Anime

Our Friend Totoro

The crayon doodles, chalk scrabbled floor and walls, silly games of following the clouds, the butterflies and the wind, toying with fairy tale thoughts, dancing in the rain, eating snowflakes, and living in the inverted fable world… all this and every other childhood memory comes alive in Miyazaki’s masterpiece anime, My Neighbour Totoro.

Totoro and friends.
© Studio Ghibli [Source – IMDB]

Those whispers, secrets, and myths that we all have heard, in which the happy spirits rise to guide the one who dares and bridges her to the magic around, which world-wide have different versions, which are absurd yet possible, forms the core of this motley work.

Two little girls, Satsuki and Mei, move to the countryside in Japan along with their father, Tatsuo Kusakabe. Mama Yasuko Kusakabe is not well and so she is admitted to the hospital which is closer to this countryside house.

But she will recover and come back home soon”, says Dady Tatsuo, “when, will she be back by tomorrow?” asks four years old Mei, “there she goes again with tomorrow”, says Satsuki and they all laugh.

Mei is courageous, she even catches a soot gremlin to show it to Satsuki but it ends up only in making her hands black.

Mei and a soot gremlin. [Source – IMDB]

As Satsuki goes to school, little Mei plays around the house alone; carrying her packed lunchbox, she explores the place with a clear and light mind, giggling, following two small bunny-like Totoros to the colossal camphor tree and ultimately meeting the big Totoro there.

Totoro Who?

The Totoros playing the ocarina. [Source – IMDB]

Totoro is a furry giant animal, with whiskers, big eyes, and a bigger smile. He lives in the huge camphor tree in the forest neighbouring Satsuki and Mei’s house.

While the little Totoros collect acorns, the giant one helps it to grow; together they play the ocarina like music instruments at night, sitting high on a branch, guarding the forest, and all the beings living in it.

Totoro in some ways is like a Kami – a spirit in Japanese religion of Shinto which can be anything, from forces of nature to spirits of an honoured dead person like a King. Possessing both positive and negative qualities, these spirits are to be worshipped and thanked for their blessings and support.

Kami cannot be seen by everyone, but the one whom it chooses to reveal itself to. Being aware of the powers of Kami means being aware of the powers of nature, respecting it, and also showing gratitude for what it grants.

After Mei’s first encounter with Totoro, their father takes both the girls to a nearby Shinto shrine to thank the Kami for looking after Mei and asking it to continue looking after all of them. The shrine is next to the giant camphor tree which Mei happily recognises, but doesn’t find the way to Totoro’s den as she did the last time.

Two Little sisters, Mei and Satsuki

As children look at the world with the hope to see a miracle every second and love as if it is all theirs, it is only Mei and Satsuki who get to meet Totoro. It all starts with Mei, she sees the soot gremlins twice and then the three Totoros. Little Mei’s world, it seems, is still more magical than Satsuki.

Mei follows the littlest Totoro.
© Walt Disney Pictures [Source – IMDB]
Best friends, Mei and Totoro.
© Walt Disney Pictures [Source – IMDB]

When Mei tells Satsuki about Totoro, she tells her father that she too wants to meet Totoro, but on one occasion when Mei accompanies her to the school and draws Totoro’s image on a sheet, Satsuki feels embarrassed amongst her giggling friends, typical of a growing-up kid.

On a rainy late evening, Satsuki and Mei go to the bus stop to receive their father who had not taken an umbrella, there Totoro joins them. Satsuki is elated to see him but stays still. She then gives him the spare umbrella and shows him how to use it.

With a sleepy Mei on her back, Satsuki is surprised to know that Totoro is standing next to them. [Source – IMDB]

Raindrops falling on the umbrella from the branches above give Totoro the shivers which he enjoys; he jumps up and down and a heavy splash of raindrops fall on them and Totoro beams magnificently. The magic only multiplies then as a Cat Bus arrives there, Totoro climbs on it and leaves.

That same night, Totoro comes with his two little friends to silently perform a ritual in the yard where Mei and Satsuki have planted the acorns; the girls wake up and join the Totoros.

Their prayers are heard and the plants sprout magically to form a giant tree, just like the camphor tree, right before their eyes. Totoro then takes all of them to the top of the tree to sit on the branch and play the ocarina.

Totoro’s magic in action. [Source – IMDB]

Next morning the girls find that the tree has vanished, but the seeds have indeed sprung; both of them then repeat the ritual ecstatically shouting “I thought it was a dream, but I was wrong.”

