merger of two Samsung units, which paved the way for Lee to become the eventual head of South Korea’s largest conglomerate, sparked controversy at that time.

      While Lee did not dispute that the payments were made, he maintained during his trial that he was not involved in the decisions and denied that he sought government favours.

      Lee was also found guilty of hiding assets overseas, concealing criminal proceeds, and perjury.

      Who is Samsung’s Lee Jae-yong?

      Is anyone else involved?

      A host of other players have either been implicated, investigated or jailed in connection with the wide-reaching scandal.

      These include Samsung executives, various figures in the entertainment world, a former minister, presidential aides, university officials and former associates.

      One of them is Choi’s daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, a former national equestrian and recipient of Samsung’s gift horse.

      Choi was convicted for influencing officials at Ms Chung’s university to admit her daughter and give her grades for papers or exams she never took.

      Prosecutors say Ms Chung was involved in or had knowledge of several of her mother’s crimes, but she has denied it.

      She was extradited to South Korea from Denmark in early 2017, but has not been detained.

      How has the scandal affected South Korean society?

      Since it began the whole affair prompted numerous mass protests in South Korea, many of which called for Park to step down.

      It fuelled discontent against the government, the political elite and family-run conglomerates which dominate South Korea’s economy.

      It also propelled the liberal Moon Jae-in, who campaigned on a platform of a clean government, into power after Park.

      • How identity politics fuelled South Korean scandal

        Though Choi and Lee have been convicted, much of the attention has still been focused on Park.

        For many South Koreans, the former president who has been at the centre of one of the country’s biggest scandals still has a lot to answer for.