A Ride in the Wayback Machine

Last week, the boy was home for Spring break.  He mostly hung out with his friends who were also on break or still in high school, but on Saturday, he asked if we could go see The Secret Life of Arietty.

This is Ghibli Studios’ anime adaptation of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, the story of a tiny girl and her tiny family who live secretly in big people’s homes and “borrow” what they need to keep going (much as we would “borrow” a Kleenex, with no intention of giving it back, except that the “lenders” are unaware of the borrowing).  The book has been in print since the 1940s, and many of you probably read it, as I did, in grade school.

The boy would’ve had no interest in seeing this film had it not been from Ghibli Studios.  They’ve produced such anime classics as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke and My Neighbor Totoro, the movie that spurred the boy’s interest in anime.

When the boy was 3 or 4, a Japanese exchange student asked the dh if she could audit his giant survey class in children’s lit.  He had 160 students he had to grade and figured one more sitting in the lecture hall wouldn’t make any difference, so he readily agreed.

The student attended faithfully.  The boy made occasional appearances in the dh’s lectures, so the class was aware he had a young son.  At the end of the semester, in a gesture of appreciation, the exchange student presented the dh with a VCR edition of My Neighbor Totoro.  He brought it home, and we watched it together.

The film is about two young girls who move to the countryside with their father.  Their mother is hospitalized, so they entertain themselves much of the time.  They have all sorts of adventures in the nearby forest and eventually meet the forest spirit Totoro.  He is visible only to children.  At one point, he sends them for a ride on a magic cat bus–a cat who has a a furry enclosure on its back, complete with openings for windows.  The boy fell completely in love with this warm, sweet movie.  He literally wore out the VCR tape, so we hunted down a DVD  version.  That Christmas, friends of ours gave the boy the storybook adaptation of the movie.  He loved that, too.

(The VCR version showed a scene with the father and the two girls taking a bath together, as is customary for families in Japan, but on our version of the DVD, that was edited out.  I don’t remember whether it’s in the book, which is packed away now.  Just mentioning it in case that would matter to anyone.)

The art in The Secret Life of Arietty is in the same style as My Neighbor Totoro.  Backgrounds are beautiful and detailed in both color and shading, truly like paintings, and Arietty, like the girls in Totoro, has adventures her parents know nothing about.  Watching her story reminded us strongly of watching Totoro with our boy when he was small.

As if that weren’t enough to drag us down Memory Lane, seated near us were a father and his two little girls, one about two and the other four or five, maybe.  He was very, very quietly explaining things in the movie to them, just as we used to explain–and read subtitles–to the boy when he was their age.  We used to sit way away from everyone, as this man was doing until we sat down, so we could talk softly and not bother other people.  Listening to him explain to his daughters took us all back years and added a special little note of nostalgia to the afternoon for us.

The next day, the boy went back to school.  We likely won’t see him until he finishes in May, but our ride in the wayback machine was a nice ending to his break.

What about you–have you been in the wayback machine lately?  Do you like anime films or animated cartoons?  Do you have a favorite children’s book or movie?



  • Fedora says:

    Our kids love Totoro! What a fun movie to enjoy together 🙂 We do enjoy animated films together, and it’s been a pleasure introducing our kids to some of the movies and books we enjoyed ourselves. It makes me giggle that our kids love to watch old episodes of The Pink Panther 🙂

    • Nancy Northcott says:

      Fedora, congrats on nabbing the rooster. I don’t think he would like Totoro–no glorified roosters in it!

      How cool that y’all like it, too. The boy enjoyed Superman and Batman, as I did, and he went seriously nuts for Star Wars when Lucas re-released the original trilogy. There’s a special pleasure, as you say, in seeing him love something one of us did. He had a few years of liking The Pink Panther, too.

    • Fedora, I think the rooster wants to go anime!

  • Jane says:

    I do like anime movies, Nancy. My favorites include Kiki’s Delivery Service and Crying Freeman. I used to watch the Dragon Ball cartoons.

