This past winter — and it really is past now, I think — saw the stateside release of THE WIND RISES, the cinematic swan song of Hayao Miyazaki, arguably the most revered animator of modern times. Tributes to his genius are a dime a dozen (a deal impervious to inflation that just gets better and better), but this one you can have on the house. I won’t even mind if you skip it, so long as you treat yourself to this weekend’s screenings of a pair of gems from the master’s distinguished back-catalog.
It is often noted that Miyazaki’s oeuvre is unified by a persistent passion for being up, in, and of the air: from a breeze rustling through leaves to air-ships rushing through boundless blue skies, Miyazaki offers the ensorcelled viewer currents on which to coast or careen. Satsuki, the elder of the two young girls at the center of 1988’s MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, tells her sister at one point, “Mei! We are the wind!” And so are we. Fairy dust in the wind, if you will. Come on, do it.
So. What the hell is a Totoro? Yeah, no one really knows. We do know that they come in various sizes, and that the one featured here is a gigantic, roly-poly fur-ball with vaguely rabbit-esque characteristics and a mad gleam in his (her?) grinning eyes. It may have begun as a character in one of little Mei’s picture-books, but it’s as real as anything now. It is the spirit of the forest, say, or maybe its king, napping in the heart of a hugely sprawling tree by day, flying with the aid of a spinning top and inspiring plants to grow by night.
So far, so strange — and there are more marvels to come. But fantasy is employed fairly sparingly here. Miyazaki fashions his perfect dreams for us out of the materials of “real life,” mostly: out of the small but irreplaceable pleasures of family, and of community more generally, beginning in neighborhoods marked by benevolence and reciprocity before spilling out to the fragile connections between humans and the objects in their environment, whether plant, animal, troll, or cat-bus. You’ll find nothing inanimate here. Miyazaki, like Satsuki and Mei’s wonderful father, understands that our dream-life is deeply embedded within our waking life — unless it’s vice versa, but don’t give me a headache — and that our greatest flights of fancy form a mutual support system with the satisfaction of our most basic needs. The cat-bus is a kind of miracle, but it materializes to take the sisters to see their ailing mother in the hospital. Miyazaki makes behaving like decent human beings look like the most magical option available to us.
TOTORO is being presented by the Brattle, along with the much more wildly fantastical but equally affecting SPIRITED AWAY (2001), as part of a series of films for the whole family — Kids’ Movies Not Just For Kids — and they certainly fit the description. One of the many special aspects of Miyazaki’s films is that, in contrast to so many American movies for kids, they feature adults who aren’t just obstacles to overcome or scolds to elude; they are real characters, generally sympathetic and not necessarily unreceptive to wonder.
Oh, and regarding the vexing matter of translation, the Brattle gives you options: TOTORO will be screened in two versions, dubbed for the matinee (doubtless to make life easier for parents bringing children) and subtitled in the evening (for worldly sophisticates like us). SPIRITED AWAY, on the other hand, will screen exclusively in Japanese with English subtitles. Now up, up and away with you!
MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO
4/18 – 9:30pm
4/19 – 2:30pm & 7:00pm
4/18 – 7pm
4/19 – 12:00pm, 4:30pm & 9pm
$10 General Admission, $8 Students & Members, $7 Children & Seniors
Doubling up on your features? There’s a discount for that!
40 Brattle St.