[In review of "Tonari no Totoro," by Hayao Miyazaki.]


It is easy, as a child, to see a spirit and anima world in every seem of a banal thing: the under ground of a house, the rafters of an attic, a tree, a puddle. It is not just that the anima-kinema world is sieze in arrest of wonder; it gifts a feeling so see with eyespirit, that one abides in kinship and call in its kept.

How is it, an adult can walk by a puddle of tadpoles, and not see to see it more, but it stops a child and speaks urgently and calmly and fractures time and space?

And yet, adults will strive mightily to seek out god in temples, and pay a teacher to keep them still, to find lost wonder at banal things.

My thesis is that children have a spiritual practice, naturally, and they loose this connection to the spirit world, and as adults, after they overknow the world so they can no longer see, they strive mightily to reclaim that connection. That adult travail to reclaim is called "religion," and it sometimes becomes a foundry for sociopahts and psychopaths for the facture of "truth" and "god" and "book," in pathological idolatry of innocence.

So, the child with tadpoles is the adult reading holy texts. The adult must unlearn every formalism of rationality, a near impossible thing. If you examine the kinds of gods adults have made (wicked, petulant, capricious, powerful, unreasonable, taboo, godfather benevolent if you keep in line, baseball, otherwise) you will see their struggle to be children again, in ugly travail to Eden.

The difference between the kinds of gods children make and the psychefacture of adults is that the children make beautiful and benign gods, and the adults refacture themselves in their own trauma of loss and vain reclaim.

Adults make art, and anime. They draw and write and furiously paint frames, to show what they have lost, and wander seeking, and show how so clearly they can see that the child does not even know that she is vergefully and tidefully at the edge of loosing a thing so precious that she will strive for the rest of her life to reclaim, and with great sorrow and travail.

The greatest toy an adult gives to another is an expressive, spirit creation, or totem, which lets fall the wall between two children, and they jump for joy in finding heart in loss for heart.

Hayao-Kun wa....


There is something very dark that pervades "Tonari no Totoro."

There is a huge tension in the viewer's mind that the world is so idyllic, that at any moment, a dark and tragic thing could happen.

There is this archetypal sorrow in us that a beautiful thing can not persist, that the order of universal battlement requires loss. (In every culture there is the myth of Eden and it's loss, and striving for return. And the striving creates only more loss. We are, from some point of view, trapped in the direction of the arrow of entropy, and strive, say, to write this, to make a film, to work out so that the body is healthy, and all only serve to further increase the entropy of the universe. In other words, the struggle of escape is a freeing into a more secure, beautiful prison.)

The natural beauty of the film, of the children's experience, of the adult's indulgence and understanding, this idyll seems full of tension. The laughter of the audience is nervous. "Please, please, don't go there; don't do that; be careful. Don't do anything stupid to end all this!" Yet, while it is dark, it is also funny, and sweet, and calm. How is it a life can be lived, which is to say a movie can be watched, in all these realms tumbling on each other? One choice as an audience is to say "this is stupid!" and walk out of the theater; another is to sit here and play it out, which is to say, "this is the way life is, and if we want to experience seeing it clearly, we can not walk."

In a large landscape, in watercolor or rock, it means that this life we live is constantly played with a tension that we shall have ultimately died.

If "Totoro" is that idyll of being alive, then the audience is feeling what a fleeting and fragile thing life is, despite it's beauty. At any moment, the laughter, joy, play and innocence could end in death. watching "Totoro," as childlike and fantastical as it seems, is filled with insecurity, and the constant dread of a shock from psychic tension.

I found the high tension power lines in the movie absolutely jarring, shocking, so to speak. So ... intrusive. Why does this ugly, modern thing intrude? Why does this idyll need an outside power that is alien and harsh. The trolley and city bus also feel "menacing." Why did I feel this dread? Did you feel it too?

