Up until I was eight, my dad traveled frequently for work, often for weeks at a time. Once, after a long trip to Japan, he returned with a couple of animated movies on VHS: My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Even though I couldn’t understand the dialogue, I watched them repeatedly and reveled in the worlds created by Hayao Miyazaki.
I shared them with my friends and even rewound the cassettes to catch the trailer featuring a dreamy floating castle (I now know this trailer was for Laputa). The characters and art have stuck with me ever since. After three cross-country moves, I can still look to Kiki for support in being a young woman of color figuring out how to make it on her own.
Among all the amazing animated movies Studio Ghibli has produced, Totoro continues to be my personal favorite for a few reasons. Aside from the mastery in design, animation, and story telling led by Miyazaki-sensei, My Neighbor Totoro brings me back to my own childhood every time I watch it.
Walking into Satsuki and Mei’s house felt like walking into a dream in real life. Due to countless Totoro screenings, the house seemed extremely familiar, as if I’ve been there before. Walking through it brought back favorite moments and chattering between the characters. Opening up their cabinets and unfolding their clothes felt slightly intrusive, but incredibly surreal. I was more than convinced that people lived there.
Look, like any good nerd, I normally prefer watching a foreign movie as it was originally intended. When Disney scours Hollywood for top-level talent to overdub their vast catalog of Studio Ghibli titles, I’m not their target audience. And unlike most Americans, I actually don’t mind reading my movies if subtitles are required.
But let me get back to my original point. Of all the Miyazaki movies that have been dubbed in English, I believe Howl’s Moving Castle is the only one that works. Before I get into that, though, I want to talk about what’s wrong with dubbing foreign movies in the first place.
I found the pattern for free on Ravelry. For the stitches I didn’t know how to do, I looked up how-to videos on YouTube, i.e, how to do knit with two colors and decreasing stitches. The pattern was easy once I figured it out: knit stitch (no purls), following the pattern around four times, and then changing over to double-pointed needles for the decreases. You can see the Totoros along the bottom, and above them, the sootballs. Add a puffball at the top, and I had a Totoro hat. Not bad for someone who’s only been knitting for a couple of years now.
My grandmother knits, but I never had the patience to do the large afghans and blankets that she loves to do. It was only when we moved to Wisconsin that I discovered that hats and gloves and scarves are a given up here. I got a Stitch and Bitch book as a Christmas present and thought, well, why not. So far, I’ve knitted scarves, fingerless gloves, and a sort of shawl which could be a poor excuse for a Snuggie. But this was my very first hat, and I’m proud it turned out well.
Last weekend, Studio Ghibli announced that it’s founder, award-winning filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, was retiring from making movies. For what it’s worth, this isn’t the first time Miyazaki has “retired” (he’s like the Jay-Z of the animation game), but there definitely seems to be an air of finality to this announcement. If The Wind Rises ends up being his final film, it will be the cap to a long, illustrious, and brilliant career.
After the jump, several of The Nerds of Color reflect on what Miyazaki’s movies have meant to them.