a My Neighbor Totoro appreciation post (day 2 of 100)

Today I watched Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro for the first time with my partner and a couple of friends. It really was as enchanting as everyone seems to say it is. Every single frame was composed beautifully—flawlessly, I'd say—all while making it look effortless. I love that the camera would linger in certain moments, too, like when main characters Mei and Satsuki were taking in their new home for the first time. I really appreciated the slowness of it.

And of course it was incredibly moving. I will probably never forget the moment I realized four-year-old Mei was going to set off on her own to deliver the ear of corn to her mom in the hospital because Mei knew it would help her heal faster. I love the careful attention given to the perspectives of the children and the lovingly accurate portrayal of their quirks (Like in the scene where Mei meets Granny for the first time, gets frightened, and takes the long way around into the same room she had been going into anyway. It cracked me up.)

Also, the relationship between Satsuki and Mei reminded me so much of my sister and me. We have about the same age gap, which makes Satsuki's enduring patience with Mei all the more impressive to me. That's the root of the one qualm I had with the film: Satsuki's harsh words to Mei at the crux of the film seem out of line with Satsuki's character throughout the movie. But one friend I was watching the movie with pointed out that Satsuki had just received dire news about her mom, and that might cause her to speak more harshly to Mei than she otherwise would. Then my other friend, in a bit of psychoanalysis, said that Satsuki was probably lashing out at Mei for getting upset because Satsuki had been holding herself together (and in fact had been taking care of the family in material and emotional ways throughout the film, in ways that a 10-ish-year-old shouldn't have to do)* and resented the fact that Mei could let her emotions out. I think I buy that.

*I think I might write another post sometime about the portrayal of Satsuki as a child taking on parental roles. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the nuance of it. It was refreshing to see a child taking on some responsibilities without becoming completely parentified. It's clear that Tatsuo was still a dad (and an excellent one at that).

Another thing I appreciated was the way that all the adults seemed to take the children seriously—both their needs and their flights of fancy (and now that I think about it, we all need someone to appreciate our flights of fancy because they're important to us, so I suppose the two categories aren't all that separate). I hope that if/when I'm a parent someday I can embody the kind of patience and whimsy that Satsuki and Mei's dad has. He believed in Totoro with them, and encouraged them to treat the neighborhood spirits with respect and care. Thinking metaphorically, I see that as an encouragement to be open to the world around us, and to treat our environment and communities with respect and care too. Which is, as far as kids' movie messages go, pretty much the best you can get.

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