Giri and Ninjo: The Roots of Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro in Animated Adaptations of Classic Children's Literature
Greenberg, Raz, Literature/Film Quarterly
In this essay I examine the literary roots of Hayao Miyazaki s 1988 feature JViJ/ Neighbor Totoro (originally titled Tonari no Totora], which is arguably the film that gained Miyazaki his international acclaim as Japans and one of the world s leading directors of animated features. The film was Miyazakis fourth animated feature, and while his previous features gained strong reaction from the animation community worldwide, My Neighbor Totoro attracted the attention of such figures as acclaimed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, who placed it on his personal list of 100 best films of all time (McCarthy 132-33), and influential film critic Roger Ebert, who widely praised the film upon its initial American release and later included it in his list of "Great Movies." This critical attention led the way to Miyazaki winning the Academy Award for his 2001 feature Spirited Away (originally titled Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakusht), but it also demonstrates his ability to appeal to both the authence in his native Japan and all over the world. As this essay will show, in the case of My Neighbor Totoro, part of this appeal can be attributed to the influence of western works of children's literature on the film.
The plot of My Neighbor Totoro follows two sisters, four-year-old Mei and nineyear-old Satsuki, who live in Japan during the 1950s. Along with their father, the two sisters move to a new house in the country's rural area, close to a hospital where their mother is being treated for an unspecified disease. Despite the great excitement of moving and exploring their new environment, both protagonists fear for their mother's health, especially Satsuki, who is old enough to understand that her mother might die as a result of her medical condition. They find solace in their friendship with Totoro, a strange creature that lives in the forest, whose appearance combines that of a tanuki (Japanese raccoon), a cat, and an owl.
Though it certainly carries many of the themes that Miyazaki explored in his previous features, My Neighbor Totoro also marks many changes in the narrative nature of the director's work, changes that may explain why it got so much attention outside the animation community. While Miyazakis three previous films consisted of action-oriented, fast-moving adventure plots, two of them featuring "men of action" protagonists who were accompanied by far more passive female characters,1 the protagonists oí My Neighbor Totoro are not only female, but the gradual development of their characters is the main theme of the film. And this development is presented not through an action-oriented plot, but through an episodic examination of their daily childhood life.
Above all, My Neighbor Totoro differs from Miyazakis three previous features in the director's choice of the film's location; this is Miyazaki 's first feature to take place in Japan and can in a sense be called his first truly Japanese film, as opposed to the cosmopolitan (pseudo-European or futuristic-post-apocalyptic) scenery of his previous films. It also remains his most personal film; Miyazaki himself grew up in Japan during the 1950s, and like the film's protagonists, his mother fell ill with tuberculosis and was hospitalized at the time.
But as noted above, classic works of western children's literature were an equally strong influence on the film. These works gained popularity with the Japanese authence during the 1970s through animated television adaptations that strongly corresponded with Japanese social concepts. Miyazaki was involved with the production of several such adaptations, and this involvement paved the road to the structure and themes of My Neighbor Totoro - moving back and forth between western and Japanese elements, seamlessly blending the two into what turned out to be a highly acclaimed film.
Giri and Ninjo
Miyazaki's involvement with animated adaptations of classic children's literature began in the 1970s, and as noted above, the roots of My Neighbor Totoro are strongly evident in these adaptations from their very basic premise; the shows follow young girls through their everyday life in a somewhat slow pace, which is very different from the fast-moving plots of the other projects that involved Miyazaki prior to his becoming a feature-film director. However, though Miyazaki served in a large variety of production roles related to these adaptations, he did not direct any of them. They were directed by Isao Takahata, his long-time colleague (who later became - and still is - Miyazaki's partner in managing the animation studio Ghibli), and had an enormous influence on Takahata's later career as a feature-film director as well - notably in Takahata's tendency for realistic stories as opposed to Miyazaki's attraction to the fantastic.
Miyazaki's first significant involvement in such adaptations began in 1971, when he was sent by the animation studio ?-Pro to Sweden in a failed attempt to purchase the adaptation rights for Astrid Lindgren's children's novel Pippi Longstocking (McCarthy 39). Though he failed to secure the rights for the book, Lindgren's novel did inspire Miyazaki to develop two short films: Panda Kopanda (1972) and Panda Kopanda: Amefuri Sakasu no Moki (1973). Miyazaki wrote the scripts and contributed designs for both films, which were directed by Takahata.
