Sunday, April 22, 2018

MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988, Japan)

A whimsical tale of childlike imagination about a young girl and her baby sister: siblings who fear the death of their mother while learning to commune with nature. Director Hayao Miyazaki’s creation is imbued with the vital spirit of symbiosis as human beings destroy the world and forget that they are an integer of nature’s elemental algorithm.

Set in the late 1950s, Satsuki and tiny Mei move into a dilapidated farmhouse in a small farming community to be closer to their mother, who is sick and in the hospital. This taps the quicksilver anxiety of all children who fear the death of a parent, especially a subtext concerning radiation poisoning in a country still suffering from nuclear fallout: their parents must have been children themselves during the war. One day the energetic Mei falls through the rabbit hole and into the lair of a forest troll, the spiritual protector that resides within an ancient Camphor tree. She names him Totoro and his gentle furry mass wobbles and yawns playfully, and the other smaller wood sprites seem more scared of this little girl than she of them! Soon her big sister Satsuki meets Totoro at a bus stop and gives him a gift, an umbrella to shelter him from the rain. In a beautiful scene, Totoro becomes enamored with the sound of raindrops tapping upon the taught fabric and shivers with excitement before catching his Catbus to some unknown destination.

The sisters are the only ones privileged to see the forest spirits, and even their father pays tribute at a withered shrine; another example of how distant humanity has grown from its roots. Miyazaki’s wonderful imagery tickles the imagination, from a ritualistic dance under the twinkling stars and a ride upon a magical top, to the many-legged tour-de-force of a Cheshire bus. But a letter causes the girls alarm when their mother cannot return home from the hospital, and little Mei becomes lost amid the fields and swamps while tying to find her mother and give her a stalk of corn…because she picked it herself. One frightening scene is fundamental to create frisson: a pink sandal floats ominously upon a lake while the village elders search for her body with bamboo sticks. Satsuki pleads for help and Totoro sends for the Catbus and all ends happily ever after; her mother is going to be fine, the family reunited, and live in harmony with nature.

Final Grade: (A+)


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