My Neighbor Totoro and a sense of foreboding

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Narg
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My Neighbor Totoro and a sense of foreboding

Post by Narg »

I thought it would be interesting to see if anyone else experienced this while watching My Neighbor Totoro. For a large portion of the film I felt a very strong sense that something was going to go badly wrong for the characters. The mysterious illness of the mother, the father arriving back from work after a worrying amount of time being late, the disappearance of the little sister. Each of these scenes felt like the movie was perilously close to something bad happening, but then it is revealed to have not been a dangerous situation in the first place. The mother really did just have a cold, the father missed his train, and the sister was found uninjured. This seemed to me like the film was making a deliberate gesture towards the possibility of tragedy in the story, but then pulled back each time. This feeling wasn't just me recognizing that the film was at least partially about fearing the death of a family member, but was me genuinely believing that the film was going to include a death of one of the family members. I'm guessing that this feeling is not exclusive to my experience with the film and is partially responsible for the "Totoro is a death god" theory. Was this just me interpreting the film differently or was this feeling intentional on the part of Miyazaki?

Anomaly
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Re: My Neighbor Totoro and a sense of foreboding

Post by Anomaly »

No, I can't say that I felt that. It is a good point that the film seems to repeatedly flirt with the possibility of disaster while never going through with it, but in my viewing that was never really something that drew my attention beyond some superficial worrying. Miyazaki successfully kept that all at arm's length. Out of sight, out of mind. It's interesting that you seemed to hone in on that thread in particular. Anything else you can say about what tipped you off?

I looked up the whole "death god" and murder theories and found them incredibly strained. I'd doubt Miyazaki put that tension there intentionally, but it doesn't mean other people didn't feel that. It just seems to be a minority position, is all.

snallygaster
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Re: My Neighbor Totoro and a sense of foreboding

Post by snallygaster »

Well, in contrast to Anomaly, I feel that sense of forboding throughout whenever I watch it. Not so much with regard to the tension and release of individual plot points, but all coming back to the mother's illness. As you mention, there's a crisis that resolves when it turns out she "just had a cold," but she is dealing with some kind of long-term serious illness (I've always assumed tuberculosis, because it's always tuberculosis, and it fits with them moving to the countryside, but I don't think they ever mention what it is). The movie's about Mei & Satsuki trying to deal with the fear & stress of their situation. It's not the only way to view to the movie, obviously, but I think it's clearly intentional.

Fun fact: My Neighbor Totoro was originally released as a double feature with Grave of the Fireflies. That'll prime your dead mother fears.

Anomaly
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Re: My Neighbor Totoro and a sense of foreboding

Post by Anomaly »

Yeah, I love that fact. Talk about whiplash.

Corbad
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Re: My Neighbor Totoro and a sense of foreboding

Post by Corbad »

Apparently the first draft or even cut of the film ended without the sister being found! I can't find the source after a quick minute of search, so I could be wrong, but I remember learning that at some point.

prowler
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Re: My Neighbor Totoro and a sense of foreboding

Post by prowler »

i'm gonna echo Narg and snallygaster and say I also felt the foreboding. For me it starts when they first enter the house and get spooked by the black dirtballs.

i can't imagine this not being an intentional move by Miyazaki, and I see it as a critique of the (often cheap) devices used in cinema to create tension or drama. It's like he's saying, look how brainwashed you've been by all these movies, you're trained to expect something bad, but this world is too magically good for that to happen. It's like the onus is on us, the audience, to renounce our cynicism and feel safe to embrace a more daring and creative outlook.

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