#200 : My Neighbor Totoro

Imagine a world with the perfect neighbors. Mr. Rogers would be among them, John Lennon too and maybe even a giant furry woodland creature who represents all of nature and what is great in life. This is not just any furry woodland troll, he is in fact one of the defining symbols of a little studio named Ghibli and even anime as well. Totoro represents the magic we often need in our lives to make everything work and often times we forget this when we get so stuck in our day to day lives. Hayao Miyazaki is responsible for bringing many characters to life, but Totoro is something on another level. For two lucky children, this mythical creature would bring much into their lives as both a guardian and a loyal friend. I now want to return again to a place of peace. Return again to My Neighbor Totoro.

“I’m going up the country, baby don’t you want to go? I’m going up the country, baby don’t you want to go? I’m going to some place, I’ve never been before.” How about a little Canned Heat for good measure and no this is not going to be a trip out to Woodstock. Ah man I was looking forward to Richie Havens, Santana and Jimi Hendrix…

MNT_1Another time, another place… a family buys a country home that’s slightly run down, surrounded by lush greenery and has lots of mysteries including dust sprites and acorns scattered in odd places. The story dynamic is basic. So basic I argue there isn’t really a story. It is more like the unfolding of our lives… things just happen. As the father and two girls get situated into this new home they wait patiently for the ailing mother to recuperate from an illness in the hospital. During this waiting period we find the two girls exploring this ‘Garden of Eden’ like paradise. The encounters they have are nothing like they have ever experienced before. Trees, streams and clean fresh air abound. And then, like magic, a chance discovery of a large nature spirit. Isn’t he just some kind of giant odd rabbit? Nope, he is Totoro and it is he who gives these girls the greatest adventures of their lives. Be it growing a large tree, flying in the skies, enjoying time in the rain, or riding a cat bus… cat bus?… yes a cat bus! It’s the only way to travel!

MNT_2Much of Miyazaki’s experience both personally and professionally made this film the way it is. His childhood memories about his own mother’s illness and his staunch believe in being in accord with the natural world around us are ever present. In true auteur fashion the world he created in Totoro is and was the ideal childhood he did have, or perhaps wished he also had at the same time. He would craft a family film unlike any other that even to this day still stands out. This is not so much a story, but a feeling, an experience, a place of solitude. Stylistically, Totoro is as much about the totality of Miyazaki’s experience as an animator more so than originality. Why not borrow what works from previous productions; after all it ain’t broke…

MNT_3From the opening credit sequence we see influence from his work on early Toei films and the short Panda Go Panda movies he did with Takahata. The giant panda from Panda Go Panda is much like a precursor to the giant Totoro n terms of stature and facial expression. The lush green of the scenery and the placing of children into the wilderness where they can run free brings back memories and influence from his work on Heidi, Girl of the Alps. The main characterization of a strong young female lead, Satsuki, is reminiscent of Nausicaä from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Little Mai could have been Mimiko from Panda Go Panda. Even the father looks a little like a young Miyazaki from my eye. Totoro could be an amalgam of everything Hayao Miyazaki had done up to that point in terms of animation? I argue that this movie is both autobiographical and a snapshot of his portfolio at that point in time.

MNT_4Many of us have a place in our hearts for My Neighbor Totoro and I too have a special relationship to this film in regards to the Studio Ghibli catalog. By no means my all time favorite Ghibli film, though I admire Totoro very highly, this was my very first experience of both the work of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki. At the time I was not very well prepared being more into sci-fi and mecha properties. Here was a simple, yet highly complex film about nature, relationship dynamics, wonder and the magic of childhood. Yet I knew something of substance was there from the very beginning. I was now in the grasp of the Ghibli and Miyazaki’s visual presentation style. A style that spares no expense in creating a world that is beautiful and as close to tangible reality as I ave ever encountered in animation. While this was not Akira, another film released in 1988, in terms of action, intensity, or atmosphere, Totoro would show me another way of visual expression. More yin in approach compared to the yang of Akira.