I wanted this world of Totoro to be pure and simple and easily apprehended, and full of joy that has no need to make sense. (A cat bus? And why not?) But when I saw that power line, I felt a huge loss, like OMG, they are like us, connected to the modern world; that's not supposed to be in Eden!

The cat bus rides rough over the high tension line and induces something schizophrenic in understanding: rational-modern versus heartmindspirit-surnaturalold.

Whenever I am climbing in the mountains, and I see a high tension pylon, it shatters the illusion that I had returned to nature, that there is only me and water and sky and high ground. The thing I left behind, by climbing far and high, intrudes, and I find it disheartening. The children and characters in "Totoro" have no problems with these things, but the audience feels the mind-split of wanting idyll and the intrusion of the modern, the inevadable. There is, in other words, not an escape far enough.


That old woman seems so ancient, she looks like a walking side of a mountain, geologic with experience. There is another old woman in Kanta's household that sits there like a piece of rock and observes. These characters almost seem like landscape.

When I see Obaa-Chan juxtaposed next to the children, with their young face and energy, the mind fracture is schizic jarring. These two things "next to each other" ("tonari no" in Japanese, or more literally "next/proximate of ..."), youth and close death, do not jade the characters; It seems transparent to them. But to the audience, it seems almost grotesque. why?

Because we see the arc of a life, and it frightens us. That what was once young, and idyll inevitably falls to entropy, and there is not a thing in the universe that escapes, and our fate is cartoon.

And we want to refuse it, to say, well, sure, I see this happen, but not to me, no. I will find a way. But death is near at every moment. It is not just age that kills. While age is a usual path, death can come and leave only a shoe floating on a pond, and it has no regard for age, or time, or sequence.

In some way, the oldness of these women seems remarkable, that they could have gone through all of that, the sickness, and arrow of entropy, and still be here. It's like the way, when you seen an old, old, old turtle, so old that it's travail captivates you and you stare at it's oldness, and while repulsed, you think what fortune it would be to end in THAT grotesque, and not one sooner.


When the film starts, and I see the children with their father, my first instinct was to wonder where the mom was, and my answer then was that she had died. It's strange that the film plays on this uncertainty for quite a while before letting the audience know that the mom is quite well, but sick, and away. An interesting and strange device, to have the audience indulge a conclusion, and then fracture it. This device is used repeatedly: Suppose; Tension; Refute. (OMG, she fell into that tree, she's going to die! No. OMG, that Totoro is monstrous and will eat her. No. OMG, the telegram says the mom died! No. OMG, these two little girs are waiting at a bus stop into the night, and a bad thing will come out of the forest and hurt them. No. ...)

The children seemed so larkishly happy without their mother, and their dad seems to have everything in order. There seems to be no worry. It feels almost unnatural.

Is it possible that we are so accustomed to pathological families in film and literature that "normalcy," which is to say non-pathology, shocks us? Are we so a-lien that "happy, beautiful, normal" shock us? I kept thinking, "OK, when is one of these girls going to rebel and become bad and nasty, so that the writer can have material for entertainment?" Are we so accustomed to mine the pathology of other people's lives for entertainment, that non-pathology seems dissembling? Why, in our modern life, do art and entertainment and "news" transmute base humanity for coins? Because we have paid to be kept while kept lives jump through rings in rings and broadcast to the world the basest, darkest corners of human flaw and call it 'reality television?' So, we come conditioned to expect pathology in a cartoon of children and nature?

It seems like an audience is acculturated to expect this kind of pathology in family life, and the normalcy and prosody of this family life seems 'foreign.'

Another thing that jars an audience is how comfortable the father is in letting these girls roam and go wherever. A "modern" audience is full of dread that they are not watched and scheduled and managed at all times. Imagine! Free, like freaks of nature. You almost want to be mad at the father for possibly letting these girls fall into some impending trouble, which he seems oblivious of, but which the audience can "see clearly."

But the tragedy does not happen, every time we expect it. In this sense, the movie is purely an idyll and deliberately ambiguates our notion of where and when trouble can come.

