Thursday, September 5, 2013

Rewind: My Neighbor Totoro

Little Mei knows that fantastic things can be found in
small, ordinary places. It's a perspective I hope to maintain
no matter how old I grow.

For the first time since last Friday, I have some breathing room between homework and work. When I came back to my room after class, I collapsed, exhausted and teary, unsure if I'd be able to get a Rewind post up. I knew ya'll would understand if I couldn't.

A short nap made me feel a little better, and so here I am, fingers posed to type about a comfort food anime, one most of you are probably familiar with: My Neighbor Totoro.

Actually, I brought Totoro to school with me, and it's conveniently kept under my bed. I''m surprised to find that it's still in its plastic wrap. I guess I haven't watched it since I got a copy for my birthday. I was saving it for a rainy day, I suppose... today's a perfect time to watch it. The Japanese theme plays and opening credits roll, putting a small smile on my weary face.

It case you are new around these parts, let me fill you in: My Neighbor Totoro is an animated movie from Studio Ghibli, directed by the talented Miyazaki Hayao. It's from 1988 and set in rural Japan. The combined date and location are enough to put me in a very different world, the world of "once upon a time, in a land far, far away." Then the fantasy pieces are gently introduced, and I'm truly on a beautiful adventure away from my normal life.

Yet it is very easy to relate to. When I tell people about My Neighbor Totoro, I always talk about the portrayal of childhood. There are so many precious moments, it's hard to choose just one. I suppose one of the most potent parts in my memory is the children, Satsuki and Mei, as they explore their new home in the first fifteen minutes.

Satsuki exclaims, "It's a wreck," and "It's all rotten!" From an older mouth, those words would likely be complaints. But she announces the house's neglected state with a wide smile and a gleam in her eye, and her little sister copies her. They've moved to the countryside to live in a wreck of a haunted house. What an adventure!

"It's going to fall down!" the children yell. They run around and and laugh and screech for no reason except that their house is old, and they're happy. And they haven't even gone inside yet!

When they do enter the house, they discover little black fuzzies that scatter into hiding the moment they enter a room. They yell at them, not with fright, but with the determination of young adventurers, as if to say, "We're coming in. So there!"

Their father calls the creatures dust bunnies, giving them actual words to shout during the next segment of their exploration. "Come out, Dust Bunnies!" they yell. I wish I could take a screenshot of this next part, but 'twould appear they've designed the tech so I can't. This is the picture I remember best: little Mei crawling up the dimly lit attic stairs after her sister. Her legs are shorter and chubbier, but she has more than enough determination to make up for it.

We haven't even met Totoro yet, and there are already so many precious moments. This isn't some grand action or fairy tale. If you come into it with expectations for an American-style, action-packed epic, you'll be disappointed. You have to slow down and let the children show you how to enjoy the little things in life. Even with the fantasy and elements of Shintoism, this movie holds truth. It reminds me to keep my eyes open for the acorns and creeks, the hidden creatures and the towering trees. There's so much beauty and adventure in Creation. I want to make a point to appreciate it with eyes as wide open as Satsuki's and Mei's.

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