These films follow the adventures of Mimiko, a young girl being raised by her grandmother after the death of her parents. When her grandmother needs to attend Mimiko's grandfather s memorial, Mimiko is left to take care of the house by herself. She quickly befriends a giant talking panda, whom she adopts as a new "father," while the panda cub is quick to adopt Mimiko herself as his "mother."
In many respects, both films are a retelling of different segments from Lindgren's novel, set in a Japanese environment. Despite the heroine s Japanese name, her looks - especially the red hair tied in ponytails - appear to be strongly inspired by Pippi, as does her physical strength, which she often demonstrates by standing on her hands. In addition, many of Mimiko's adventures mirror the exploits of the protagonist in Lindgren's novel in the embarrassment they cause representatives of the adult society, disturbing the well-ordered and well-organized nature of their life and work. Mostly, these are the same representatives found in Lindgren's story: a local police officer, Mimiko's school teacher, uninvited guests who break into Mimiko's house, and the staff of a wandering circus that comes to Mimiko's town.
As explained by Maria Nikolajeva (59-64), the embarrassment caused to representatives of the adult society by Pippis adventures is actually due to Pippis mission to expose the hypocrisy and absurdity of the adult world. An eternal child who never grows up, Pippi represents the idyllic realm of childhood and the joy that accompanies it, as opposed to the grimness of the well-ordered adult society. In this respect, however, Mimiko is somewhat different than the protagonist of Lindgren's novel, having absorbed elements of the adult society into her own life. Most of the embarrassment caused to the social representatives in the course of Mimiko's adventures is not the result of Mimiko's intentional actions, but rather of her friendship with the giant panda and his cub. This friendship is a childhood fantasy (although one that is accepted as part of the "reality" within the film by other characters), but it also shows Mimiko's attraction to the adult world; adopting the giant panda as a "father" and becoming herself a "mother" to his cub expresses Mimiko's longing for a normal, socially accepted family environment and hints at her wish to grow up and become a mother herself in the future. A prominent example of Mimiko's attraction to the adult order is found in the scene that takes place in her school; the mayhem in her class is caused not by Mimiko herself, but by the panda cub, who insisted on following her, and the ensuing embarrassment is felt not only by Mimiko's teacher and the school staff, but also by Mimiko herself, who understands (in sharp contrast to Pippi) the importance of school studies. Though both films celebrate the joy of childhood, they also hint that the adult world is something to which a child should aspire.
The complex relationship between the world of childhood and the world of adulthood in the Panda Kopanda movies can be seen as a reference to the relationship between two Japanese social concepts: Giri, which represents acceptable norms of behavior among other members of society, and Ninjo, which represents the individual's feelings and desires. The two terms were coined during Japan's medieval era, and though an individual is not necessarily in constant conflict between them, the tension between the two poles is the driving force in many traditional Japanese tales (Befu 168-71). In the Panda Kopanda films, the adult world is represented by Giri; society expects Mimiko to behave in a certain proper way among adults, and Mimiko often misbehaves, because much like Pippi, she has no parents to guide her about proper behavior in society, leading her to many embarrassing social situations. But unlike Lindgren's heroine, Mimiko does not rebel against the social norms of the adult world. On the contrary, her emotional world, her Ninjo, is ruled by her desire to fill the family vacuum in her life, evident by her attempts to adopt the giant panda and his cub as an alternate family, a family that can be her bridge into the adult world. In Miyazaki's Panda Kopanda script, the childhood emotional world of the Ninjo and the adult ordered world of the Giri do not contradict one other - growing up in a healthy, supportive environment of the former can lead to becoming a good member of society in the latter. This became a central theme in Miyazaki's later works.
The next adaptation of a classic children's novel that involves Miyazaki is an animated adaptation of Johanna Spyri 's novel Heidi, the tale of a young Swiss girl who goes to live with her grandfather in a mountain village in the Alps, and then must leave the village in order to take a job helping a disabled girl named Clara in Frankfurt. Heidi does not fit well within the urban environment of Frankfurt and becomes sick with longings for her grandfather.
