My four year old is convinced that every hole or pit we see in the yard leads to a Totoro. If you haven’t seen it (and rock have you been under for the past 30 years), My Neighbor Totoro is a Japanese animated film from Studio Ghibli about a young family that moves to the country after the mother falls ill and has an extended stay in the hospital. The story follows two sisters, Mei and Satsuki, as they explore their new home and ultimately meet a Totoro (along with Soot Sprites and Catbus).
Like most Studio Ghibli films, My Neighbor Totoro is full of magic and spirit themes. This was one of my favorite films as a small child; I can remember begging my mom every time we went to the drug store to rent this movie. It is one of the most entertaining and engaging children’s movies I have ever watched, and also one of the most developmentally appropriate. It brings my heart such joy that my little guy loves this film just as much as I did, and still do.
Totoro is ultimately the great spirit of the forest, he’s like protector/watcher/gardener rolled into one. My kid understands this to a certain point, and his belief that Totoros live in our backyard is a way that we can talk about other spirits of the land. In the guise of Totoro hunting, we talk about all the insects and plants that live underground, and how we have to help Totoro take care of them. We even see in the film how Totoro loves acorns, so whenever we go out for a walk, we’re constantly looking for acorns to put at the opening of all the little holes. And the gifts (offerings) must make the Totoro (land spirits) happy, because every year, I’m pulling up lots of little oak tree starts. Little guy loves it, and I love seeing him connect.
One of the most challenging things for me when I became a parent was how I was going to instill my values and morals as a Pagan into my children, without drama with the extended family who live nearby. My kid and his dramatic play from the film literally fell into my lap, and gave me the means by which we can discuss land spirits, offerings, and nature veneration in a way that establishes a foundation for later practice, without opening myself, and possibly my kids, to criticism from our other family members.