Magical

Spirited Away and the Art of Forgetfulness

Film Analysis

Chihiro, Sen; Spirited Away official poster.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – IMDB]

Chihiro – My goodbye card’s still here. Chi-hi-ro… Chihiro, that is my name, isn’t it?

Haku – That is how Yubaba controls you, by stealing your name… so hold on to that card, keep it hidden and while you are here, you must call yourself Sen.

Chihiro – I can’t believe I forgot my name. She almost took it from me.

Haku – If you completely forget it, you will never find your way home… I have tried everything to remember mine.

Chihiro – You can’t remember your real name?

Haku – No, but for some reason, I remember yours.

*

Those forgotten names, memories, thoughts, bemused glances, talks, ear-to-ear cheers, that sweet-warm feeling of forgetfulness and the forgotten tales complete us in the truest sense. Our best friends, these forgotten episodes, always stay with us, kindling our being with love. Absurd if seen with open eyes, pleasant when seen with eyes closed, our forgotten selves are immortal. And surprisingly these bond us strongly as a community.

A warm feeling of forgetfulness slips away and enters this community hoping to meet us one day. Just remember… remember if you want to meet such a feeling, it will come and surprise you.

Forgetfulness, a boon or a curse, every individual experiences it differently. One of such mystical experiences captured is titled Spirited Away, in a Japanese anime style by the incredible writer, animator, director Hayao Miyazaki.

Chihiro and Sen’s Spiriting Away is the literal translation of the Japanese title of this film. But how can a 10-year-old girl experience the “spiriting away” twice? Maybe it can be done by forgetting and accepting.


Storytelling & the Art of Forgetfulness

The journey beings.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – screenrant.com]

Folklores and myths, since ‘eternity’, have used the art of forgetfulness to complicate the hero’s journey and to open a gate to a unique never-heard-of-yet-familiar world; an enchanted world with flying mountains, a lotus island with tempting, misleading heavens, a charlatan with a devious plan, a monster masquerading and a memory trick that evades reality.

What is the art of forgetfulness? Surely something very delicate, absurd and too hard to explain. That we forget both good and bad days and yet remember it all when the need arises, that everything is stored in our subconscious and we forget what we must, to evolve, we forget and make mistakes and grow and bring a change… this is such an ephemeral art, and nonetheless, we have mastered it.

In stories, forgetfulness raises the stakes for a hero that it becomes a matter of life and death, bringing a drastic transformation.

Chihiro almost forgets her real name when working for Yubaba at the Bathhouse, Chihiro becomes Sen, but this helps her to be in the moment and give her best when trapped in the spirits’ world. She is worried for her parents who have turned into pigs and her goal is to rescue them and return back, but as if cut-off from her past, she works in the Bathhouse as an employee, searching for answers, helping Haku and others, living like her true self, making decisions without her parents’ guidance.

*

Chihiro’s bouquet and a goodbye card.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – IMDB]

A very thin thread connects her with the real world, she holds on to it without sorrow or regret and moves ahead anticipating nothing, accepting every new surprise.

What Chihiro doesn’t remember about herself, we do and this information gives us an upper hand, we stick to it galloping blindly, trusting her at every step, waiting carefully for a breakthrough. The storyteller uses the art of forgetfulness to build a strong bond between the audience and the character via a short fabulous episode.

And so if someone asks, “why doesn’t Chihiro simply runs back to where she comes from or why doesn’t she take Haku’s help to escape”, we leap forward to answer, “because she cannot leave her parents behind and because Haku is Yubaba’s slave.” We know Chihiro only too well because we know something of great importance that she now doesn’t remember.


Thousand Questions

A purpose to fulfil.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – IMDB]

The Japanese ‘Chi’, when translated in English, means thousand and ‘hiro’ means to question or search. When Yubaba hires Chihiro, she steals her name, her identity, trying to trap her in the spirit world forever.

Your name is something that defines you throughout your life and Chihiro, having lost her name in the spirit world starts to forget about the living world. So she will effectively forget everything about her life of the living, who she was, her parents and basically everything she ever knew.

– Hayao Miyazaki

*

Chihiro survives, she tackles and finds the untapped power source within, like the leaves of grass she holds her ground and even without a clear picture of herself and her name, she lives by it; she questions and searches without knowing concretely what she is looking for. She simply doesn’t give up and continuously reminds herself that she has forgotten something.

Initially hoping the spirit world to be nothing but a dream, later Chihiro accepts it without any qualm. Why? Because she is Chihiro, the one with abundance, thousands of questions, she is someone who has plenty of tricks up her sleeve, moves on freely, whose imagination is still alive, just like any other little 10 year old.

Adults, routinely signing their names on several documents well aware of its meaning, forget to live by it. Often begrudgingly they accept the plain perspective, effacing a possibility, forgetting their search, abandoning it altogether.


