Thursday, March 16, 2006

My Neighbor Totoro and failures in Christian imagination

There's a new dub available for this classic by Hayao Miyazaki that Disney just released this month. I haven't seen it yet but am familiar with the old Fox dub, which is also, alas, panned and scanned. There really shouldn't be a pan-and-scan version of any Miyazaki film. His flair for unusual images and gestures deserves a fuller presentation.

To go by the variety of on-line reactions some people are REALLY not digging the new dub with Dakota and Ellie Fanning. I have heard bits of it here and there and it doesn't doesn't seem that bad. They actually sound like children, which is a good thing. What little I've heard so far suggests that Tim Daly, the voice of Superman on the FOX series Superman: the animated series, has done a good job.

This movie is one of those super-cute films. It is possibly the single least violent film made for children anyone has made. If it weren't coming from such a plainly pantheistic perspective it's th ekind of film a Christian media watchdog organization "might" like. A very big if, of course.

Speaking as a Christian I nevertheless find all kinds of things about Miyazaki's work to be admirable. Despite his VERY dim view of humanity and the prospects of the human race in the future he is, nevertheless, able to find a lot of beautiful and noble qualities in his characters and, to put in blatantly Christian theological terms, is able to find ways to show how the created world, no matter how marred by evil and imbalance, still bears the stamp of the divine.

And when the alternative "Christian" entertainment includes stuff like Bible-Man or the like I think I'd prefer Miyazaki's work. Children getting Christian educations in the past century have learned classical Western works that had no Christian underpinning and turned out fine. By the same measure, I think children can grow up watching Miyazaki's films and still understand what is and is not congruent with Christianity in those films.

On the other hand, I have a friend who is a pastor and when he was a child the stuff that captured his imagination wasn't Christian stuff. You can't really completely control what a child will or won't think but it seems that sometimes parents, without intending to, introduce their kids to things the kids like more than biblical stories. So in a way it's hard to tell anyone that they should get their kid excited about Jesus and the Bible before getting them excited about anything else.

Culture war tropes and Christian reactions have, I think, muddled together in a way that Christian imagination has been deliberately or unwittingly stifled. If the question was asked decades ago "Why does the devil have all the good music?" an unfair reponse after all this time might well be, "Why is that still true?"

I don't happen to think it's as simple as that. I have music by Penderecki and Mahalia Jackson and the Fairfield Four. Perhaps a more pointed question might be, "Why does white American Christian music suck so bad?" I think South Park's Eric Cartman pretty much nailed it but for now I explain that only with the cryptic quote, "Let the reader understand".

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