Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki has shaped dozens of gorgeous films under his production company Studio Ghibli, and all of them can be ecstatically savored under the influence of marijuana. The projects are each rife with fantasy, spooks, mythical forest creatures and strong young heroines. If you enjoy a complex epic detailing the endless struggle between man and nature, you might try “Princess Mononoke.” For an adventure akin to “Alice in Wonderland,” set inside the strange and wondrous spirit world, see Academy Award winner “Spirited Away.” If you are new to Miyazaki, though, you should start with “My Neighbor Totoro,” (1993) the director’s gentlest and most earnest film.
“Totoro” is about two young sisters, Satsuki and Mei, who move with their father to the countryside of rural Japan. Their mother is sick in the hospital, but they visit her often, and she promises to be home soon. The sisters miss their mom, but dutifully take care of each other. At one point Mei runs away, following a quarrel with Satsuki, but no harm befalls her. And … that’s it. Nothing else really happens. The story has no villains, and barely any discernible conflict to move the plot forward; it’s more about small moments of discovery and imagination, how playing outdoors can foster all the thrills you need. The girls encounter friendly forest sprites living near their house; the largest and furriest is named Totoro, and he lets 4-year-old Mei take a nap on his enormous tummy. Totoro watches over the small family – and while in an American film he might also teach the girls some wise lesson, or rescue them from a threat, Miyazaki is more subtle and mysterious than that. Totoro is merely an inscrutable, if benevolent, presence on the outskirts of their lives.
“My Neighbor Totoro” is only a tiny bit frightening and surprising – but not enough to startle you out of a comfortable, cozy high (should you smoke before watching – and you should). The story takes place in a veritable utopia, a world where monsters are cuddly instead of vicious, full of lush green fields, muted pastel colors, and voluminous clouds skating across a blue sky. The animation comes alive with ambient noises like rainfall on a pond or the rustle of wind through trees. Most adults relish the delights of Disney or Pixar; but if you also crave a movie with less false Western cheerfulness, replete with more whimsy and melancholy, Miyazaki is the right choice for you.
Anya Jaremko-GreenwoldDGO Staff Writer