January 3, 2007

Rabbit, Cat, Owl Creatures In The Forest


"My neighbor Totoro, Totoro, Totoro, Totoro, plays an ocarina on moonlit nights. My neighbor Totoro, Totoro, Totoro, Totoro, if you should ever meet, wonderful fortune will come to you."

Leading up to the vacation, Cinecultist was feeling a little movied out. A scary thought, we know, but it does happen at the end of the year. Fortunately over the long New Year's weekend, Cinecultist got a bit of the movie yen back. Whew, right? Part of what helped get CC back on the horse was immersing ourselves in some cinema screen magic courtesy of Hayao Miyazaki and Chris Marker.

On DVD we watched My Neighbor Totoro, then at Film Forum on Monday night we went to see The Case of the Grinning Cat. Coincidentally both movies are about seeing something no one else can see and the cuteness of animals. Though interestingly, they're also both about sadness and loss, including depressing elements like mothers in the hospital or international wars.

If you need your "awww" reflex realigned, Miyazaki is your guy. My Neighbor Totoro made us want to hug everything in sight. Two little girls, Satsuki and Mei, move to the countryside with their Dad so they can be closer to their Mom who is in the hospital for TB. There they discover they can see forest spirits like the dust creatures that live in their house and their neighbor, Totoro, a rabbit/cat/owl looking thing that has teeth, roars like a lion, flies, and appreciates the loan of an umbrella during a rainstorm. This movie is so ridiculously charming that it even softened our usual dislike for the child actress phenom Dakota Fanning, who does the voice of Satsuki in the English version. Watching Dakota and her sister Elle, who plays Mei, clowning around during the voice recording, the Miyazaki cuteness washed over our past annoyance at their precociousness. See how powerful his movies can be?

Chris Marker also understands the power of cute to sooth. He noticed a graffiti artist in Paris decorating the city with perilously perched smiling orange cats and began filming their appearances and disappearances. Marker equates the "chat" with Parisian life, and sees that spirit as similar to the French tendency to take to the street in protest. Politics, art, graffiti, mystery and cute kitty cats are all woven together by Marker's charming observational abilities. He has such a deft touch, with the editing and the voice over, keeping his movies light but not insignificant. That's another element that he and Miyazaki have in common, being able to make their viewers feel without beating them over the head with meaning.

Posted by karen at January 3, 2007 10:30 AM