Tears for Japan: My Neighbor Totoro

15 Mar

Whatever I might write here about the ongoing devastation in Japan, the situation will have changed by the time you read it.

All I know is that I think of the Japanese rural areas affected by the quakes, the tsunamis, the radiation releases, and I can only imagine Totoro weeping.

My Neighbor Totoro is a sweet film about two girls living in rural Japan, their parents, and the forest spirits who watch over and protect them. Nothing happens quickly in this film, and nothing should. It is a meditation on love, on family, and perhaps also on animism, one of the basic principles of Shinto, a significant religion in Japan. It tells a story about fear, and love, and joy, and being comforted and helped by spirits that perhaps nobody else can see, or understand.

Totoro may not be the sort of spirit one would pray to for intervention. While he occasionally does step in to save the day, he’s more the type to give quiet comfort, to roar and fly and pull full-grown trees quickly from the ground. He’s whimsical, and childlike at times. Umbrellas confuse and delight him. He doesn’t always seem to understand how large he is (look how he tries to protect himself from the rain in the movie poster pictured here).

I’ve heard from a couple friends in the Tokyo area, and they both tell the same story: Stranded after the earthquake, impossibly long walk home, difficult logistics, continuing aftershocks, new challenges. And the situation in Tokyo doesn’t compare to the level of devastation nearer the epicenter.

I think of Totoro, and his quiet comfort, and I hope something like that is with the people of Japan today.

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