    • Nancy Northcott says:

      Jane, the boy was very into Dragonball for a long time. He had several Dragonball action figures. I’m pretty sure he saw Kiki’s Delivery Service, but Crying Freeman isn’t ringing any bells. What’s it about?

  • Hi Nancy!

    So glad you had a great time with the boy while he was home. Your reference to The Borrowers put me in the way back machine. I loved that book as a child and remember reading it to my kids as well. Can’t say that I’m into anime. My daughter has watched some. My childhood reference to the Japanese culture would be the Godzilla movies – and Mothra 🙂 Actually my son was really into Godzilla when he was little – that and the Teenage Mutuant Ninja Turtles. Now THAT takes me back 🙂

    • Nancy Northcott says:

      Donna, thanks! I think there’ve been several movie adaptations of The Borrowers.

      The boy also went through a stage if loving Godzilla and the TMNT. He had a Gameboy game with the ninja turtles. It’s still around here somewhere.

  • Nancy, really enjoyed your column today. I haven’t actually seen any of those anime films but when I was a really leeeeetle girl, I used to love a couple of Japanese cartoon series. One was Astro Boy – I loved that one so much I named my dog Astro! The other was Kimba the White Lion which was basically used as the story for the Lion King. Must say I think Kimba was the better version! Still remember howling my eyes out when Kimba’s dad appeared in the stars to tell him to out and pursue his destiny as king of the jungle. Sniff.

    Actually I’ve had a bit of a return to childhood in reading in the last few weeks. Thanks to YOUR recommendation, Miss Nancy, I bought all the Patricia Wrede Enchanted Forest books. They’re SO charming and I had a wonderful time reading them. I’m going to write a Favorite Things piece on them for my website in May, I loved them so much. And they’re hilariously funny too! Now I just have to get them back from Ermingarde!

    • Nancy Northcott says:

      Anna, I remember Astro Boy! When my boy was in Japan last summer, he went to an anime museum. We have a picture if him with a statue if Astro Boy and a white animsl I’m guessing is Kimba.

      Glad you liked the Wrede books. I read somewhere that the Mountains of Morning (I think they’re in those books) were a nod to Lois McMaster Bujold’s poignant novella The Mountains of Mourning.

  • Mary Preston says:

    My son watches anime, so I have seen some in my time. I find some of it too – not me. Animated cartoons, I just love. Our favourite at the moment is UP.

    • Nancy Northcott says:

      Mary, I’ve heard good things about UP but haven’t seen it. I loved the Superman and Batman animated series from Warner Brothers. Some of the anime series the boy liked didn’t appeal much to me.

      There was a show on the Cartoon Network called Sailor Moon that he got into for a while. Then we went looking for it on video and as manga (like graphic novels), only to discover the original Japanese materials contained, um, definitely adult situations. The cartoons had been very heavily edited to make them kid-friendly.

  • Nancy, I really enjoyed reading your post. We have watched American animation movies, but not anime movies. Your description of “My Neighbor Totoro” was so fun, I’ve added the movie to our Netflix queue. Thanks for that.

  • Gillian says:

    What a lovely post. My middle daughter dearly loves anime and has many movies by Hayao Miyazaki. Kiki’s Delivery Service is the first I remember watching. The animation is very beautiful. I can’t wait to see The Secret Life of Arietty.

    We also own a crazy amount of animation from Disney, Pizar (looking forward to Brave), DreamWorks, and even regular series like Scooby Doo and Aurthur. 🙂 Some of my girls’ favorite animation shows from PBS were Liberty’s Kids, about the origins of the US, and Cyberchase, which is a very fun show based on math! We enjoy children’s TV. It’s very relaxing.

    • Nancy Northcott says:

      Gillian, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I missed Liberty kids, but it sounds fun. I hope you like Arietty.