Unlike the two Panda Kopanda films, Arupusu no Shôjo Haiji (Heidi, Girl of the Alps) was a direct adaptation of Spyri's novel, faithfully turning the original work into a long-running, 52-episode television series (originally broadcasted in 1974), created as part of the "World Masterpiece Theatre" project aimed at producing animated adaptations of classic children's literature. Takahata directed the episodes, while Miyazaki worked on it as designer and animator. The novel's presentation of the ideal simplicity in village life as opposed to the cold grimness in urban life (Griswold 1 ?20, 66) found its way into the adaptation as well, and the visual interpretation of this concept strengthens the childhood-Ninjo/adulthood-Giri dichotomy that was already evident in the Panda Kopanda movies.
The alpine scenery in which Heidi settles at the beginning of the series is a celebration ofNinjo; there is no guiding hand in the beauty of the tall mountains, wildgrowing trees, and animals that wander around freely - it is a carefree environment where the individual's desires and emotions can be freely expressed. Heidi becomes immersed almost immediately in this environment; in one of the series' early scenes she joins a herd of goats in one of the fields, imitates their movements, and gradually undresses to her undergarments - out of the dress-codes of the adult world. In later episodes, through her friendship with Peter, a boy her age who works as a goatherd, she gains an even deeper respect for the "emotional" nature of her surroundings, such as the wild weather, and puts an end to many "adult traits" of the people around her, such as her grandfather's cold and reclusive attitude or plans to put down her favorite goat. The childish innocence that guides Heidi s actions helps her in achieving these goals, but it is supported by the setting in which she performs these actions - an environment conducive to emotion, where the strict nature of the adult world is not dominant.
Upon arriving in Frankfurt, Heidi finds herself in a very different environment; the logic behind the city's architecture (labyrinthine streets and tall buildings that seem to stretch endlessly, as she looks at them from the top of a church's bell tower), and the strict attitude of Miss Rottenmeier (Clara's governess) are all representative of the Giri - of social codes and expectations that the individual must meet in the adult world, and that the adult world expects children to adopt at an early age. Miss Rottenmeier is appalled by Heidi's ignorance on a variety of subjects, from table manners to literacy, all adult traits that are not particularly essential in the alpine village from which she came. Though other members of Claras family (her father and grandmother) are more sympathetic toward Heidi, and though she learns the skills of the ordered life in the city, it is a painful process that makes her physically ill. Heidi's return to the alpine village not only heals her, but it also heals Clara - after visiting and staying with both Heidi and Peter in the mountains, Clara finally manages to stand and walk, something she could not do in the city. Though this could be seen as a victory of the Ninjo emotional childhood in the village over the Giri adult life in the city, the show also makes it clear that during her time in the city, Heidi has also absorbed traits of the adult Giri world, and still puts them to use - for example, she continues her school studies. Though the village environment is presented as a healthier place where children can flourish, the show also hints that at some point they will need to "grow out" of what it represents - to accept the adult world while growing up. Again, a good child can become a good adult.
The last adaptation of a classic children's novel that involves Miyazaki is Anne of Green Gables, based on the book by Canadian author Lucy Maude Montgomery. Originally broadcasted throughout 1979, the series follows the story of Anne, a young girl adopted by aging siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, who own a farm on Prince Edward Island. In many ways, the show closed a cycle for Takahata and Miyazaki, a cycle that began with the Panda Kopanda films. As noted by Nikolajeva (51), the protagonist of Montgomery's novel starts, much like Pippi, as an energetic and imaginative child whose behavior often conflicts with the adult society that surrounds her, but ends the novel by growing up, surrendering to the norms of the adult society. Indeed, the early episodes of the show often dramatize scenes from Anne's imagination, mostly idealized versions of her new surroundings in Green Gables and romantic dreams, scenes that contrast with the scolding she often took for her improper behavior (mostly from Marilla) in her interaction with the adult society - in school, in church, and in the general company of adult characters.
Another prominent element in the show is the grudge that Anne holds against Gilbert Blythe, a boy who mocked her in school, and despite his many attempts to apologize, she refuses to forgive him. As both characters grow up in the course of the series, it is clear that Blythe is attracted to Anne, and this attraction scares Anne; it represents a stage beyond her childhood, one that she is afraid to embrace. Such attraction, and the adult society it represents, frightens Anne beyond her relationship with Blythe; in one episode she expresses her fear that her good friend Dianna will fall for a boy and that it will ruin their friendship.