And why shouldn't children live that way, free to roam and get lost in nature? Yes, there is the possibility of death, but is it right to keep them in a zoo, so you know they are safe? Does zoosafety kill their spirit life of nature and the world, which they will later strive to reclaim? Is it possible to be so afraid, that fear is given as a gift to children? And can life be so structured and rational that refacted-life lies about what the real world is like?

Mei, the little one, is nearly pure ID, and deeply connected to powers that surge like tides and need to make no sense. She is brave and truculent and willful, almost arrogant with certainty. You might say, a force of nature. She is the Totoro she finds. (There is no word "Totoro" in Japanese. Mei forcefully and certainly, perhaps even in mis-apprehension, creates this. It is something like a child born into English seeing a horse and calling it "Pogogo," not lexically correct in the history of the language, but deeply, penetratingly, immedialtely, heartfully, spiritfully poetic.)

And any of us, at any age, would be gifted to find some Totoro, and bring its fantastical to others, and indulge them in kin, in kind, of a small keep of idyll. In whimsy of color, or film, or story. Or a quite walk, where words are left, and in the silence are all the possible things said and done already, before death comes like a child, surprised.

The ground of truth is nature. Textbooks lie. Film and television and literature lie more beautifully. Nature defines what is true. It doesn't even "define," it simply in-a-lienates. And in our modern life, most pathology comes from being a-lien.


What is Totoro?

He seems at first frightful, possibly menacing. But every time we expect him to eat the girls for snack, he simply falls lazily asleep with disinterest. It is interesting, this notion that we can not know harm when it finds us; what we think is harmful is not, and what we think is safe is suspect.

Only the girls (and the audience) can see Totoro and the cat bus and the mold sprites. This Totoro is a child-like understanding of nature, that it is protective, whimsical, powerful and friendly and magical. It is one aspect of nature personified, given whimsy and anthropic extent. As adults, we know that nature is also nihil with destruction; a child comes to understand this later, and, hence, the loss of Eden. Totoro is that relationship with "god" before the fall to knowing.

Have the adults lost their connection to this Totoro aspect of nature? Possibly. But in many indigenous cultures that are close to the earth, meaning that their lives depend on the ground and they are not tourists from modernity, you will find in their stories and recall the Totoro, as well as its antithesis. But you will not find them estranged.

Does Totoro really "exist?" This is like asking an adult if god exists: one recoils at not the answer, but the question itself. Somehow, adults give themselves huge let to roam into magical and mystical and uber trans meta cendant. Somehow, adults, among themselves, have their Totoro and bow down and worship it, however bizarre and crude and idolatrous. And if you pointed out to them that this kind of behavior is odd, they will simply say, 'well you don't get it; there is more than we can just see,' which might be a child's answer, if it could be translated from child to adult.

"Tonari no Totoro" is that translation; it is Miyazaki the child that tells this tale, and it is the child in you that leans forward in a crush of next and next and then. The Totoro has elicited from people all over the world a surrender to childhood. The mere mention of Totoro to an adult who has seen the film sends them into glee, and the heart jumps in joy to find a heart as like, as child.


A mother's death is the destruction of the root of the tree of life. There is not in all of creation a spirit so kin that it's gaze is nourishment; a kept so deep athrall in surrender; a spin, axial about which the whole of creation whirls. But this. Mine. And our mother's mother, the earth, is the root of our life's tree. So, imagine the fear of the impending death of your mother. You can see the girls are not just dramatic in fearing the telegram's (this film, itself) urgent shock. I find it amazing that they, at that age, in our age, realize what forever and never means. How could they have come to know death so intimately. Only loss can teach a depthless fall. I find it a mystery that they can feel the reach of darkness into that idyll. But, if that mother is allegorical, and we are the two girls, we must leap and run and loose ourselves in madness, that nature, our earth mother, is in hospital. Because when she dies, there is no other. Only this. Ours.

Hideikun Muchodegozaimasu
Aomori, JAPAN
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