Haku, the Dragon

The old friend.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – mentalfloss.com]

Haku, the spirit of river Kohaku, serves Yubaba as she stole his real name “Nigihayami Kohaku Nushi”. He remembers nothing but the fact that he had met Chihiro when she was very little. He recognises her and helps her from the beginning, expecting nothing in return. Chihiro saves Haku from Yubaba’s cursed spells and liberates him in the end as a sweet warm memory returns to her. As a little child she had almost drowned in a river, but survived mysteriously; the name of the river, she tells Haku, was Kohaku. Immediately Yubaba’s spell breaks and Haku’s memories return to him.

A forgotten childhood memory, an upsetting one that must have left everyone (related to Chihiro) troubled, beautifully turns into a magical key setting a soul, a dragon soul free.

And in flashes when we see those episodes, those hazy childhood memories – good, bad – we realise how it has shaped us, how far we have come and how its randomness is actually a puzzle piece.

*

A happy promise.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – IMDB]

Chihiro and Haku’s friendship represents the fragrant spirit of the romantic era (late 18th century); an era (especially Europe) that through its artists shifted towards a more imaginative and free life, valuing the sublime thought and expression, living more passionately, revolting against classicism and Yubaba like overwhelming Industrial Revolution.

Valuing freedom, both Chihiro and Haku, take risks to win it back, to win it back for each other. In a short span, they bond strongly, like one does with an old memory, not burdening their steps with the idea of remembrance, but only sealing their love with a promise to meet again. That is how they part ways.


Yubaba and Zeniba

Yubaba, a professional.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – myanimelist.com]

Two twins, one evil the other caring, Yubaba and Zeniba, act like a see-saw on which the story plays (and plays so well). Yubaba is not a dark character nor is Zeniba a saint; Yubaba is greedy, cunning and at times silly, silly enough to be tricked.

She may thunder when on a hunt or when managing the Bathhouse employees, but she becomes a tip-toeing mother of a giant baby (Boh), ready to do anything for him. She has flaws and this makes her a doubly interesting antagonist.

Zeniba, a kind-hearted smart witch, recognises Chihiro’s bravery and admires her amiable nature. Her presence assures Chihiro that Yubaba too is vulnerable. She supports Chihiro but not by snapping her fingers and resolving everything, rather by trusting her spirit and asking her to trust it too.

Zeniba – I am sorry she turned your parents into pigs, but there is nothing that I can do. It is just the way things are… You will have to help your parents and Haku on your own. Use what you remember about them.

Chihiro – What, can’t you please give me more of a hint than that…? I feel I have met Haku before but it was a long time ago.

Zeniba – That is a good start. Once you have met someone, you never really forget them, it just takes a while for your memories to return.

*

Granny Zeniba.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – myanimelist.com]

Zeniba asks Chihiro to call her granny when at her place and later, Chihiro before leaving the Bathhouse thanks Yubaba and calls her granny too (leaving her annoyed). Things turn out to be in Chihiro’s favour by the end, as her memories return, she keeps no hard feelings against anyone, not even the antagonist.

Chihiro forgives and forgets easily, like children usually do, freeing her own spirit, feeling its happy push towards the next destination.


The Bathhouse

“And heave… everyone… together, heave!”
[©StudioGhibli; Source – filmofile]

Purgation, the holy ritual of cleansing oneself of the sins committed, is one ceremony that is celebrated in many religions worldwide. The Great Bath of Mahenjo-daro, built in the 3rd millennium BCE, had a special religious function for the Indus Valley civilisation according to the scholars.

The unrecognisable “stink spirit” who is Chihiro’s first customer is the spirit of a polluted river. She and her partner Len, Yubaba and all the employees at the Bathhouse work together to cleanse it; the free and happy river spirit, in the end, floats away, giving Chihiro a gift (a herbal cake) that she uses later on to heal Haku’s fatal wound. The purged river spirit also, like a mirror, shows Chihiro her forgotten memory, just a sneak peek of the incident when she had fallen in Kahaku River as a little girl – of how she and Haku first met.

Forgetfulness is not an answer, it is a stage, a brief mental stasis, that gives you a momentary way out or presents you with a leeway so that you can start your journey again.

*

Time to work and win the challenge.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – SHL.com]

The Bathhouse here represents a place where you can not only clean your spirit but also free it by remembering all that you have forgotten, ignored, absorbed, quietly accepted, helplessly agreed with. The bright and active Bathhouse, run by Yubaba, is strictly professional, always focusing on the guests need.

Amongst Yubaba’s employees busy running the business, elevators moving up and down, workers keeping the baths clean and the floor shiny, the spirits find peace; in all this loud drama, the spirits manage to find a way out, they cross the maze and pay the company for allowing them to play.