Like the novel that inspired it, the series ends with Anne's acceptance of the adult societies' norms; instead of the imaginative girl who idealizes her surroundings in her fantasies, she learns to accept the difficult reality by choosing to stay in Green Gables and take care of Marilla, and makes up with Gilbert Blythe- a hint of their relationship and eventual marriage in the future novels (that were not part of the animated adaptation). liArupusu no Shôjo Haiji ended with an apparent victory of childhood's Ninjo over the Giri of the adult world, then Akage no Anne appears to end with the latter s victory - Anne leaving childhood and moving to the adult world. But the series also emphasizes that it is Anne's strong will and imaginative childhood that allow her to make this passage; both make society recognize her talents as a clever and creative person (demonstrated in her achievements as a student), and she repays society by talking responsibilities, such as taking care of the aging Manila. As in the Panda. Kopanda movies and in Arupusu no Shôjo Haiji, we see the process of a good childhood leading to a good adulthood.
A common theme that unites all three works and relates to the Giri/Ninjo dichotomy is the theme of orphanhood. Mimiko, Heidi, and Anne are all orphans, and throughout their stories, they find substitute families to replace the parents they lack. These families give the young heroines the guidance they need in order to find a balance between the childhood world of Ninjo and the adult world of Giri. The giant panda that Mimiko adopts as "father" gives her a family-like environment that makes her enthusiastic about, rather than fearful of, the adult world of Giri; Heidi acquires adult traits from the society that surrounds her - some encourage her emotional world of childhood (her grandfather) and some push her strictly in the direction of the adult world (Miss Rottenmeier), and she finally learns how to bring the two worlds together; and in a similar manner, different adults who surround Anne also help her channel her strong character into an adult personality. It should be noted that Montgomery's novel was first translated into Japanese in 1952 and became highly relevant to young Japanese readers, especially due to its portrayal of an orphaned girl as a protagonist, since many Japanese children were orphaned during the war - and the novel demonstrated how such a child can grow into successful adulthood (Akamatsu 201-07).
Analysis: My Neighbor Totoro
The theme of orphanhood, strongly present in the three adaptations discussed above, also exists in My Neighbor Totoro. In this film, however, orphanhood is more a threat than an existing situation; Satsuki and Mei s mother is not dead, but her illness might lead to her death. The mother s absence emphasizes this threat and each heroine deals with it in her own way - while Satsuki, the older sister, is Giri-oriented, Mei, the younger sister, is almost all Ninjo.
The opening scenes of the film show the excitement both Satsuki and Mei feci in response to their new environment; they both cheerfully run around in the front yard of their new house. This yard is very much a geographical reflection of Ninjo; like the natural landscapes in the Heidi adaptation (although now in a Japanese environment), it is a place where grass and flowers grow with no sign of the attending hand of a gardener, and the yard leads to a forest of similarly unattended ancient trees - it is a place that represents the freedom to grow and express ones emotions without disturbance. The pure joy felt by the two sisters recalls Heidi's initial reaction to her new environment in the Alps, but upon their entrance to the new house, we begin to see differences between the two characters. When leaving the yard and entering their new house, Satsuki is quick to adapt to the more ordered space, coming in, examining the different rooms, and introducing herself to the elderly neighbor from the nearby house who came to visit - realizing that she has moved from the Ninjo environment to the Giri environment, a place of social interaction where certain behavior is expected. Mei, on the other hand, has physical difficulties even getting into the house (climbing the steps leading to it); she tends to trip and fall while following her sister and must raise her head while looking at objects and people above her (including the elderly neighbor), which causes her to feel helpless and scared. Satsuki's quick adaptation to the adult environment, as opposed to Mei's inability to handle it in the film's early scenes, summarizes the relationship of each character with their surroundings. Satsuki, while still retaining a good measure of emotional childhood, is already more oriented toward the adult world, while Mei is still completely within the world of Ninjo. It should be noted that the first drafts for the story, which Miyazaki originally planned as a children's book, featured only one girl protagonist, and so did early production sketches for the film, before Miyazaki decided to split the protagonist into two sibling characters (Miyazaki, My Neighbor 7-21).
