Tapestries depicting scenes from beloved Studio Ghibli Inc. films like "Spirited Away" and "Howl's Moving Castle" are giving a centuries-old French weaving tradition a contemporary Japanese twist.
Efforts are under way in the small central France town of Aubusson, famed for its UNESCO intangible cultural heritage-recognized tapestry-making tradition that stretches back to the 15th century, to create a single, five-tapestry work celebrating the films of acclaimed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki.
In January, cheers and applause erupted at the Cite Internationale de la Tapisserie, Aubusson's international tapestry museum, when an elaborate, 3-meter-tall, 7.5-meter-wide craftwork showing a scene from Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" was unveiled.
It took about a year for the young employees of Aubusson tapestry firm Robert Four to create the work.
One weaver, 29-year-old Manon Gruel, teared up at the unveiling ceremony. "I love the film, so I put in a lot of effort," he said. "There was a lot of pressure."
The museum was established in 2009 after Aubusson tapestry weaving was designated as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It also aims to train weavers to preserve the tradition.
Some of its recent productions also demonstrate the power of the modern imagination to revitalize traditional industry and ensure the passing down of techniques.
To bring more attention to tapestries, which are relics that were displayed in medieval castles, in 2017 the museum also engaged in a collaborative project to create a tapestry based on British author J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy series "The Lord of the Rings."
As for the Ghibli tapestries, museum director Emmanuel Gerard said, "Although Miyazaki's films belong to Japanese culture, they appeal to all generations across the world. I thought it was important to base the creations on a universal message."
The museum concluded an agreement with Studio Ghibli in 2019 to create five works based on Miyazaki films, beginning with "Princess Mononoke" and ending with "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind."
Aubusson's first Japanese weaver, 44-year-old Aiko Konomi, facilitated initial contact between the studio and the museum.
Konomi, who is working on the tapestry to be debuted in April based on "Howl's Moving Castle," said that "weaving a (scene from) Ghibli feels like I'm in a dream."
Aubusson collaboration projects go beyond the museum. Robert Four has teamed up with Paris-based Japanese artist Shinsuke Kawahara to design a "kakejiku" Japanese hanging scroll.
The collage-like work incorporates part of an 18th-century scroll, with Kawahara explaining he "wanted to mix Japan and France with the past, present and future."
Aubusson's tapestry industry almost vanished in the 1990s as weaver numbers dwindled, but an increasing number of young people are now showing interest in the tradition.
In 2022, the number of applicants to the center's artisan training program was approaching double that of an average year, the museum said, suggesting that it could be thanks to the contributions of the Ghibli tapestries.
The museum also plans to put the tapestries on display in Japan.
"We received a letter of recommendation from Studio Ghibli, and we want to (hold an exhibit in Japan) at the end of this year, or early next year," Gerard said.