A contradiction for Yubaba steals names, removing an individual’s memory and the baths tend to remind a guest of her unique forgotten identity, the Bathhouse tirelessly functions to unite the community. Together and yet alone we all move forward towards the unexpected future.


The Spirits and Yubaba’s Employees

“Welcome to the Bathhouse, dear rich guest!”
[©StudioGhibli; Source – myanimelist.com]

In my grandparents’ time, it was believed that kami (spirits) existed everywhere – in trees, rivers, insects, wells, anything. My generation does not believe this, but I like the idea that we should all treasure everything because spirits might exist there, and we should treasure everything because there is a kind of life to everything.

– Hayao Miyazaki

*

The animal, plant, river and other spirits, and the little dark soot-ball spirits, bring in, ironically, the element of permanence in the story. These forgotten souls never pause, they steadily keep acting, dutifully participating in the after-life drama.

The radish spirit’s gaze, the old river spirit’s thank you gift, the soot-ball spirits’ liveliness all help in solidifying the backdrop; it appears then that Chihiro has entered an ancient mythical land, where everyone has a job to do. That it is not a vague dream but a wonderful possibility. And the same goes for the weird looking frog-like men and women.

*

Chi-hi-ro! Bye-bye!
[©StudioGhibli; Source – IMDB]

Every spirit and employee gathers near the Bathhouse’s entrance where Yubaba quizzes Chihiro about her parents at the end, when Chihiro wins, the spirits jump up and sway joyously. We don’t meet them once Chihiro leaves, but one feels that they must have gone back to work immediately.


No Face

Journey within a journey.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – screenrant.com]

A spirit that has no memory, no goal, waits in stillness and clings on to the first hope it gets, a hope to create new memories, to set a new goal. This is No Face, a very interesting grey character; vulnerable for it is clueless, dangerous for it has limitless powers.

When Chihiro, out of generosity, keeps a sliding door open for him to enter as it is raining outside, No Face quietly enters the Bathhouse with the sole purpose to help Chihiro; very soon it becomes greedy to fulfil this purpose – first by offering Chihiro too many herbal soap tokens and then by showering gold. No Face, hungry and out of control, starts swallowing the workers and creates havoc in the Bathhouse. Chihiro then feeds him half of the herbal cake gifted by the revived old river spirit, bringing No Face back to normal; it regurgitates all that he had swallowed.

This quiet, puzzled spirit then accompanies Chihiro on her train journey to Zeniba and later, agrees to stay back and help Zeniba.

How superbly then No Face’s journey points at the significance of memories and a purpose in life! And what an apt name it has got… No Face… purposeless, faceless, one without an identity.


Kamaji & Lin

The catalysts.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – myanimelist.com]

The spider-like six-armed, goggled eyed boiler man, Kamaji, is a character who never forgets, even if he does, he hasn’t got the time to remember what and when, because he singlehandedly runs the water-supply system in the Bathhouse, he and his little soot-ball spirits. Kind-hearted, but always occupied, wise, but always busy, Kamaji’s six arms, which can stretch indefinitely, also find it difficult for such is his workload.

Another character who hasn’t got the time to forget things is Lin; a human-like servant who is not less than an informant as she knows everything about everything. Interestingly, according to the Japanese picture book, The Art of Spirited Away, Lin is described as the spirit of a white tiger, she surely is like a free-spirited soul, rushing, resourceful and undaunted.

It is with Kamaji and Lin’s help that Chihiro survives her time at the Bathhouse; they are the ones who make Chihiro see the spirit world’s reality, suggesting her to adjust immediately and act quickly. And this is what Chihiro needed the most, to keep her forgotten memories aside and build some new ones for her own good. Action always leads to progression; it is the answer to Chihiro’s thousand questions.


Chihiro’s Parents

“More, more, more!”
[©StudioGhibli; Source –myanimelist.com]

Before Yubaba could steal Chihiro’s name and her identity, we get to meet her parents who are two lost beings, unaware of their true identity. Living on the borderline, they act superficially smart on a routine basis but get greedily excited on seeing something that they love – food (or whatever is free).

As they are hardly in touch with their inner voice, with every passing year they have learned the ways of the consumerist society, they are the first ones to forget the reality, leaving their kid with the responsibility to liberate them.

We are not supposed to hate Chihiro’s parents, they may be lost, stubborn, calculative, but they too can find their way back, all they have to do is remember what they have forgotten about themselves.

The fact that their greediness leads to Chihiro going forward all by herself doesn’t appear to be a stereotypical writing tactic because they immediately raise the stakes for the protagonist by turning into pigs. What if they are butchered, what if they can never return back to their human selves? Will Chihiro be able to save them?

These tense queries leave us with no time to wonder about any cliché, we are hooked to witness the unfolding of the uncanny drama. We forget the rest.


