Yesterday I shared with you the facts behind the theory that, rather than an adorable forest spirit, Totoro is actually a harbinger of death. While I’m not sure how much I believe in the theories that connect Totoro with the Sayama Incident, this next theory is undeniable, and will definitely make you cry.
Many people who love Totoro have fond memories of watching the movie while they were children. I was late to the game, only having seen it for the first time two years ago, but it is still a movie I keep somewhere safe and cuddly, filed under “movies I can watch without necessarily thinking about the sad things in the world”. As it turns out, that is a misfile. My Neighbor Totoro was originally distributed along with the film Grave of the Fireflies– a much darker movie based on Akiyuki Nosaka’s short story about a boy and his sister in WWII Kobe, Japan. The story is semi-autobiographical; Nosaka lost his sister due to malnutrition around the same time that the story and movie are set.
That context, along with the macabre title of the film, should be enough for tip anyone off to what’s coming: Grave is not a happy movie. In fact, Grave of the Fireflies is so sad and dark that distributors believed the only way to keep people in the theatre was the promise of a happy film afterwards. That happy film, of course, was Totoro. At least that’s one theory.
Director Isao Takahata has said that when the movies were in theatres, they were not always presented in the order they were intended–which presented a problem as viewers who had just been treated to Totoro would not want to stick around for the heavy themes and disturbing animation of Grave. If Grave went first, however, people would stay put and let King Totoro cheer them right up.
Another interesting connection between Grave and Totoro is the fact that the former was distributed in schools in Japan, in order to teach students about WWII and the effects it had on the Japanese people. The film was still packaged with Totoro, which may have something to do with the latter’s current cult-status in Japan and around the world.
In case your morbid curiosity has been piqued, Grave of the Fireflies is available in its full form (English dubbed–if you find Japanese subbed, please let me know) on youtube here, or you can buy it on DVD at Amazon.com.