An honest-to-goodness G rating. Okay, there's this very weird / innocent I guess family bath. Like it is as close to full on dudity as a movie can get. But it is just a family bath and it is sweet. It doesn't mean that I don't get all weird when my kids are watching this movie with me. I mean, they get it. It's just another scene for them. It's just that I get all weird. Also, the underlying theme is about kids dealing with mortality, but it only comes to a head, like, once in the movie. This might be the least scary movie in the history of ever. G.
DIRECTOR: Hiyao Miyazaki
See, I originally started exactly where I should have started. I started at My Neighbor Totoro. This wasn't a plan. I had no idea that the Ghibli logo would be taken from this movie. I knew Ghibli only from reputation and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. After seeing Totoro, I simply thought that all of Miyazaki's movies were these examinations of life in the context of magical realism. I guess there is a certain truth to that, but now I'm thinking of stuff like Spirited Away or Nausicaa (I don't have time for putting the umlaut in). This movie might be the most chill thing in the world and I barely had to comfort cowardly Henry for it. Okay, the soot spirits initially made him nervous.
The movie is entirely character study and atmosphere. It's so funny that the movie is named Totoro because he's barely in the movie. Like, it's really important knowing that he could be in the movie, but he's barely a character. You just wait, watching and wondering when the heck he is going to show up. His scenes are great because they ramp up the magic as high as they can go...unless he's taking a nap. Which is twice. Out of five times he's in the movie. But the stories about Satsuki and Mei is what the story is about. It's odd because Miyazaki never really hits you over the head about their relationship. He's more about letting it all play out. They never telegraph any tension between the two, but they are actually the rare portrayal of two sisters who actually mostly want to hang out with each other. They fight and I suppose that is to be expected because there needs to be character growth and they exist in reality. But mostly they like playing with each other. I couldn't help but think of my two kids and how they mostly get along. (I know, I should just wait until they are older, but that's also the point that Totoro might be making.) Every time I see that dynamic, it always seems that the two hate each other until the point where they have to bond over a common adversity. And these two kids are mired in adversity. Like, their life isn't terrible, but they are constantly thinking about mortality without ever having to say it. Their mother in the hospital is a really interesting conflict for these kids. There's never a conversation where the two kids info dump about how they are feeling. They have that childlike optimism that makes them push on to think that everything is going to be okay. But there is also the story of overcompensating that comes with the knowledge that things won't be okay. Miyazaki hides Mom's diagnosis from us. I have to believe that Miyazaki does that to us to keep us as children. If we got a formal diagnosis, we would have a concrete response. We would know how nervous to be. But the kids would have no context for any diagnosis. They just know that their mom is in the hospital. That's it. Miyazaki makes me feel like a kid in it. Perhaps I can't completely shut off my brain, but I'm not sure how I would approach the same situation. Instead, I have to simply be an observer of Satsuki and Mei's adventures and root for them not to get bogged down with sadness. But that sadness very sneakily exists. Satsuki's protectiveness is in overdrive for a lot of it. When Mei shows up at school, she runs out to see he sister, despite the fact that her presence mortifies her. Mei's attachment to the corn (watch the movie) stems from a need to make her mother feel better. When the eventual conflict between the sisters manifests, it makes a ton of sense. They aren't burying anything, but they just haven't had a way to deal with it naturally. Sure, I'm overthinking the crap out of this movie, but I've now seen it a bunch of times.
The last one I reviewed was from 1984. Totoro still has some of the shortcuts in animation, but it looks oodles cleaner than Nausicaa did. When I think of the beauty of Miyazaki films, I kind of think this one. (I'm most of the way through a rewatching of Spirited Away right now and that might be the prettiest movie). There is a reality that Miyazaki captures, despite the fact that the events of this movie are in the realm of the fantastic. It is so funny that Dad is so cool with the events surrounding Totoro. Like, I get that he's playing along with them to a certain extent. But the way that the character is crafted feels like he would believe if he saw the events. I'll probably never see "Mei and the Kittenbus", but I get the vibe that Dad never experiences anything completely supernatural. I kind of would love that Dad would just break down if he saw the stuff that the kids did. What is interesting about the setting that Miyazaki created is that he makes us question what is reality and what is fiction. The world is surreal at times, but could all be explained as dreams or the imagination of a child. The end implies that everything actually happened and I'd like to watch the movie as if Totoro was a real forest spirit that visited them. But it seems like all of the events surround a character getting sleepy or falling asleep. I mean, the seedling sequence is pretty telling that things didn't happen. But Miyazaki keeps feeding me conflicting data. There are so many moments that imply that the events of the movie that I'm seeing are really happening, but so many moments that this is just the world of imagination. I kind of like the frustration that accompanies wondering what is real and what is not. Mainly because none of it really matters. What matters is the kids' interaction. I called Kanta "Henry" throughout the film because they both get nonverbal when things get awkward. It's a good choice to have Kanta in the film. Kanta is the perfect outsider for the events. He has no magical time with Totoro or the Catbus. He's just a kid dealing with a crush for the first time in his life. I love it that Satsuki and Mei never mention Totoro to Kanta. Kanta just has his whole other storyline that we never really get to experience in the film. Kanta might be indicative of what kind of storyteller Miyazaki really is. All these people in the story seem to be living their own lives and the idea that something mystical is happening in this town is completely secondary to these characters lives. Mom is busy getting better and thinking that her kids have an imaginary friend. Granny likes having these new lodgers in the house. Kanta's mom is worried about her distracted kid all of the time. Kanta has a crush but doesn't want to give up playing with planes. (Holy crap, Kanta is Miyazaki! That dude loves planes.) Dad studies archaeology and ensures that his kids are somewhat well adjusted knowing that their mom is in the hospital. There's a lot going on here.
What's so weird is writing a review when there isn't much of a plot. There's one moment that has a really intense miniplot and it is hard to watch, especially if you don't know how the movie is going to resolve. But the movie is just this great look at two kids lives. It's like if Ozu was really into fantasy as opposed to stark realism. I love the beauty of this movie and I loved watching it with my kids. They got really snuggly, but never scared. Even if the movie wasn't great, I would have at least had that.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.