The Setting

The vast stretch of grassland, the well-lit restaurant market, the flooded river with big bright carrier ships, the Bathhouse building and rooms, the staircases, the pigsty, Kamaji’s boiler room, Chihiro’s dormitory, the witches’ dwelling, the railway track under the ocean and the dainty cloudy blue sky… the film’s setting contributes richly in making us feel the Chihiro’s “spiriting away”.

It is unique and dreamy, it is intense and crowded, scenic and sublime, wonderful and ridiculous and more… the setting makes the story believable and palpable in a brilliant way. It is a place we have never been, yet is remarkably familiar… like a forgotten memory.

*

The spirit realm.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – ghibli.fandom.com]

‘Spirited Away’ is one of the most loved and successful anime of all time; a bundle of magical moments and surprises, tussles and raptures, it connects with our inner child, one who believed in dreams and magic and talismans…

It reminds the forgetful ones that they too can find a way out of the crudeness that ties them down, that the answer to their thousand questions and their endless search lies within, hidden in a forgotten memory.


Spirited Away (2001)

Written and Directed by – Hayao Miyazaki

Production Company – Studio Ghibli

Music by – Joe Hisaishi

Winner of Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (making it the only hand-drawn, non-English-language animated film to win the award); it was also named the second “Best Film… of the 21st Century So Far” by The New York Times.

It held the record of becoming the most successful and highest-grossing film in Japanese history for 19 years (Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train broke its record in 2020.)


Read these reviews to know more about Spirited Away

A magical dot over in the corner – Spirited Away movie review and summary by Roger Ebert

Spirited Away‘ at 20 – Review


Weekly Newsletter

A weekly dose of stories! Get the posts from the Chiming Stories in your inbox and read it when you can. Subscribe now, it is free!


Recent Posts


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!


Weekly Newsletter

A weekly dose of stories! Get the posts from the Chiming Stories in your inbox and read it when you can. Subscribe now, it is free!


Recent Posts


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.

Random Sketches By R.K Laxman

 
 
 
 
It talked to me and I listened quietly… it talked about the rugged old path that awaits coming of the travellers… travellers who are in the search for a new land and a new sky, a fresh start full of hope; the smoothened grass and dry pebbles, the inquisitive birds and the pleasant wind, the old temple and the thatched huts all count the footsteps and welcome the happy hubbub.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It talked about the decrepit palaces hiding its mysterious past from the sharp gazes, waiting for the patient one to stop by. The glorious lives and horrific battles have so much to share.
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
The flora and fauna sang a soulful tune, absorbed in it and lost in the moment. The jungle painted the sky with leaves.
 
 

 

 

 

 

 
 
It talked about the people, their traditions, their beliefs and their stories; that look, that frown, that toothless smile, that gnarled nod and the dancing feet spoke to me and I listened quietly.
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
And I found out then, how magical the ordinary is.
 
 
 

Weekly Newsletter

A weekly dose of stories! Get the posts from the Chiming Stories in your inbox and read it when you can. Subscribe now, it is free!


Recent Posts


She

She is just ten years old. Talkative and curious by nature, she wishes to know, but only about the magical, the dreamlike and the pleasing.

Her world is of all the shades of pink. With the warmth of an honest, caring canopy overhead, she looks at the stars and floats in the Milky Way.

There is ample clarity in everything she sees and time’s her friend – blistering fast or dragging slow. There is only one melody she is tuned to and it is called life.

She is living in her own world, within and without.
Image from Pixabay.

She is young and brave. Quietly, she observes the world and the world within her, laughs at her.

Battling the questions and transforming the answers, she moves ahead with every failure and tries to fathom the success.

A mirror walks with her; she has broken it umpteen times but they are still in a relationship. Her cries, her sighs, her laughs, her smiles, her ways and one life… all packed in a rucksack is her pride and joy.

The doubtful star burns with her glare and the rhythm of change trespasses the old.

She is living for others now and has placed herself on the top shelf, in a green trunk, under an old book. Close to many and far from herself, she is standing on the border – this way or that way… her life is slipping away…

She just woke up and whatever was under the old book, in a green trunk, on the top shelf she burned that rusted world to dust.

Walking on ashes, she turns black and grey until the mirror returns. It is not going to be joyous all through, but she doesn’t mind the sound of a burned guitar.

They say she is weak and crouched, that she hears less and that her wrinkles make her a puzzle. A puzzle indeed and a child from within, no one knows what a good time she is having.

Her old eyes shine like a starry night and things magically appear and disappear with her touch. The words cannot express bliss; she is singing, hear this – ‘La-la, li-li, o, la-la, li-li’.

She is extraordinary. She is over there, can you see her? I know you can.


Weekly Newsletter

A weekly dose of stories! Get the posts from the Chiming Stories in your inbox and read it when you can. Subscribe now, it is free!


Recent Posts