Friday, January 14, 2011

Sweet Dreams Dear Totoro

Do you remember when you were a child and you'd watch Totoro over and over again on the good ole' VHS player? Seeing Satsuki and Mei enjoy their adventures with wonderful forest spirits, worrying about their Mom and looking after one another. Feel nostalgic? I, sadly, do not.

The reason for this is, well, because I did not grow up on Totoro. I only heard of My Neighbor Totoro a few times over the course of the past 8-9 years that I've been an anime fan, and it was just last year that I finally watched one of Ghibli's flagship titles. If there's one thing I can understand, it's how this film has the power to be important in so many people's lives.

When you are a child, you simply see Satsuki and Mei moving into a new house in the middle of nowhere, leading to an obligation for discovery and opening the gates to a pasture for the imagination to run wild. Mei travels about and notices that she can see small creatures. Following them, she finds the largest spirit of them all, the grand Totoro! It's unlike anything you've ever seen before. Mei discovers these keepers of the forest first, suggesting she is the most innocent in the film while a bit later Satsuki meets Totoro at a bus stop. Whether you connected with a specific sister or both, they take a space in your heart along with Totoro himself.

Although I did not watch Totoro when I was a child, I find a different appreciation for the film than what others may find. If you look past the positive and adventurous tones, we see a bed-ridden mother, Yasuko, who hasn't been home in a long time. The hospital is her home and Satsuki and Mei only get to see her occasionally. We are never told exactly what is wrong with Yasuko, and all we can do is hope she gets better sometime soon. As hinted by the images in the ending credits, she does eventually return home.

The father character, Tatsuo, is the perfect example of what a father should be. He supports his daughters and helps them through these rough times. He believes in the existence of Totoro, even though he may not truly believe. When Satsuki calls him at work, he responds to her with utmost care and notes that he will call her right back.

These circumstances are relatable and contain messages of hope and respect. This is a strong reason for why the film is still so popular today. If you begin with Totoro as a child, it caters to your own childlike needs. As you grow, the film grows with you and new themes are discovered along the way. I wonder what thoughts and feelings this film would evoke at age 50 or 60? Would we relate with Granny and do our best in looking after the young children in our life? Maybe My Neighbor Totoro would evoke feelings of wanting to be a child again so we can dream and imagine, just like in the good old days.

Beyond the mature themes, Totoro provides one of the most delightful examples of simple humor. I mean c'mon, look at that face!

And so, after viewing Totoro for the second time in my life tonight, I can see just how strong this film is and why it has persevered for years after its initial release. Whether you are a child who was fortunate to have grown up with Totoro, someone like me who hadn't seen it until just recently, or you are introducing the big fluffy forest spirit to your own young ones for the very first time, Totoro has touched the hearts of thousands, if not millions, of people around the world.

And to this, I say Sweet Dreams Dear Totoro...

- Jared C.

1 comment:

  1. "I wonder what thoughts and feelings this film would evoke at age 50 or 60? Would we relate with Granny and do our best in looking after the young children in our life?"

    Very good writing overall, Jared, but this part stuck with me the most. Moar, I say!