By Vita Forest
School is back and Year 1 has just begun to watch Hayao Miyazaki’s film My Neighbour Totoro. It hits a number of important buttons for this term – Japan, Narrative, Comprehension Strategies, Visual Literacy and Fun.
If you don’t know it, My Neighbour Totoro is a classic Studio Ghibli animated film made in 1988, which you really should check out. It tells the story of two small girls who move to rural Japan with their father while their mother recovers from an illness in hospital. They become aware that their new home is haunted…
If you think this sounds scary, you would be wrong. In fact, one of the wonderful things about the story is the way the characters deal with the idea of ghosts and spirits. There is no tiptoeing about. The two young girls are delighted to discover that their new home may be infested with soot sprites and set about trying to catch one, laughing and shouting all the way. When they report to their father that they think the new house might be haunted, he replies with relish, “Really? I’ve always wanted to live in a haunted house!” And when they hear strange noises at bath time, the trio respond by laughing as raucously as they can and having a huge water fight in their bath tub. These characters might be frightened, but they shriek their way through it and out the other side.
Before we started watching the film, we looked at a few stills from the film and came up with some questions. One of them was “What is that bunny thing?” Some of my children thought it might be a panda, a bear or maybe a cat. Whatever it was, it looked friendly they decided, particularly as a small child was lying on it’s belly. I showed them the title of the film and they thought the bunny thing might be called Totoro. If it was their neighbour, it meant it lived near them, maybe even next door.
We watched half an hour of the film and the children laughed in glee as the characters raced about their new home and tried to scare out soot sprites. They particularly liked the two girls Satsuki and Mei and how they ran everywhere and shouted so much. We noticed how the Japanese house was different to the ones in Australia, how the farms were growing rice and how they took their shoes off before going inside. But they also noticed how the sisters teased each other, laughed and pulled faces, just like they do here. The excerpt finished with Mei chasing two small Totoros about the yard, like a couple of chickens, and coming to a slapstick stop as she crashed into the bushes into which they disappeared…
We continue the film next week.