The film shows how Satsuki's introduction to the adult world of Giri is strongly influenced by her mothers absence, as she performs housework and does the cooking. But she also has more metaphysical adult responsibilities, demonstrated by her control of time and space within the film's plot. Throughout the film, the authence can hear Satsuki narrating the letters she is writing to her hospitalized mother, and these letters emphasize the time that passes and the changing of seasons - just as Mimiko's letterwriting to her grandmother represents her attraction to the adult world of Giri, and Heidi's schooling marks her passage to the same world. As time passes and knowledge is acquired, Satsuki gets further and further away from childhood. Satsuki also has a very good sense of direction, quickly becoming familiar with the roads leading from one place to another in her new surroundings, guiding Mei (and the authence) through them. A possible source of inspiration for the nature of this relationship between the two sisters might have been Miyazaki s work on Akage no Anne, where the characters of the older sister Diana and the younger sister Minnie May seem to have strongly influenced the characters of Satsuki and Mei - right down to the design of both characters and Mei's name. Minnie May's insistence on following her older sister around, which often embarrasses Diana in the presence of the other characters, is based on Minnie May's recognition of her sister as a person who is more versed in the ways of the ordered adult world, and can therefore guide her into this world. In My Neighbor Totora, Mei follows her sister everywhere for the same reason, but here this behavior has a deeper context; Mei relies on the guidance of Satsuki in the adult world of Giri because her mother is absent - and here we see Satsuki not only functioning as the big sister, but also as a replacement for the mother.
Another strong indication of Satsuki s integration into the adult world is her participation in the social activity at her new school, and the fact that she is quick to make friends among other girls of her age - early signs of moving out of the family circle to the larger social circle. But there is a notable exception, which is Satsuki's relationship with Kanta, a boy of her age who lives in one of the houses next door. In the first encounter between Kanta and Satsuki, they are suspicious and hostile toward one another, and though they grow closer as the film progresses, both characters still appear to be shying away from full mutual interaction until a very late stage of the plot. As in Anne's fear of her good friend Diana finding a suitor who will threaten their friendship and of her own relationship with Gilbert Blythe, the girl-boy relationship is one threshold into the adult world that Satsuki is afraid to cross, perhaps because unlike the other adult Giri duties she took upon herself, she sees this relationship as something that will stop her from reentering the world of childhood. It is interesting to note that this aspect of adulthood that Satsuki fears does not belong in the world of Giri duties, but rather in that of Ninjo emotions - the adult emotions of attraction between men and women. These emotions frighten Satsuki, because unlike the strict Giri duties of the adult world to which she has grown accustomed, she cannot quite handle the emotions that this world brings with it.
In contrast to Satsuki, Mei's status as an entirely emotional, Ninjo-oriented child is emphasized not only by her behavior but also by her design and animation; while the design of Satsuki, the older sister, is realistic and basically presents her as a younger version of the adult characters, the design of Mei, the younger sister, is far more cartoon-like, as evident in her big head (slightly disproportional to the rest of her body), and her exaggerated gestures - the design recalls many elements from Mimiko's character in the Panda Kopanda films, especially the ponytails hairdo. This design makes Mei stand out in the society that surrounds her. In a sense, Mei is the only real child in the entire film; no other characters of the same age are seen, and the slightly older characters (like Satsuki) are basically young adults. Mei is therefore a lonely child in an adult world, a character that is entirely Ninjo-oriented while the people that surround her are either fully absorbed by or strongly attracted to Giri. Mei also lacks control over time (her most distant idea of future-tense is "tomorrow"), and space (she tends to get lost). Mei's world is best represented by the presence of Totoro - and Totoras presence emphasizes the importance of fantasy in the film.