MNT_5Masterpiece… My Neighbor Totoro is just that being a movie about simple living, quiet moments and being outside in the ‘real’ world. As I have aged these facets have become more my regular pattern of existence. Action and far out stories used to be my mythology and it still has it’s a place, but now the world of Totoro is more in accord of where I am presently. That being said I respect Totoro more today than I did in the beginning as I have grown into a place to call my own home in all the ups and downs of life. Even with the under lying tensions in the plot of this movie (with the mother’s illness), a place of serenity was found. The same holds true in many aspects of our lives. Yet it is the knowing about the simple quiet place where we can truly just be and that is true reality. Be present, be here now, I shall forever be with you my friend, My Neighbor Totoro.

#189 : The Story of Pollyanna, Girl of Love

We all need something to be glad about… to find the simple things that bring joy in either the moments of happiness, or difficulty. Can one individual have the power to spread this love to others? Of course it is possible and in many ways a child is the one who can often share this superpower. Eleanor H. Porter created such a character, Pollyanna Whittier, with the classic novels Pollyanna and Pollyanna Grows Up. Both novels would be adapted into an anime that was featured in the lineup of the Nippon Animation’s hallmark series World Masterpiece Theater. Let us return to a tale known as The Story of Pollyanna, Girl of Love.

Pollyanna_1The more I watch any of the World Masterpiece Theater series, the more of a fan I become of these shows. Truly a treasure trove of well crafted stories that offer an alternative to the busier familiarity of mecha, magical girls and high school comedies. For this entry, Pollyanna and I had to wrap up some unfinished business. I watched approximately the first half of this 51 episode series back in 2015/2016 for a panel I was doing on 1986. This was my second World Masterpiece Theater show after Little Princess Sara. I enjoyed what I saw and had enough to work with for my panel, but that final half was nagging at me for years. Just recently I made a point to finish Pollyanna to the end. 1986 was a great year for anime on TV, ever here of Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya, Maison Ikkoku? What about Hikaru no Densetsu, or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? All these shows I enjoyed or loved, but when I finished Pollyanna I never realized that I missed out on something special.

Pollyanna_2The first half of the series retells the Pollyanna novel with the second half adapting Pollyanna Grows Up. Beginning from humble origins to live with an aunt in need of a consciousness shift, Pollyanna would soon spread her kindness to the entire town of Beldingsville. Even with setbacks, some life threatening, Pollyanna preservers. She even brings her magic to Boston in the second half of the series to basically start the whole process over again. Along the way she meets othet children who become loyal allies and also saviors of her special touch of connecting good people together. I also cannot forget her most loyal companion, a furry friend because every show needs one, a chipmunk named… Chipmunk (Chipamunku!). Perhaps one of the most heart warming and surprising shows I have ever seen where in the second half a mystery unravels itself until the very end.

Pollyanna_3And I guess I just spoiled the plot? Not completely folks, I have only provided a skeleton to work off of. So many nuances are in Pollyanna that kept me going, but perhaps the one element that flavored my need to continue was a knock on wood usual contender… relationship dynamics. The way Pollyanna brings life back to everyone, inspires hope and delivers love in times of need lives up to the reputation of someone being a ‘Pollyanna’. The simple joy of being glad, or happy about the little things that we have in the present moment is something we often forget… so don’t forget it! 😉 The fact that your ‘family’ can come in any shape, size, or circumstance is shown that it does not matter who you are, or what has happened to you in life, when you allow love to permeate the hard ice exterior of isolation, or depression, you will be healed!

Pollyanna_4The Story of Pollyanna, Girl of Love… I can only say that my life now can be categorized as pre-Pollyanna and post-Pollyanna. The beauty of this show is that it can change lives, or continue to further influence those who are on the path to give some sort of love into a situation that is difficult. I don’t have children myself, but I deeply respect all of them for what those who I have met have influenced me as an adult to become a better human being. I do have a niece that I love dearly who reminds me of Miss Whittier as she has always been my staunch cheerleader all through out her life. I dedicate this entry to you Sophia… without you my life would not be the same.

