March 15, 2011 § 7 Comments
There is something about watching a Miyazaki film that leaves you feeling overjoyed, exuberant even. His animation is beautiful, sparkling with little details that are often overlooked in most Disney movies. I recently watched My Neighbor Totoro (1988), one of Miyazaki’s earliest films, and it left another stunning impression upon me. Totoro is definitely one of Miyazaki’s most kid-friendly films, especially when compared with some of his darker films like Princess Mononoke (1997) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). This childlike feel, however, does not detract from the film, in fact, it adds an extra layer of amusement and meaning.
When watching a Miyazaki film, one must suspend a great deal of disbelief, especially as an American watching a film created by and for a Japanese culture. In Miyazaki’s films, as well as in other Asian cinema, the disconnection between the natural and the supernatural is blurred so often, that it almost doesn’t exist. Spirits, ghosts and gods are a part of everyday life and show up everywhere, even if sometimes you can’t see them. This is exactly the way it is in Totoro, from the very beginning. When Mei, Satsuki and their dad move into a new house in the country while their mom is in the hospital, Mei quickly becomes sad and bored, a natural thing for a five-year old girl. While her dad is studying, being a professor, and Satsuki (Mei’s older sister) is off at school, Mei quickly discovers these small bunny looking creatures, which lead her to Totoro. Totoro is a large, adorable creature that the film affectionately calls a “troll” and he shows up in strange places and eventually ends up helping both the girls adjust to their new life.
There are two things about Totoro that stood out to me personally as I watched the film. The first is in respect to the girl’s father. When Mei tells him and Satsuki about Totoro, he responds graciously without a hint of condescension, and even brings the girls to a shrine to offer thanks to Totoro. If this was an American movie, it would be obvious that the father is humoring his daughter if he told her that he believed what she experienced. Here, probably due to the way the Japanese culture looks at things like magic and spirits, the father is loving, giving his daughter the ability to believe in herself and encouraging her, instead of bringing her down. I hope to be that kind of father, one who takes his children at their words and lets them experience the world and use their imaginations without squashing them before they can flourish.
The other thing that My Neighbor Totoro captures so perfectly is the way that children look at the world and see it full of wonder and excitement. Whenever I see films that spark my imagination and draw me toward the wonders of this life, I ask myself why I forget that this world is full of so many amazing things. So often I am content to sit around inside, busying myself with work and “adult” things while outside the beauty of Creation is awaiting, willing to give me its treasures if I only take the time to see them. In Totoro, Miyazaki captures the childlike sense of wonder at the smallest things, and endues his fantastical world with sights and sounds that force us to use our imagination like the cat bus and Totoro flying on a top. It is this quality that makes My Neighbor Totoro a film that everyone should see, kids and adults alike. In fact, as much as this is a film for kids, it may do more to boost the ailing spirit of imagination and wonder in adults than it ever will for children.
This is part of the Japanese cinema blogathon. Please visit the links below to check out other great blog posts on Japanese cinema and consider donating some money to the Red Cross for relief efforts in Japan.