Mei repeats whatever Satsuki says, she gets excited when Satsuki is, dances along and follows her everywhere trying to match her speed, happy to be around her elder sister. But when she gets the news that their mother will not be returning soon as planned, she gets angry.

Both the sisters argue and Mei leaves for the hospital all by herself to give her mother an ear of corn that Granny had said would make her perfectly healthy.

A determined Mei. [Source – IMDB]

In the evening when Satsuki realises that Mei is not at home, she, Granny, Kanta, and his family all start looking for her. Sure that Mei must have left for the hospital Satsuki takes to the road, running all the way and calling out Mei’s name, but she does not find her there.

Satsuki then goes to meet Totoro, praying to the camphor tree to allow her to meet him; she tells Totoro that Mei is missing and she cannot find her on her own.

Meow!! The Cat Bus is here.
© Walt Disney Pictures [Source – IMDB]

Totoro smiles and immediately calls the Cat Bus, the destination indicator blinks Mei’s name, an awed Satsuki climbs on the bus and on its many legs the Cat Bus leaps from one farm to another, tiptoeing from one utility pole to another, finally stopping at the roadside where Mei was sitting and crying.

The Cat Bus then takes both of them to the hospital; there sitting on a treetop the little girls feel relieved to see their parents together and happy.

Both Mei and Satsuki come across as two real-life girls – their mannerism (in the first scene, sitting together in the small lorry, sharing candies), their reactions (when Mei sees the soot gremlins she freezes, holding her frock tightly), their silly arguments (when Satsuki teases Mei that she is afraid at night and that is why she cannot sleep alone), when happy (after meeting the Totoro for the first time Satsuki is overjoyed, she asks his father to hold both of them and they jump into his arms) when sad (both are disappointed to know that their mother will not be coming home soon), all these actions in totality make them appear like two actual kids.

Mama and Daddy Kusakabe

Tatsuo Kusakabe with his dear daughters. [Source – IMDB]

Both Tatsuo and Yasuko Kusakabe are loving, supporting, and open-minded accepting parents. They know that it is a tough time for the girls as they have been staying away from their mother and have shifted to a village for her sake, thus, they do not discourage them from any vibrant idea of theirs.

Whenever the girls talk about soot gremlins, Totoro and the Cat Bus, they both show excitement, honestly interested in their tales.

Tatsuo always listens to them and joins them in their fun activities. Yasuko misses both of them and worries for Satsuki as she knows she takes more responsibility than others do in her age.

Mei’s gift for her mother. [Source – IMDB]

When Yasuko tells her husband that she thought she saw Mei and Satsuki sitting on the tree, smiling, Tatsuo, familiar with the Totoro story by then, picks up the corn with the inscription ‘for mama’ on it lying on the window-sill and says that they must have been here.

Granny and Kanta

Granny gets happy on knowing that the girls saw the soot gremlins. [Source – IMDB]

Mei and Satsuki’s neighbours, other than the Totoros, are Kanta’s family. While Granny is caring and full of warmth, Kanta hesitates even to talk to Satsuki.

On two occasions – delivering them lunch on their first day and giving his umbrella when it is pouring heavily – he simply hands over Satsuki the lunch box and the umbrella, grunting and without uttering a word.

A shy Kanta. [Source – IMDB]

As time passes by, they become like family to the Kusakabes; when Mei leaves for the hospital on her own, Granny gathers the whole village to look for Mei and Kanta goes to the hospital on a bicycle to check the way for her.

Granny hugs Mei when she returns with Satsuki. The four of them walk back home together as the cheerful closing track plays in the background.

The Charm of the Era

The film is set in the late 1950s Japan when life was simpler and the pace was kinder. On arriving at their new home, Mei and Satsuki get excited about seeing every new thing – the timeworn house (‘it could be haunted’, says Satsuki), the collapsing patio, the soot gremlins, the water pump, the small bridge that takes them to their house, the stream and of course, the giant camphor tree.

The melodious stream near Mei and Satsuki’s house. [Source – IMDB]

Raindrops falling in the rice paddies, the sudden downpour, the drizzles dripping from tree leaves, the puddles, all these scenes are beautifully captured in the film.

Totoro is overwhelmed with joy when raindrops fall on his umbrella which he is holding for the first time, this brings back memories of childhood.

Such simple happy actions become a habit unknowingly; whether it is raindrops falling on the umbrella for some or say, crushing the dry autumn leaves for others, it always gives us a sudden boost of cheerful energy.

Imagery & Music

The wonderful work done by Hayao Miyazaki and Kazuo Oga, the art director, makes the anime world truly alive.

