Monday, November 7, 2022

From the imaginative mind of Miyazaki


On my birthday we watched one of my very favorite movies, My Neighbor Totoro. It is a simple but beautifully animated story of two young sisters adapting to life in a new (to them, it's nice but a bit older and neglected), rural house, with their kind, thoughtful, and positive father, while their mother is sick in a nearby hospital.

The film is directed by Hayao Miyazaki, the celebrated Japanese founder of Studio Ghibli. It is gorgeously painted and animated. And while it is restrained in a way that is uncommon for children's movies (the only notable addition to the plot I've outlined above is that the girls encounter forest spirits who help them out when the littlest sister gets lost, and... that's it). But the restraint of the plot, and the elegant naturalism of setting and animation only serves to embellish, and make more wonderful, the movies florid imagination and the magic of its forest spirits.

Our first encounter in forest magic is with dust sprites in the house, and while charming, these are barely beyond our natural world. They are almost plausible, acting like a swarm of light averse bugs, albeit simplified and cute bugs. Our next encounter with the spirit world ramps up as the younger of the two sisters follows something like a little, furry, anthropomorphic animal. This animal too is much a part of our natural world, with only his altering visibility and human like consciousness suggesting our crossover to a different realm.

Finally the little girl falls onto a sleeping Totoro. And while he is too giant and unusual to be anything of our normal world, he is, basically like a giant physical monster. Although juxtaposed with the small girl's utter fearlessness he is an entirely benign and loveable sort of monster. But he is still, at first, an eminently physical being.

Each event is a progression of the magical, but it is always part of this world. And so when we get to Totoro's power of flight, or his ability to stand at the top of a giant tree playing a pipe, we have worked our way up. Everything is grounded in the world and so everything new and magic is a delight and wonder.

And then a cat bus comes into it, 

a bus, that's a cat.

My analysis is in tatters. I have nothing more to add here.

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