      The boy had a lot of Disney material, and he was heavily into Scooby Do. As for Brave, several of us here in the Lair are looking forward to that.

  • Helen says:

    Lovely post nancy and so glad you had a good time while your Son was visiting.
    I haven’t seen any of these movies although my kids watched lots of cartoons on TV when they were young. I am with Anna I remeber Astro Boy and Kimba as well

    Have Fun

    • Nancy Northcott says:

      Thanks, Helen. I also remember Astro Boy. We have a photo from the boy’s Japan trip of him in an anime museum with a statue of Astro Boy and one of a white creature I think must be Kimba.

  • Annie West says:

    Nancy, what a lovely post. I loved the British production of ‘The Borrowers’. Fantastic story. Helen, I remember Kimba the white lion too.

    Oh, so many books in my childhood were marvellous and magical. Did anyone here read Edward Eager? They were fun. And I’ve got a soft spot for some of the old classics I read with my dad like ‘The Secret Garden’ and ‘Wind in the Willows’ before I moved on to Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew.

    • Nancy Northcott says:

      Thank you, Annie. I’m sorry, but I don’t remember Edward Eager. That sounds like a boy adventurer, though. Is he?

      Believe it or not, I never read The Secret Garden or Wind in the Willows, but the dh loves them both and often uses them in his classes. On one of our trips to England, we visited Great Maytham Hall, a former home of Frances Hodgson Burnett. The house has been heavily remodeled, and the garden has been tidied, but it was that garden that inspired The Secret Garden. It was a retirement hone, open to visitors on a limited basis

      We also visited Mapledurham House, one of the great houses thought to be a model for Toad Hall.

      Visiting historic houses with a young boy isn’t a fabulous thing, so the boy and I waited in the parking area at Great Maytham Hall (He gave me lessons in being a Power Ranger–watch out, Pink) and in the tea shop at Mapledurham.

  • Barb says:

    what a good blog Nancy…. my grandson is into anime and has a lot of anime DVD’s… he and his girlfriend go to the Super Nova weekend they have in Sydney and I often have to help make a custume of his fovorite anime character that year

    • Nancy Northcott says:

      Hi, Barb. Thanks. Super Nova sounds like great fun. The boy met his first girlfriend at DragonCon because he was dressed as her favorite character from Naruto. She stopped him to take his picture.

      The previous year, he and I came out of the Dealer’s Room in time to see a bunch of people from Full Metal Alchemist gathering for a photo. He was dressed as a character from that show, and they called him over (by calling the character’s name). They were very glad to see me, too, because I wasn’t in costume and so could take photos with everyone’s cameras. The cosplayers, as the people who dress up are called, always seem to have a great time.

  • Deb Marlowe says:

    Hi Nancy!

    My kids are huge fans of Studio Ghibli. We went to see this one too, as soon as it came out. It’s inspired my youngest to read all of the Borrower’s books, which I’ve enjoyed reliving with him. A mix of two great worlds!

    • Nancy Northcott says:

      Hi, Deb–

      I’ve come to appreciate anime because of the boy.

      I love old Disney movies and have been picking them up on DVD. One if my favorites is the animated 101 Dalmations. The live action versions don’t hold the same charm for me, and the animated one is much harder to find now that they’re around. I’m glad I bought it when I did.

  • Anna Sugden says:

    I love Studio Ghibli! I’ve been collecting the DVDs over the years and enjoy them so much – particularly Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away.

    I have to admit to being a huge Disney fan too – Lady and the Tramp and the Aristocats as well as the classics. In fact, I’m about to replace my videos of them with DVDs.

    Lovely hubby likes some of the other animes eg Tokyo Godfathers and Metroplis

  • Nancy Northcott says:

    Hi, Anna–

    I’m on the iPad, and when I scrolled up to check Deb’s comment on the small screen, I saw part of yours and git confused. The Disney part of my comment to her should’ve gone to you.