The countryside. [Source – IMDB]

The cushiony clouds, the rapturous scenery, the quiet stream, and every rock and leaf complement each other, aiding in and not shying from embracing the modernity.

When Mei, Satsuki, and their father visit the shrine for the first time, the ambience and even the cool moistness of the hidden place catches us and we are struck by the glory of the huge camphor tree.

And what gives the imagery this soothing life-like quality is the music in the film. The excellent soundtrack, composed by Joe Hisaishi, gives the film a mythical tone as if opening a door to a magical dream world while keeping it firmly grounded in its times.

Especially the score titled “The Huge Tree in the Tsukamori Forest”, which plays whenever we see the camphor tree in its glory, has become analogous to the spirit of the film. It is an uplifting majestic tune that marks the listener’s entry into a secret world.

The Credits Roll

The story goes on as the credits roll at the end. We see Mei and Satsuki spending time with their mother – taking baths together, reading storybooks – as they had been hoping to for a long time.

The girls continue living in the same region, making new friends, bonding with the old ones, making a snow Totoro in winters, and enjoying their childhood days.

Totoro’s home is one of the best places in the world. [Source – IMDB]

My Neighbour Totoro is considered to be, both by the critics and the masses, one of the best Anime fantasy films of all time. Totoro has become a cultural icon and the film has a worldwide cult following.

Apart from being the company logo and appearing in Studio Ghibli’s other productions, Totoro has also appeared in Disney Pixar’s Toy Story 3.

Such is the love for the film that an asteroid discovered in 1994 and a velvet worm species discovered in Vietnam in 2013 were named after Totoro.

A smiley giant, guardian of the forest, Totoro does not have a dialogue in the film; apart from speaking his name out loud to Mei, he only beams, roars, flies, plays the ocarina, eats and sleeps.

His simplicity makes him a more welcomed, accepted, and believable character by one and all. Mei and Satsuki’s neighbour, the guardian of the forest, Totoro is a true friend, yours as well as mine.

Our friend Totoro. [Source – IMDB]

*

My Neighbour Totoro

Written and Directed by – Hayao Miyazaki; Production company – Studio Ghibli; Music by – Joe Hisaishi; Cinematography by – Hisao Shirai; Edited by – Takeshi Seyama

Here is a children’s film made for the world we should live in, rather than the one we occupy. A film with no villains. No fight scenes. No evil adults. No fighting between the two kids. No scary monsters. No darkness before the dawn. A world that is benign. A world where if you meet a strange towering creature in the forest, you curl up on its tummy and have a nap.

Roger Ebert, the film critic.
Read his review of My Neighbour Totoro here.

You can now watch the film on Netflix. Enjoy!


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Children of the Sea – A Glimpse and A Message

The times when the sky mirrors the sea and the sea mirrors the sky, when the horizon disappears and the sun’s reddish stroke colours both alike, at those times you get a glimpse of the whole Universe celebrating life.  

Ruka underwater. © Studio 4°C

Children of the Sea is a Japanese animation film directed by Ayumu Watanabe and is based on Daisuke Igarashi’s manga series.

The story unfolds leisurely as the protagonist Ruka, a teenager, meets two brothers – Umi and Sora – who are from the ocean.

While the grown-ups stay occupied with understanding the physiology of the two boys, hoping to know through them the secrets of the marine world, Ruka, Umi, and Sora go through a magnificent journey.  

Ready to explore the marine world. © Studio 4°C
Umi and Sora. © Studio 4°C
Blue magic. © Studio 4°C

The unseen and the unknown happen for Ruka as she sees and lives the connection… the connection of every being with the universe.

Umi and Sora tell her that every living being is waiting to be found, that the awakened bright light in one finds the other and that if you pay attention and listen, you can hear the sea and the sky talking.  

Quite depths of the ocean await the light of the comet for it is then that the celebrations begin; all the marine life gathers to be in this light of the comet.

Umi and Sora take Ruka along as a guest to witness this mystical event, themselves turning into a comet and disappearing forever.

The light of the comet is here. © Studio 4°C
Dancing round and round. © Studio 4°C
Cosmic dance. © Studio 4°C

Ruka on one hand cannot forget the surreal experience, cannot forget Umi and Sora, on the other hand, she just can not understand the meaning of it all and is not ashamed to say it out loud.

Dede, an old lady, tells Ruka that she also met a boy from the ocean when she was her age and that she did not understand things just like her, but she learned to understand the sound of the wind that carries secrets from the five oceans of the world.  

