I’d like to take a moment to tell you all about a particular man. I’m not going to name him because quite frankly you don’t need this man in your life, but trust me when I say that he is very real. This man may very well be, at least ideologically speaking, the worst person on the planet alive today. He has a website (which I’m not going to link) where he posts articles about things like how a Jewish conspiracy runs the entire world from the shadows, and how feminism is a disease which can be “cured.” He has an article that’s literally just called “Anti Semitism is Often Justified.” And I know I said that this week’s article was supposed to be brighter, and I promise it will be, just bear with me on this for a second.
Nestled in the more recent half of his archives is an article entitled “Japanese Children’s Cartoon Lifts the Spirit.” In this particular article he talks about how his wife brought home a copy of the Studio Ghibli film My Neighbor Totoro and he thought it was great. He praises (director) Hayao Miyazaki and the world he created, which he describes as “without evil.” He goes on to say that “the feelings of a child resonated in [him.]”
Let me take a second to reiterate this: My Neighbor Totoro is so delightful that the man who hates literally everything can’t find something to hate about it.
And that’s amazing! That’s the most genuine praise that anyone has had for anything ever. That should be on the back of the box of every Blu-Ray of Totoro from now until the end of time. It speaks volumes about how truly wonderful Totoro (and by extension, most of Ghibli’s back-catalogue) is.
And really, when you think about it, what is there to dislike about Totoro? It’s gorgeous. Everyone is adorable. It has a happy ending. It has Catbus, and Catbus is the best thing ever. It inspired Avatar: The Last Airbender. There is no downside.
I think there’s a sore lack of films – media in general, really – that offer that kind of consequence-free optimism lately. For example, my girlfriend finally sat me down to watch Whiplash last night. And it was amazing. But Whiplash is, in its simplest form, a story about two people that suck who hate each other. It’s deadly serious. The only arguably “bright” spot comes from J.K. Simmons’ sheer assholishness being a little funny.
And serious movies, movies with a lot of grit and anger and low lighting have always had their place. Movies about overcoming adversity, or movies where suffering makes us learn a lesson. Or whatever. And those are often very powerful works of film, I’m not trying to detract from these works at all.
But that kind of earnest Ghibli-esque positivity hasn’t been seen, at least in American media, in an awfully long time. The plot is not driven forward by increasingly heinous levels of conflict, but by layer upon layer of wondrous mystery. You keep watching because you want to see what beautiful or fantastical image will come next, not because you want to see Mei overcome some heinous tragedy through sheer force of will.
Where’s the adorable films? I want more adorable films.