    I’ve never seen Howl’s Moving Castle, but I loved Spirited Away.

  • Jo Robertson says:

    What beautiful memories, Nancy! I’m not particularly into anime, but I do remember seeing the original Star Wars with my youngest son. It debuted when he was old enough to appreciate the complexities of the story. It’s so much fun watching them have fun.

    • Nancy Northcott says:

      Jo, watching kids have fun really is a treat. The dh says that’s why he went to DragonCon so many years, to watch the boy and me enjoy ourselves.

  • Eilis Flynn says:

    I remember when the boy got into Totoro, so long ago! (And the communal bathing scene is part of the original story. My sister the Japanese instructor has always been irritated that it’s edited out for Western audiences. But then, she’s always been irritated that Raymond Burr had to be added for the Western version of Godzilla because Americans wouldn’t watch a monster movie without an American!) Now I want to go read and watch it again!

    • Nancy Northcott says:

      Eilis, I’m sure you do remember sin e you and the Hub gave him the storybook. I sympathize with your sister. The bathing scene had nothing lewd in it at all. It was on our English version DVD, so it must’ve been cut at the changeover to DVD.

  • Gail Nichols says:

    I really love “The Velveteen Rabbit” and my favorite anamated movie is “Beauty & The Beast” or “Lady & The Tramp”.

    • Nancy Northcott says:

      Gail, we all and I loved Beauty and the Beast. The boy wasn’t into The Velveteen Rabbit, but many of our friends’ kids were.

  • catslady says:

    My youngest daughter was a huge anime fan (it is actually her nickname). I use to watch them with her all the time. The names eludes me now (sigh). She is an artist and can draw some wonderful figures.

    • Nancy Northcott says:

      Catslady, how cool that your daughter’s nickname is Anime Fan. She must be seriously into it. And how wonderful that she’s an artist. I wish her luck with that.

      • catslady says:

        I’m sorry it;’s just Anime but that would be cute too because people who don’t know her think she is being called Anna Mae lol.

  • EC Spurlock says:

    We are big anime fans in our family, Anna – in fact, DH and I were fans back in the day when the only way you could get it was copies of copies that somebody taped off Japanese tv – no subtitles, figure out the plot as you go along. I got hooked on early series like Astro Boy and Space Battleship Yamato that way. So naturally our kids are too; they are both in anime clubs in high school and college respectively and often come home with recommendations for us. (Summer Wars was the latest, although it includes a death and may be scary for young children.) We have almost all of Miyazaki’s films, our favorites being Totoro, Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service.

    I always wanted to be an animator but was roundly rejected from the training program back in the day because I was female. But we all appreciate good animation in any form (How To Train Your Dragon our most recent favorite, and we’re looking forward to Brave), my youngest is planning to go into CGI and animation in college and my older son wants to be a voice actor.

    • Nancy Northcott says:

      EC, if y’all were hunting up those copies, you must’ve been serious!

      The boy took Japanese for a while because he was so interested in anime. He used to rent some of the series in Japanese (with subtitles) so he could practice.

      Alas, but I know what you mean about gender closing doors. I’m glad the world is changing, if sometimes slowly, in that regard.

      Best of luck to your future animator and voice actor.

      Several of us here in the Lair, as well as here in my house, are looking forward to Brave.

      • Eilis Flynn says:

        My aunt had friends who were animators and actors in Japanese cartoons. I went to visit right after college, and they were kind enough to take me on a tour of the animation studios and gave me several signed scripts. And this was, as you say, “Way Back,” so it was primitive compared to what we have today! (And Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman were primitive, but boy, those stories were fun. Just an aside.)

  • Janga says:

    Wonderful post, Nancy. I love children’s literature generally. I’m a big Patricia Wrede fan and have given her Enchanted Forest Chronicles as gifts often. My favorite children’s book is not as famous as some. It’s If I Found a Wistful Unicorn by Ann Ashford. My two youngest nephews memorized it when they were small and still remember favorite lines now that they are men, as do I. Their young faces dance before my eyes when I read it with the grands now. It reminds me of the lines from Milne: “Wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.”

