One reason we share foreign films with our children is to get transported to another time, another place. Kids love screen time, parents would like to limit it and sanction the content, but diversifying movie night with a wonderful sister adventure story at least expands our little ones’ minds while they munch away on their popcorn.
My Neighbor Totoro (となりのトトロ Tonari no Totoro) is a stunning, animated film that takes us to the green countryside of 1950′s Japan. Two playful sisters Mei and Satsuki move with their professor father to an old house to be closer to the hospital where their mother is being treated. They meet a magical forest spirit named Totoro, who looks like a cross of an oversized rabbit mixed with a cat. Later, when Mei is worried about her mother and attempts to visit the hospital by herself, Totoro and a 12-legged “catbus” help to find her.
Not only was the story heart-warming and appropriate for all-ages, the subtle cultural references were fascinating. Genius director Hayao Miyazaki treats us to scenes of life in rural Japan as we glimpse inside their house (inhabited by friendly “soot sprites”) and a school, watch the girls frolic next to the rice paddies, over bridges, and in the forest. I was mesmerized by the setting and subtle details- the architecture of the house with its sliding doors, the bath scene, the food that is prepared and eaten, the family sleeping on futon mats on the floor. Explain to your kids that this movie takes place in Japan, more than 50 years ago (when their parents or grandparents were little kids!). Pause the movie and point out these details to your children, and ask them if they would like to exchange their lunch for a Bento box for a day, sleep on a futon one night, or have a bath in a tub that is like a small swimming pool.
I highly recommend watching Totoro at your first family-foreign-film-movie-night.