MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO/ TONARI NO TOTORO
Club, IFI/Light House, Dublin, 86 min Many years ago, Hayao Miyazaki described My Neighbour Totoro (1988) – his timeless children’s classic and his second feature for Japan’s Studio Ghibli – as a film created without a sense of jeopardy. It’s a phrase we’ve pondered and conjured with around these parts often: more perhaps than is strictly necessary or even particularly healthy.
Film, we can all agree, thrives on conflict. It exists as a series of diametrics, as obstacles, as nightmares, as tensions. Great cinema, invariably, may be reduced to sequences and strings of perfect and imperfect oppositions.
So how is it that a cutsey-pie cartoon made without any sense of jeopardy is as close to perfection as anything that has ever been committed to celluloid? What is it that elevates a pretty and pastoral piece of nostalgia detailing how two little girls spend their summer holidays toward greatness?
My Neighbour Totoro contains no sense of jeopardy for an adult, but everything hangs in the balance for its diminutive heroines Satsuki and Mei. The grandeur of their respective imaginations infects their otherwise sleepy surroundings with bizarre enchantments and crea- tions. The attic of the dilapidated farmhouse where they move with their academic father is populated by the same soot sprites that proved so useful in the boiler room of Spirited Away. Friendly, outsized, pebble-eating trolls dwell within the wooded area near their new home. When Mei disappears, a many legged cat-bus can be relied upon to save the day and the little girl.
There are unspoken and unspecified details behind their recent relocation. Their mother is recuperating in a nearby hospital. We’re unsure of her ailment, but we make note of her headscarf. Has her illness impacted upon the family finances? Is that why they now live out in the sticks?
Miyazake never works out the details beyond the interests and scope of the two little girls. The characters are beautifully drawn: Mei is as stompy as Satsuki is resourceful. Mother is gentle and otherworldly. Strangers, even friendly ones like “granny”, are intimidating until they cease to be strangers.
Interestingly, this very child-centric universe has turned out to have semi-miraculous uses in the area of cinema therapy and speech development. But even the grumpiest adult will succumb to its charms.
This anniversary reissue will be screened with subtitles and in an adorable English dub featuring Dakota and Elle Fanning. Either way, My Neighbour Totoro is not to be missed.
16 cert, IFI, Dublin, 122 min The weakest film of prolific director Olivier Assayas’s entire career re-envisages the already over-mythologised aftermath of May 1968, as a pretty, vacant commercial. A pretty, vacant perfume commercial that lasts for two hours. Death, where is thy sting?
Somewhere, buried in a whole lot of beautiful garbage, there’s a bog- standard coming-of-age story struggling to get out. Gilles (Clément Métayer) wants to write or possibly paint when he leaves school. He wants to sleep with free-spirit Laure (Carole Combes) or insufferable drip Christine (the perennially miserable Lola Créton).
At least we think he does; the characters and plot of Something in the Air are so poorly realised they seem to exist in the same hinterland as dropped TV pilots. Look here, it’s dancing redhead; look there, it’s my best friend, the painter.
Early on, a “radical” student protest – that is, a whole lot of speechifying– lands one of the group in hot water. The friends duly leave their eye-wateringly well-appointed bourgeois dwellings and make for eye-wateringly clichéd destinations: some head for postcard-perfect Italy, others make for hippie-friendly Goa.
Is the director trying to convey a sense of disillusionment after the “rebellion”? Is he taking mean-spirited swipes at his young characters for their various blistering hypocrisies? Is he belatedly scolding about bickering within “the Left”? Who can say?
Something in the Air wanders between luscious vales with no particular place to go and absolutely nothing to say. The characters are too insubstantial to be described as bland and too pathetic to leave any impression beyond “But his hair looks nice”. Artefacts from the era (a copy of Syd Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs, a tome by Pierre Ryckmans) are, similarly, left artfully strewn around the place.
This is the “revolution” and false dawn these people deserve. But that’s scant consolation for the viewer, for whom it’s less like a proper film and more like one of the other Kardashians. That is to say: what’s the point.
Something in the air? Damned straight. And it stinks.