Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Totoro's Ghosts

This morning I watched a Japanese film called My Neighbor Totoro with my children.  Totoro is a haunted house movie, although it is nothing like any haunted house movie you would ever see in America.  As I sat watching Totoro this morning,  I got to thinking about the amazing difference in perceptions of the spirit world and the world of ghosts between the Japanese and the Americans.   Different culture's perceptions of ghosts have always fascinated me.   I  once went to a cemetery with a friend from Taiwan and he said that his mother would be furious with him because he didn't go to the temple to cleanse afterwards.  Apparently, his mother believes that ghosts can be carried with you if you don't go to the temple.  Miyazaki's movie, Totoro, and many of his other films, show a vision of ghosts and spirits that is so different from our vision of ghosts it is amazing and completely charming.

In the movie Totoro, two little girls move into a house that is known to be haunted.  In America, this is the beginning of a horror movie.  For Miyazaki, this is the beginning of a lovely adventure.  The little girls know the house they live in is haunted and they aren't afraid.  In fact, they go hunting the soot gremlins that live in the attic and when their father finds out the house is haunted he yells, in a most joyous voice, "I have wanted to live in a haunted house since I was a boy."   Clearly, the negative associations we have with hauntings are not  present.

Of course, in Japanese folklore, there are many, many spirits. Every object has a spirit and these spirits are usually good or at least neutral.   The spirit world is ever present and in Totoro the little girls' journey into the spirit world is more than fun.   I love this haunted house movie because it is the absolute opposite of everything Americans expect of a haunted house movie.  It is delightful and fun and worth watching on a sunny morning with your children.

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