My Neighbor Totoro/Whisper of the Heart
I’ve been hearing how much I need to see Miyazaki’s films for a long while now, so I used the Turner Classic Movies showings to sample two. The first, My Neighbor Totoro, was fluffier than I expected.
I knew that the movie was about two girls who meet a fantasy character, but I was surprised that the first third of the film was simply about them setting up housekeeping out in the country. The images were beautiful, as expected, but when the younger four-year-old finally encounters the large, mystical Totoro, I couldn’t make myself play along with the film. I suspect I was supposed to be reminded of the trust and acceptance of the young, but I kept thinking “if she’d found a sleeping bear that she cuddled up with before it roared at her, it wouldn’t be cute, it would be dangerous.” I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to surrender to the wonder.
I also expected more interaction between the girls and the fantasy characters, instead of them using the magicial beings as a deus ex machina (although I guess that’s appropriate). The catbus was a terrific concept that I thought might have fit better in another film; it even seemed to be animated in a slightly different style.
But as I said, the images of the countryside were lovely, and the animation was incredible. I’m glad I watched in the film in more than one sitting, because when my attention started wandering, I could stop and come back to it when I was fresher. Its pacing is very different from American cartoons; it allows much more time for reflection or appreciation of setting.
Although it’s technically not a Miyazaki film (he wrote it but didn’t direct), I liked Whisper of the Heart much better. It was geared much more to my interests: it’s a shôjo story about a girl who reads a lot who becomes obsessed with a name she sees has previously checked out all the library books she’s reading.
She wants to be a writer, and the boy she meets has been working most of his life to be a violin maker. The two of them begin demonstrating interest in each other, only to face the problem of his imminent departure for Italy to continue his craft. There’s also a mysterious cat, and the boy’s grandfather, who plays music and runs an antique store.
I love the way the girl’s family is clearly made up of scholars. Mom is often absent because she’s working on a degree, and the walls of the house are lined with shelves of books. The same thing is true of the family in Totoro; Dad’s a professor, and they have similar decor based around lots of reading material. It’s refreshing and different to see.