So I just saw, for the first time, Hayao Miyazaki's 1988 film 'My Neighbour Totoro' (Tonari no Totoro) and I have to say I was gobsmacked. This isn't going to be a review, just some thoughts that sprang to mind as I watched it.
Firstly, if you want a film packed full of action, witty dialogue and evil bad guys, look elsewhere. Totoro is a slow, quiet film about a couple of young girls find nature spirits in the woods around their new home. I have little knowledge of Japanese culture, which is a shame as I'm betting such knowledge would have greatly enhanced the film's meaning. However, even I could guess that the spirits (headed by a lovely, gentle, bear-like creature called Totoro) represent elements of the Shinto religion. The cat-bus spirit was a great thing.
Another thing I noticed was that, although all the way through the film it seems light-hearted, like a child running and jumping after a butterfly (as indeed happens at some points), the viewer knows that there is something a little more menacing about it. We know that their mother in hospital might be suffering from something more severe than she told the girls. We know that money may be tight, which is why they have moved to a rickety old haunted shack in the country-side. These two sides are kept deliberately seperate. However, the film need only remind you of them, and the wall between them becomes thinner, the film darker. By maintaining a constant threat to do just that, the film succeeds in being both very dark, and incredibly light-hearted at the same time.
The characters are incredible. Miyazaki proves once again that he can define a character effortlessly with a few lines of dialogue, and then smack you down with a few more and completely re-define the way you think of that character.
That's all I'm going to say for now, but I strongly advise you to watch this film if you get the chance.