    My youngest nephew is a serious anime fan. He attends Anime Weekend Atlanta every year, and his anime collection rivals my book collection. Through him, I’ve become a fan. Howl’s Moving Castle is my favorite, but I feel that’s cheating a bit since I loved the book by Diana Wynne Jones first. I also love Spirited Away and <i.Castle in the Sky. I think Grave of the Fireflies is brilliantly done, but it’s so heartbreaking that I could only watch it once.

  • Nancy Northcott says:

    Janga, what a wonderful story about the Ashford book. The dh loves Pooh also, and the boy went through a period of adoring Tigger.

    I think Anime Weekend Atlanta is sponsored by the same people who do DragonCon. It’s coming up, isn’t it (the anime weekend, I mean)?

    I don’t watch everything with the boy, but I loved Spirited Away. I may rent Princess Monomoke and make him watch it with me when he gets home.

  • Nancy Northcott says:

    We’ve had some reports of problems with the site today. It’s generally working in Google Chrome and Safari, possibly not in Firefox.

    So if anyone should complain to you, that info might help. We’ve reported the problem to our web gurus.

  • Cassondra says:

    Hi Nancy!

    I’m so glad you all had this time with the boy while he was in. I have not been in the Wayback machine lately, and mine would be Way Way back as compared to yours, since it would be my own childhood I’d be visiting.

    I have, however, gone in search of movies that I saw when I was a child and have not seen since. I did this recently with a film I saw on the Saturday Afternoon Film Festival when I was probably 8 or 9 years old.

    A long time ago I went in search of Dr. Doolittle. Not the Eddie Murphy version, but the film from WAY back. You know the one–with the parrot who spoke more than 600 languages, the trip across the ocean in a giant conch shell, and the giant luna moth. I fell in love with luna moths then and that love affair has continued. I think of them as magic.

    Hmmm…I should see if I can find Dr. Doolittle on DVD and buy it. Although I never trust the film companies now. They tend to edit out things which are not politically correct and which in their opinion children should not see, and that makes me mad. The old Bugs Bunny cartoons have been cut to smithereens. Many to the point that you can’t even make sense of them. Elmer Fudd was, after all, hunting wabbits. Ah well.

    • Nancy Northcott says:

      Cassondra, do you mean the Rex Harrison version of Dr. Doolittle? Did Harrison make one, or am I confused?

      Yeah, sometimes you gotta wonder at things getting cut. The bathing scene in Totoro is not at all prurient. We explained to the boy that people in different countries have different customs, and that was for our benefit, just to be sure he knew, not because he made any comment.

  • Mozette says:

    What about you–have you been in the wayback machine lately? No, not lately…

    Do you like anime films or animated cartoons? Haven’t really been a big fan of anime; not really into it that much. But animated cartoons were a big part of my childhood. I loved Scooby-Doo… loved that Kombi van they all piled into! I loved the one called ‘Gargoyles’… brilliant cartoon which came out when I was around 20 or so and I was obsessed with it!

    Do you have a favorite children’s book or movie? ‘Charlotte’s Web’ and ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ as books; however, childrens movies weren’t really for me. I watched them, but most of the time, they were a little boring.

    I watched ‘The Borrowers’ television show from the UK or ‘The Press Club’ television series about the high school kids who ran a school paper on the grounds of their school; then at then end were offered real jobs while they attended college before applying for bigger jobs… it was a great show and I cried in the last show when they all had to go their separate ways.

    • Nancy Northcott says:

      Mozette, the Press Club series sounds great!

      The boy loved Scooby Do and even Gargoyles. He had a Gargoyles jigsaw puzzle.

      I never read Charlotte’s Web or Narnia, but the dh did, and he uses both Charlotte’s Web and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in his classes sometimes.