Saturday, April 16, 2005

Mon Voisin Totoro--le meilleur film du monde!

On a whim, I rewatched My Neighbor Totoro this evening. What a perfectly sweet movie. But not in a fakey Disney way. It just floats along, serenely indifferent to any notion of cynicism or forced 'hipness.' Really: can you imagine Disney or Dreamworks or Pixar whoever making a nominal children's film with no villains and very little discernable plot like this? Not that I'm saying those things are automatically bad, but, as this film makes clear, you don't need them (the same could be said about Kiki's Delivery Service, but, with no slight towards that film intended, Totoro is far superior). It's the polar opposite of anything Hollywood. Look at the scene at the bus stop in the rain, for instance: that goes on for a pretty long time, with minimal action. But it works. Perfectly. Because Miyazaki is not afraid to just let things go; to let the atmosphere take over. We feel the soporific atmosphere; the girls' repressed anxiety...and then--whoa! Totoro! Beautiful. And, honestly, the only appropriate reaction to the catbus is to laugh in giddy delight. Should you react otherwise, I would have to question your humanity. Don't you just want to live in a universe like this, where there are no bad people and happiness is the default setting for everyone?

What I did not expect--and this could just be that I was in a more fragile emotional state than I was when last I saw it--was that I actually teared up during the emotional climax--where Mei gets obstinate about wanting to see her mother NOW and Satsuki gets more and more annoyed until she bursts out with "So it's all right if mother dies, then?" and storms off, leaving Mei in tears. And then when Satsuki herself breaks I think it's a testament to the way the film is made that such an--objectively-speaking--low-key climax can still be so powerful.

I've seen all of Miyazaki's films except the new one, Howl's Moving Castle, and I hope to remedy that soon. All of them are good-to-great...although, interestingly enough, Mononoke Hime, which was the first one I ever saw and which blew me away at the time, I actually now find to be one of his weaker efforts. But in any case, Totoro is my favorite, and I would be surprised if that ever changed. You just can't help but be happy after watching it. It's just mandatory. What a perfect film.


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