Ruka’s confusion reminds me of Arjun from the Mahabharata, he, after witnessing the supreme lord in his absolute vastness and glory and listening to him, requests the lord after winning the battle to elucidate once again the message of the Bhagwat Gita.

An unfathomable experience and a human’s forgettable nature…

Summer vacation ends and Ruka heads back to school, to the routine life, on the way she hears the ocean and looks at the sky, she feels the secret is within her and smiles.  

The times when the sky mirrors the sea and the sea mirrors the sky, when the horizon disappears and the sun’s reddish stroke colours both alike, at those times the Universe shares a message, one that is meant for you and only you.

The Map to Miyazaki

Well, the map in my possession is incomplete, I still have to collect many missing jigsaw pieces- Ponyo, Porco Rosso, Pom Poko, and more. I am all AGOG!

Dominant colours– green, blue, white, yellow, and red – on the map, endless stretches of farmlands, mountains, rivers, sunny days, foggy evenings, starry nights, and cottony skies are fulfilling.

Colours reinstate the quiet you, making you sensitively aware. Wide EYES!

The map warmly takes you to different worlds; worlds you will strongly start to believe you belong in, you always did. Yes, each world on the map has that charm, each world is linked through MAGIC.

Magical creatures, seen for the first time as you follow the map, will become your close friends, the closest ones. Tell them your secrets to make them yours forever.  

Princess Mononoke. © Studio Ghibli

The map took me to the magnificent majestic world of Princess Mononoke. I confess I was afraid, threatened for my familiarity with and my memories of this life-journey disowned me and left.

Alone I walked, met many Kodamas and I walked ahead. Alone and FASCINATED!

This world merges evil and good, rights and wrongs, anarchy, and peace… thoughts and feelings of being in the centre, with a grand forest and a grand iron fortress, converging. I will return to this world, for I have to.

Do you know what Prince Ashitaka said to Lady Eboshi when she asked him what was he there for? Prince Ashitaka said, ‘To see with eyes unclouded by hate.’ GRAND!

Spirited Away. © Studio Ghibli

In the world called Spirited Away, I was with Chihiro all the while even when she became Sen… or was I? She kept swinging on the threshold, meeting and understanding the spirits and their realm.

With Chihiro I crossed the tunnel in the end, we turned together with a measure of hope, wanting, trust, and belief.

We left and the threshold disappeared, but the feeling stayed. The feeling is ALIVE.

My Neighbour Totoro. © Studio Ghibli

The map will take you, to your utter pleasure, both in the future and the past, in the known and the unknown, in their story and your story.

Gladly I followed the dirt road and reached the world of Totoro, My Neighbour Totoro. All I did there was dancing, under the huge tree in the Tsukamori forest along with Satsuki, Mei, Totoro, and two small Totoros.

Listen to the track we all danced to –  

Déjà vu, dreams, and fantasy fused together in this world and promised. A promise so DEEP, one never made before.

Oh how the dreams never end, how we build on and on… maybe for the dreams speak to us honestly without any guilt, without shying from LOVE.

Howl’s Moving Castle. © Studio Ghibli

I have been on Howl’s Moving Castle, what a wonderful world.

But I warn you, it is like being in a dream, a lengthy dream, one which tackles evil and disgust and the power game; where love and compassion dimly shine and darkness shakes you from within, leaving you weak.

If you hold on, Howl the wizard fights back and casts a spell to restore harmony and balance.

How well a spell can work? For how long will it preserve? Corruption spreads, how will it all end? Howl’s Flying Castle a dreamlike reality…

I left this world after learning how to make a castle fly – apart from Calcifer’s (the fire-demon) help, you need to nurture freedom within. VOILA!

The Wind Rises. © Studio Ghibli

And so the map showed me another beautiful world which was all about flying, The Wind Rises it was called.   Know that ‘flying and magic’ is a must in life. Abide by for there is magic WITHIN.

If you happen to forget yourself, truly forget yourself, may you be reminded as the wind rises, that you must LIVE.

Live to fulfil, to cherish, to create, to inspire, to love, to remember, to let go, to smile, to embrace the truth as it all ENDS.

© Studio Ghibli 

I will continue to make the map to Miyazaki as slowly it is being revealed to me how the dreams are unfolded, how the stories are made, what it takes to truly believe in it all, and what a treasure living is.  

Arigatou Gozaimasu!

© Studio Ghibli
© Studio Ghibli
© Studio Ghibli

P.S- My friend Tashi gave me the first piece of this map, the one that took me to the world of Princess Mononoke; this is the tradition, I now pass it on to you.


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