Arupusu no Shôjo Haiji and Akage no Anne are almost completely devoid of fantasy, and their representation of the Ninjo-oriented childhood focuses on the beauty of natural landscapes. (Anne's often-visualized tendency to romanticize her surroundings may be considered as fantasy, but it is still strongly rooted in the physical world, and does not contain any supernatural elements.) The presence of the giant talking panda and his cub in the Panda Kopanda films is a fantasy, but it is a diegetic fantasy - one shared by both the heroine and her surroundings, and accepted as part of the films reality. On the other hand, Totoro and the creatures that accompany him are only seen by Satsuki and Mei, and it is left to the authence to decide if Totoro truly exists or if he is merely a reflection of the protagonists' imagination. A more important difference, however, is in the role the fantasy plays for the heroines; for Mimiko, the pandas are a link to the adult world of Giri, allowing her to play "mother" to the panda cub. Susan Napier (Anime 126-32) argues that Totoro plays a similar role; even if Mei is not as enthusiastic about the adult world as Mimiko, at the very least the character provides her (and later, Satsuki) a sense of empowerment that allows them both to deal with the problems they face in reality (or in the terms of this article, the adult Giri-oriented world). It is the position of this author, however, that Totoro plays exactly the opposite role - in the film's early stages, at least; the character provides a complete escape from the adult, Giri-oriented world, rather than a means to confront it.
Mei, along with the authence, first discovers Totoro and the assortment of creatures that accompany him while wandering outside her house, among the wildgrowing grass and the ancient trees. In these scenes, her perspective and the authence's perspective both change; suddenly, it is Mei who sees things from above, especially Totoro himself - who is several times bigger than she is - yet in his company, she feels completely in control of her surroundings. The design of Totoro also mirrors several aspects of Mei; like Mei's character, his design is simple and cartoon-like, with exaggerated expressions and gestures. The Giri concepts of organized space and time, as perceived by the adult society, do not exist among the wild-growing plants and trees outside Mei's house - and they seem even further away in Totoras cave, under the great Camphor tree, where (after the initial excitement of discovering and befriending the creature) she peacefully falls asleep in an environment that allows her to both freely express her Ninjo emotions and forget all the troubles of the adult Giri-oriented world. It is only afterwards that this world comes back to haunt her; Satsuki, who goes looking for Mei, is furious at finding her sleeping in the field (an inappropriate behavior), and Mei herself is dismayed at Satsuki and her father's initial disbelief of her story about Totoro - not only because it labels her as a liar, but also because it challenges the existence of the safe Ninjo haven she found for herself. She is somewhat appeased by her father s interpretation of her experience with Totoro as a meeting of the "God of the Forest," but in doing so, her father again applies terms from the adult world to her world of childhood. For Mei, Totoro remains an externalization of her Ninjo existence - the freedom to express her emotions, to put her mind at ease, much like the natural environment that surrounds it and the one that surrounds Heidi and Anne, is now taken to fantastic extremes.
And as it turns out, despite adopting many traits of the adult Giri-oriented society, Satsuki also needs her own retreat into the world of emotional childhood. At first, it appears that she has sunk deeply into the adult world, and is hesitant about returning to the world of childhood; when Mei shows a picture she drew of Totoro to Satsuki's classmate, Satsuki is embarrassed (also recalling the more adult side of Mimiko from Panda Kopanda who is embarrassed about the havoc that the panda cub causes at her school). When Satsuki first meets Totoro - waiting with Mei in a bus-station - she is the one who must perform the "head rising" routine, as the childhood fantasy dominated by Mei feels unnatural to her. And when Totoro invites both Mei and Satsuki to fly with him late at night, Mei enthusiastically leaps on Totoro and hangs onto his fur, whereas Satsuki briefly hesitates before doing so. Yet she learns to recognize the value of this emotional fantasy, and in her letters to her mother in the hospital, she excitedly recounts her encounters with Totoro, again recalling Mimiko - having achieved a balance between her adult Giri sensibilities (writing the letters, as noted above, indicates a sense of time) and her childish emotional sensibilities (like Mimiko's letters to her grandmother, recounting her experience with her own childhood fantasy of the pandas).
Both worlds, however, clash in the film's climatic sequence, when Mei and Satsuki learn that their mother s condition has worsened. Mei reacts to the news by crying hysterically and is scolded by Satsuki for her behavior - for the uncontrolled exposure of her Ninjo emotions. But shortly afterwards, Satsuki herself starts crying in front of the elderly neighbor who lives next door to their house, confessing her own fears about their mothers health. Witnessing her sister s inability to find answers for her emotional Ninjo fears in the Giri adult world - not unlike her own inability - Mei does what she previously did in such situations: she runs away, and gets lost.
