by Margaux Williamson
It’s hard to write about this movie because when you start even your first sentence you think: Why am I writing about this movie when I could just be watching it again?
Toronto’s TIFF Lightbox has been, and will continue to be, screening the animated films of Studio Ghibli until April 13. It’s hard to keep track of all the cultural events going on in the city, even my own, but I have carefully written down the screening times for Hayoa Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” at least two additional times by accident.
I had never seen Miyazaki’s 1988 “My Neighbor Totoro” and somehow doubted that it could rival his later masterpieces (though it does, effortlessly). This past Saturday, I went with four grown-up friends to a matinee. The audience was filled with kids. We sat in the second row, right in the middle. I had just woken up.
“My Neighbor Totoro” is about two little girls who have moved into a new, slightly haunted house in the country. The movie is primarily from their perspective. It is so gentle and beautiful and captivating and exciting. It’s full of good and bad things, and is also very smart and comforting.
The kids in the audience made a lot of cooing and murmuring noises throughout. They sometimes collectively suddenly said something like, “What did the big furry one just say? What did he say?” Or they would all seem to move forward at the same time. It was like being in a gently moving child-ocean. I had no idea kids had such consistency, or that their imaginations could all be harnessed so masterfully by an animator. There, as an audience, they seemed like the most interesting group of people in the world.
Even afterwards, as we all shuffled out of the cinema, kids running around the stairs, or outside on the sidewalk, a couple of them shaking a city tree with all their might (hoping a forest spirit might come out?), they suddenly looked like they really knew what they were doing.
It made me think of the value in partaking of another culture’s art. It’s easy to remember the importance of that when it comes to other countries, but it’s good, too, to remember it applies to groups like age and gender – that there can be entire groups of humans you forget to care about or give credit to, or never thought to in the first place.
It also made me think of the tricky sport of appropriation; how interesting and useful things can happen when trying on another group’s perspective. It kind of made me long to watch a movie that maybe some 8-year-old out there is making from the perspective of an elder whale or something – a live-action feature, perhaps. I’m sure there are at least two kids out there who have already gotten started on that project.