#166 : Stop!! Hibari-kun!

Be on the lookout for white alligators! … In essence Stop!! Hibari-kun! is like many screwball high school romance, or family comedies that can be easily overlooked. And with it being a Shonen Jump property, I am sure Stop!! Hibari-kun! goes more with High School Kimengumi in the overlooked pile being it is a sibling to more popular heavy weights like Dragon Ball, or more fitting Kimagure Orange Road (romcom over action). Gender identity, yakuzas, family and comedic sequences that stretch the boundaries of believed reality and science are what makes this 1983 TV series a laugh out loud insane asylum, though there is one joke I don’t see as all that funny, but I take it in stride.

SHk_1Every show of this category has it’s niche that defines the comical plot and undertones that define other characters actions. Stop!! Hibari-kun’s! has two with the first being that Hibari is an early example of an openly honest transgender character in anime. Through she is often referred to as he, or a crossdresser, or sometimes… a… ‘pervert’? For real? Men who decide to wear women’s clothes, women who like to be more masculine, or those beautiful souls who identify as trans are not perverts! Hibari as a strong willed character defends her identity with ease because she knows she is awesome at everything… literally, she is a prodigy at almost anything! Many others do not grow up as confident, and also identify somewhere different on the gender spectrum and that word of ‘pervert’ only creates internalized shame and guilt. Times may have changed, but we are still only in the beginnings of gender acceptance

SHk_2The running joke of the cute ‘girl’ is really a ‘boy’… transwoman!… creates havoc on Stop!! Hibari-kun’s! other main protagonist Kosaku Sakamoto. After his mothers death he comes under the care of the Obari family, who happen to be yakuza, yet another layer to add to the plotline. Kosaku notices that old man Obari has only daughters and eyes onto Hibari… and then the secret gets out and this creates tension within Kosaku. Wow, she is adorable, but she is… this can’t be right… oh Kosaku… you know you want her! All the other boys at school are jealous that she likes you, but they see her as any other cis-girl. As even the opening credits says, color TVs have many shades of color and the same thing applies to boys and girls. If only Stop!! Hibari-kun! came out more recently instead of 1983, Kosaku may be more open to a relationship outside the cis-normative binary.

SHk_3Beyond the upsetting of traditional gender roles and stereotyping, the majority of Stop!! Hibari-kun! is the loaded with stock and trade high school, family and yes even yakuza antics that can ring true no matter the show… you have to laugh because this show is very funny. This of course includes the entire cast, which by show’s end must contain the entire population of the world of Stop!! Hibari-kun. The comedy, action and even certain characters go into levels of campiness and surreal insanity that kept me wanting each successive episode. What will happen next time?, top that?, or boundaries?… limits?… let‘s break them up! This is the advantage of using animation as a medium for comedy as why be subtle when anything, and I mean anything can be possible. Yet the most poignant moment of the show was Hibari meeting someone else who is also transgender, using the term newhalf. It gave her a sense of grounding and me as well that despite all the silliness, white alligators and insanity, we can also have a sparse moment that recognizes we are not alone even if we feel a little different.

SHk_4My biggest complaint beyond the use of the word ‘pervert’ was that Stop!! Hibari-kun ran far too short in the episode count. Just 35? I was getting warmed up, but alas certain show runs are often limited; I am fortunate we got we have that is available. This was a welcome entry both as a comedy and also as a show depicting someone who is transgender. I often wonder what happened to Hibari? Did she fully transition, or does she live fluidly, or something else? Maybe the manga has more to say on this… it often does usually. Don’t Stop! Hibari-kun!

Side note… the actors who played Kosaku and Hibari… Tohru Furuya and Satomi Majima respectively are husband and wife!