Last weekend I watched the Hayao Miyazaki film My Neighbor Tororo(1988) and I enjoyed ever second of it. IMDB summarized the movie in one sentenced: “When two girls move to the country to be near their ailing mother, they have adventures with the wonderous forest spirits who live nearby.” After watching the movie once just because and then again to catch all of the Shinto references I decided to write about the main ones shown.
The Camphor Tree
The giant tree that you see in the movie is a Camphor tree but more then that it is a worship tree that can befound at any shrine local or big. In the movie the guardian of the forest, Tororo, lives in the camphor tree while Tororo isn’t a Kami he does live in the tree next to a local shrine. According to Dr. Ono’s book “Shinto the Kami Way” the worship trees use to be thought of as a way to understand the spirit of the Kami, however today they are an expression of the divine consciousness. In the movie we first see the huge tree the moment that the girls arrive at their new house and then we really get to see it when the girls and their father go to “greet the Guardian of the Forest” which is about 31 minuets into the movie.
Inari and the Foxes
Another big reference in the movie is to the Kami Inari. Inari can be referred to as either male or female and is the Kami of food or rice. Which is a significant in the movie since all around the shrines are rice fields that most of the villagers that live there work in. You see the first Inari shrine 3 minuets into the movie and you can tell because of the fox statue that is sitting just outside of the red torii. The fox statues are everywhere in an Inari shrine because that is his/her guardian animal. Dr. Ono explains that guardian animals were believed to be the attendants or messengers of the Kami. You see another Inari shrine when the girls go to meet their father at the bus stop in the rain and the younger sister gets scared when she sees them.
The last reference I’ll bring up are the several small stone lanterns scattered through out the film; the main ones being the lantern at the girls home and the ones at the small local shrine where Tororo lives. Dr. Ono explains that devoted parishioners usually give the lanterns as gifts to the shrine. He explains that the stone lanterns originate from the customs of making fires in order to greet and honor the Kami.
These are just three things that can be found through out the movie but you can also find a several Buddhist references like the shrine that the girls use to get away from the rain. I should probably say that the “spirits” through out the movie aren’t Kami and Miyazaki makes a point to say that about several of his movies. However the movie is wonderful like so many of his other movies and still has several references to Shintoism.