In order to find her sister, Satsuki must abandon the adult world of Giri and immerse herself completely in the emotional Ninjo fantasy of childhood. She does so by turning to Totoro for help. And Totoro indeed helps, by first helping Satsuki find Mei, and then bringing both girls to the hospital, where they find out that their mother is fine. In this sequence, the childhood fantasy represented by Totoro serves as more than an escape; it is a direct confrontation with the fears of the adult world. But once both sisters overcome these fears, they are also ready to leave the world of childhood, and start their passage to the adult world.
This is demonstrated by the film's closing tides that show the mother returning home and both sisters taking part in social activity, playing with their friends (social activity represents the passage to the adult world, as explained earlier). Mei is seen alone in one of the frames, drawing the "Cat-Bus" in which Totoro travels, and Totoro is seen looking at a snowman built in his image (supposedly by Mei or Satsuki) - but never again is he seen alongside either protagonist. The fantasy world he represents supported both characters' emotional world throughout their childhoods, provided them with a means of escape from the threat of becoming orphans in the adult world, and finally allowed them to confront and overcome this threat. On this optimistic note, they can grow on to a good ordered adulthood.
As demonstrated in this analysis, the three literary adaptations that involved Miyazaki throughout the 1970s contributed different narrative and stylistic elements to the director's work on My Neighbor Totoro. The Panda Kopanda films gave the inspiration for the design of Mei s character and the fantasy of friendship with a big, furry creature; Arupusu no Shôjo Haiji made the separation between the adult, Giri-oriented world and the childhood, Ninjo world physical, linking wild natural landscapes to the latter and emphasizing the joy of being absorbed into these landscapes as the ultimate expression of emotion; and Akage no Anne supplied the template for the relationship between an older and younger sister, and also the notion of passage from childhood to adulthood, from Ninjo to Giri.
The two major alterations to these elements in the film are the roles of orphanhood and fantasy. Orphanhood, as noted above, becomes a threat rather than an existing situation; the heroines of all three literary adaptations are orphans who have to struggle for their right to an emotional, Ninjo-oriented childhood (like Mei) while being pulled to the adult, Giri-oriented world (like Satsuki). By turning orphanhood into a threat, Miyazaki makes it a temporary situation, a crisis through which the heroines can work. The fantasy provides them with a tool to work through the crisis; at first, it provides an escape, a safe haven from the adult world of Giri (in contrast to the bridge to the same world that the fantasy provides for Mimiko), and at the film's climax - when the threat seems as though it is about to become a permanent situation - it helps them to deal with the adult world (as it did for Mimiko).
The success behind the blending of Japanese social concepts and elements from western children's literature in My Neighbor Totoro can be explained by the parallels that Miyazaki drew between the two and the understanding that they correspond with the world of childhood everywhere. The struggle between the individual's emotions and the social expectations of him or her may be clearly denned in the Japanese concepts of Ninjo and Giri, but it is a struggle that children all over the world go through - evident by the fact that a similar struggle can be found in all three literary adaptations. Likewise, orphanhood, and the fear of it, bothers children in the west as it does in Japan, as does the fear of the adult world and what it represents, and the wonders of wild nature as a safe haven from this world appeals to children everywhere. My Neighbor Totora not only demonstrates the influence that western children's literature had on Miyazaki, but also his understanding of the deeper elements that give this literature its global appeal.
1 A notable exception is Miyazaki's second feature, the ecological izntusyNausicaaofthe Valley of the Wind (1984), which Miyazaki adapted from his own long-running comics. However, while the protagonist of this film was indeed a strong female character, and noticeably more serious and thoughtful compared to the easy-going "man of action" protagonists in Miyazaki's other works, in many ways she shares the one-dimensional nature of these protagonists (in the film version, at least). As noted by Japanese animation scholar Susan J. Napier ("Vampires" 100-03), Nausicaä is a rather "boring" character, in the sense that she has no flaws, and does not really develop beyond her initial presentation - a sharp contrast to the protagonists of My Neighbor Totora, whose development is the film's main theme.
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The author would like to thank Dr. Paul Frosh and Dr. Shunit Porat, his supervisors for the MA thesis on which this article is based…
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Publication information: Article title: Giri and Ninjo: The Roots of Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro in Animated Adaptations of Classic Children's Literature. Contributors: Greenberg, Raz - Author. Journal title: Literature/Film Quarterly. Volume: 40. Issue: 2 Publication date: April 1, 2012. Page number: 96+. © Salisbury University 2008. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.